We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at your desk after school, grading papers and you notice one failing grade after another. As you finish grading, you notice so many students failed the test. So, what do you do when your students fail a test?
First of all, don’t panic! It’s one day and one test and it happens. Regardless of what you do next, know that this doesn’t make you a bad teacher.
Look at the data
Start by looking at all your data, not just your students scores. Determine what standards the test assessed. Are there questions most students answered correctly? What standards did they address? If the majority of students answered the same question correctly, you can leave that standard alone and focus on the standards your students struggled with.
Look at the questions your students answered incorrectly. Did they all choose the same wrong answer? What misconceptions could have led them to choose that answer? Is the question worded in a way that might have been confusing for your students? These are questions you can use to guide your next steps.
Use an Assessment Tool that Helps You Analyze Data
Whenever possible, use an assessment tool that makes it easy for you to look at and compare data. There are many online programs and platforms that allow you to build and administer tests to your students. Some examples are Canvas, Mastery Connect, and Google Classroom. By using these online platforms to assess your students, you can easily and quickly look at your data to determine common mistakes among your students.
Next, use the actual test to remediate. You can add a new assignment with the test on your Learning Management System for your students. Or, depending on computer time, you can print it out. Determine if you want to have students work independently or in pairs. Give the students the assessment again and ask them to go through it and write down WHY they chose the answers they did. Remind your students that it is okay if they got the question wrong. The purpose of this exercise is to help you understand the WHY behind their answers.
If you can understand why students chose the answers they did, it helps you understand any misconceptions or confusions they had around the content. This allows you to get in the mind of your students and determine why they made the mistakes they did. Did your students not read the problem correctly? Did they skim the problem and skip important information? Many standardized test questions are long and complicated. If students don’t work through the problems properly it can cause them to make mistakes.
This process allows your students to work back through the problems and determine where they got off track. Another strategy I like to use in my classroom is to give my students highlighters and have them highlight words or phrases that threw them off. Were there vocabulary words they didn’t understand? Again, the goal of this exercise is to focus on the WHY. By allowing students to work through these steps you are helping them understand that you are more concerned with helping them better understand the concepts than giving them a failing grade.
Have Your Students Reflect on Their Learning
Give your students an opportunity to reflect on their learning. If you use a learning scale regularly in your classroom, now is a great time to break it out. If you don’t use learning scales, you can simply ask your students to write a 1,2, or 3 on the top of their assessment. One indicating they understand the concept well. Two meaning they need some help understanding the concept and three meaning they are completely lost. Another simple way to use learning scales is to have them put their thumb up, sideways or down to indicate their level of understanding. For more information about ways to use Learning Progression Scales in your classroom check out this blog post.
Once your students have rated themselves and their level of understand, ask them to explain why they rated themselves the way they did. This can help you determine exactly what you need to do to help your students understand the concepts better. It can also help inform how you teach concepts in the future.
If you need an easy way for students to reflect on their learning, grab this Interactive Notebook Starter Kit. It includes everything you need to set up students’ interactive notebooks including Learning Progression Scales and Assessment Trackers.
Hold Student Conferences
You have collected data and know how your students feel about the concepts being assessed. Now it’s time to hold student conferences. Provide the class with an independent activity and hold student conferences. Take time to have a conversation with each student about how they did on the exam. Let them talk to you about where they had struggles.
Don’t skip this step. Student conferences allow students to talk through their struggles, their feeling and help you know how to help your students in the future. There are many students who won’t write out why they are struggling or raise their hand, but they may be willing to talk to you one on one about them.
Figure Out a New Way to Reteach the Standards
Now that you understand what standards you need to focus on, find a NEW way to reteach them. Using the same method to reteach a standard is not going to lead to increased test scores. If students didn’t understand the material how it was presented before, it’s time to try something different. Also, make sure you take each individual class into consideration. Every class is different. Every class is made up of completely different students. One style of teaching may work well for some class periods but not others. Take your students learning styles into consideration. A class full of kinesthetic learners may not benefit from a lecture/note taking based lesson. For that class, it may be important to get those students up and moving!
If you are struggling to find new ways to teach the standard again, do some research. Are their escape room activities to assess the standards? Interactive notes? PowerPoints or videos? Task Cards? By teaching students in a variety of ways, you are allowing them to interact with the material in different ways and better learn the concept you are teaching.
Remember, if your students fail a test, you are not a bad teacher. Take a breath, look at the data and figure out what you need to do differently next time.