Sunday, January 13, 2013

Calculus: Mastery Tests (SBG)

As I've mentioned before, I don't care for the name Standards-Based Grading (SBG), but I like most of what people are doing and thinking that goes by that name.

However, I've noticed that most people seem to assess very small, detailed standards, and I want to assess broader topics. Maybe that's because high school teachers have more time with their students than I do with mine?

I've moved away from my old tests .. "on chapters 2 and 3", and have moved to something between that and the usual SBG. I test after each of my units. Each test is composed of mini-tests on each topic, and students may retake the mini-tests one by one.

Here's another handout I made today:

Mastery Test List

There are 15 mastery tests listed below. You will have more than one chance on each of them. On the mini-tests marked R, you may do retakes in my office. The others will be available during a later test.

Each test will have one problem-solving problem. You must get this problem right at least once during the semester. (There will be a few of these on the final for people who haven’t yet gotten one.)

Unit 1: Exploring the Idea of the Derivative
• Definition
• Tangent R
• Graphs
• Rate of change (from a table of data)

Unit 2: Derivatives of Polynomials, Trig functions, Products & Quotients; Graphing
• Polynomials R
• Periodic functions with products and quotients R
• Graphing

Unit 3: Exponential Growth, Compositions & Implicit Functions, Optimization, Related Rates
• Basics R
• Implicit (including related rates)
• Optimization

Unit 4: Limits, Anti-Derivatives, and Area
• Limits
• Anti-derivatives R
• Area
• Position, Velocity & Acceleration

Unit 5: Volume
(No mastery test, but this will appear on the final exam)

I believe my students are learning how to study because of the opportunities they now have to retake tests. I think this policy is making a big difference in their learning.

What do you think?


  1. I love this idea. I've been resistant to additional testing in my classes, both because I hate grading and because I hate losing the class time. But I've decided to do weekly quizzes this semester in calculus because I think the more frequent low-stakes testing will be useful. But I really like your framework, as well as providing additional opportunities for a pass. How often do these tests happen and how much class time do they take?

  2. Our semester is about 18 weeks. I give the 4 unit tests during that time, and then 2 chances for the final exam. I also give lots of quizzes, though they count much less in the grade.

    Our classes meet for 50 minutes on two of the days and 80 minutes on the other two days. The first test may be on a short day, but the others will all be on a long day.

    Last semester my class met at 8am, so we could come early for the extra testing some students needed. This semester we end at 2, and I'm hoping we can stay after for any extra time students need.

    I used to agonize over partial credit, and my tests used to be longer. I give very short tests now. If they have a second chance, I don't mind one problem counting 50%, and I don't worry if I grade it just right. So grading is much easier now.


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