Formative and Summative Assessment in AP U.S. History Unit #1

Tomorrow is the first summative assessment in the AP U.S. History course for which I am student teaching. Throughout the unit we have assessed progress through a variety of formative assessments, primarily through what are called “Key Terms” and their concomitant quizzes.

Key Terms are a list of about twenty terms – whether they be events, people, concepts, etc… – addressed in the week’s textbook chapter, and are due at the beginning of the school day each and every Friday. Students are expected to identify the given terms and describe their significance to U.S. History. As students are expected to read an entire textbook chapter every week, these terms allow them to focus their reading and more closely read for the concepts my mentor teacher deems most important to the course.

Every Friday morning I stamp these Key Terms as handed in on time. I pass them back once students are in class so that the students can use these and their textbook to answer a series of review questions with their table partners. Students are expected to write paragraph responses to at least one of the review questions in the first thirty minutes of class. We allot about ten minutes for group discussion, where the teacher helps address any outstanding questions. Students pass back their Key Terms and in the last twenty minutes of class they take a twenty-question quiz. Each quiz question relates to a different Key Term, and is a mode to assess whether or not students are reading the textbook chapters in their own time as closely as needed. We are laying the groundwork, after all, and it is important that students know the skeleton of history before we can dive deeper.

Key Terms are then graded over the weekend, and the quizzes some time the next week (I’ll admit, however, we have not been great about getting the students their Key Terms or scores quickly, as I have been learning the ropes as I grade this unit). These formal formative assessments are of course coupled with several other informal assessments. My mentor teacher and I, for instance, always consider student participation in class discussion and seminars and stamp completed homework in order to keep track of student engagement.

As said, the first summative assessment for the course takes place tomorrow. The Unit 1 test will include several multiple choice questions related to the key terms the students have already been working with. The second part of the test, however, is quite different. Students have been assigned essay groups (four students each), and together the class came up with four possible essay questions (all relating to how distinct factors affected the New England, Middle, and Southern colonies). Each student is assigned to lead one essay, which means they are expected to write the introduction and conclusion and organize their group members to write the body paragraphs. Each student, then, heads one question and is expected to write three distinct body paragraphs for the other three questions.

Students were given some time to organize who would head and write what for each potential essay question last week. Over the weekend they have presumably written out rough drafts for each question. On the day of the test, my mentor teacher will choose just one of these questions, and depending on the question, all group members should already know which part of the essay they are expected to write. Groups are not even allowed to discuss or strategize during the exam.

Once all is handed in, my mentor teacher will read each part as if it were one essay (understanding, of course, if a group member is absent or really drops the ball on the rest of the group). This takes a great deal of preparation work, and in their preparation time, students will inadvertently have studied for the multiple choice part of the unit exam.

I am very much looking forward to seeing how this summative assessment plays out! The formative assessments thus far this semester have been extraordinarily helpful in assessing student progress, and assessing just how much work these students are doing. The workload is heavy for this course, but the students have the opportunity to really explore the complexities of history. This is all thanks to the foundational knowledge they glean from their Key Term and quiz preparation, which allow us to push them much further during precious class time.

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