The objective of this project was to compare the effects of using an alternative assessment (oral tests) with more traditional assessment (written tests), specifically in a mathematics content course for pre-service elementary teachers. We were guided by the following questions: Q1: Does an oral assessment change our evaluation of students' achievement in the course? If so, can we qualitatively describe the differences between what oral and traditional assessments measure? Q2: How do students' perceived learning gains from an oral assessment compare to perceived learning gains from a written assessment?
We implemented oral assessments as a part of the assessment menu in Math 385: Mathematics for Elementary School Teachers. These have been retained as part of the course. Ideas from our study have also influenced training materials for incoming graduate students and postdocs.
We are continuing work on this project with a view to submitting an article to a peer-reviewed journal. A part of our data collection involved measuring math anxiety, an instrument that we have refined and developed for general use. Additionally, this project provided material for a UROP student to work on during the 2015-16 academic year.
Results from this study have been presented at MathFest in Washington DC, the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Antonio, Teaching Mathematics Content Courses conference at the University of Michigan, and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference in San Fransisco. A paper on these results is currently in preparation, with plans to submit to a peer-reviewed journal.
Advice to your Colleagues:
While oral assessments are logistically complicated to organize, and definitely time consuming, we learned that both students and instructors can benefit from using them. All students seem to benefit from the immediate feedback (formative feedback) and a greater diversity of students seem to excel than those who traditionally excel at written assessments alone. And the oral, one-on-one format allows instructors to gain a much deeper and more nuanced understanding of student learning than from a traditional written assessment.