If you've taught for long enough, you've heard all kinds of interesting and creative arguments for why a particular answer on a test question deserves a higher mark than the one you've awarded. Some of these arguments may indeed have merit, but most arguments will invariably speak to your testing philosophy. For this reason, I've found that it's a very good idea to clearly state my testing philosophy - and even post it in writing - long before my first test is ever given.
I remember attending an AP (Advanced Placement) workshop where we were shown a range of answers to a selection of AP exam questions. In one case, an answer was highlighted for the fact that it would receive a mark solely because it contained a particular buzzword that was included within a pre-determined list of buzzwords - regardless of the fact that the word was not presented in any meaningful context. Fair enough: that may be part of the College Board's testing philosophy, but it's not part of mine. While I'll never dismiss or downplay the importance of knowledge, I feel strongly that test questions should be developed to examine understanding of a topic - not just memorization of facts or vocabulary. For almost twenty years now, I've articulated my testing philosophy within a statement that I include on my course websites and even at the top of my tests. I must say, I've found this to be a very useful practice because it not only tends to reduce potential challenges to poorly marked answers, it, more importantly, tends to increase the quality of written answers.
I've shared my testing philosophy below. While the philosophy itself is of value, perhaps the thing that is of most value is simply the practice of reviewing such a philosophy with students ahead of tests. Think about your testing philosophy and how you might sum it up within a mission statement or manifesto, and then consider sharing it with your students ahead of your next test. I always enjoy hearing your feedback, so, if you decide to give this a try, let me know what kind of philosophy you develop.
Bear in mind that any test in this course will attempt to evaluate the student's understanding of the topics and issues within a given unit. Although memorization of any facts or details involved will often be essential for a correct answer, memorization is not all that is required. Questions are not often designed to allow the student to recite a class note in the appropriate place, but rather to apply the knowledge that may be contained within a note in a new and often abstract manner. A student's opinion on a topic or issue will be given due consideration, but will be considered of little value if it is not supported by fact. Opinions are expected to take the information learned within the course into consideration - not to replace this information.
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