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Test retakes

February 3, 2017

A year and a half ago after reading a couple of blogs about testing and retakes, I thought I would try it.  My reasoning was that this might encourage students to study the material better for the second attempt.  With many of the tests, but not all, I provide the students with feedback on the skills tested and how they did on each skill.  I have constructed spreadsheets to help me generate this data.  From this effort, I have arrived at a few impressions.

First, the students’ enthusiasm for retakes does not match the number of students who show up.  When I announce the opportunity for a retake in class, the enthusiasm suggests at least two-thirds of the students will take the test, but the total who take the retake usually come closer to one-third on the first retake.  As the semester progresses, the number who avail themselves of this opportunity decreases.

A concern with giving the retake is that the test will be fresh enough in the students’ minds that they will be able to remember the test and do better based on memory.  While I can’t explore their brains or memories, the results indicate that this concern is unfounded.  While some continue to make the same mistakes, others make new mistakes.

I would think that the weaker students would find this a welcome opportunity to try to improve their grades.  They get a chance to pass the test after they failed it the first time.  However, many of the students who take the retake are trying to raise Bs to As or Cs to Bs.  The ones most in need of the additional push are less enthusiastic about taking the retake.

Finally, the results so far show mixed improvements.  A little over half of the students improve from one test to another, a few do the same or nearly the same, and a small number do worse.  Few students do well enough to increase their scores to move up a grade level such as from a C to a B.

Still, I plan to continue with the retakes to give the students interested in the opportunity a chance.  It seems to help many of the students who do it while at least getting most to review the materials, that is, except for the few who appear to think that maybe their luck will change with the retake.


Looking at retirement and it’s staring back at me

January 31, 2017

I retire in about 10 months.  I have mixed feelings about that.  I look forward to having some time for myself to fiddle around not doing very much.

But I look at much that I would like to accomplish for my program.  I could probably accomplish more of it now, but thoughts of retirement have an innervating effect on my moving forward energetically on projects or venturing into new areas.

Still, I feel like I have become a better teacher over the last few years.  I flipped some of my classes about 5 years ago and keep doing so sometimes in a sort of slapdash way, or so it seems to me.  My teaching seems to have improved.  I feel more connection to my students and see them succeeding although sometimes only on the second attempt at the class.   Sometimes, I feel I am at the top of my game.  The reality though is that my hearing loss continues little by little, and I miss more each year or make students feel bad when I make them repeat more than once.

The grading and grind of preparing will not be missed and the trepidation about whether I am prepared enough or have the right formula for this class will be gladly put away. I think so anyway.  However, the creating of a new lesson, creating a new project will be sorely missed.  Even staring at my retirement, I spent tonight preparing a new type of vocabulary practice that I want to use tomorrow.  Last week, I created an email writing assignment for my students that went pretty well.

And though I am the titular head of my program, I wonder will anyone use any of these activities I worked on so enthusiastically?

Some Formulas for Test Results Spreadsheet

May 22, 2016

In setting up the test results spreadsheet, there are some formulas that are needed to help report and analyze the results.  I am not a spreadsheet maven, so most of my formulas lack sophistication and do not use such powerful one as VLookUp which I often see referenced on YouTube or in some posts about setting up reports.

Number of Students

After entering the data for all of the students, I want to know how many students took the test.  This is important for some later calculations.  Now I could just count them, but I like to use one of two formulas either =COUNTA(beginning cell, ending cell) as in =COUNTA(A3:A28).  I can also use the formula =COUNTIF(A3:A28,“*”).  I prefer the first formula.  Now, I have the number of students who have taken the test.

Students with Correct Answers

Next, I want to know how many students made the correct choice for each item.  My test was a 15 item test.  However, I only need to write the formula one time.  I use the COUNTIF formula for this.    First, I choose the column of the item from the first to the last response, then after a comma, I enter or choose the correct answer from the key.

The formula used in this spreadsheet looks like this =COUNTIF(B3:B28,B2).  I then grab the box in the lower right-hand corner of the cell


and drag it over the other columns to quickly calculate the number of correct answers for the other items on the test.

To calculate the percent correct, we can divide the number correct by the number of students who took the test.  We can do this by manually entering the number of students who took the test or by entering the cell number of formula for the number of students and using $ to make it an absolute.  Our formula would look something like this =B30/$A$35.

Analyzing the Responses

To further analyze the responses, we can see a breakdown of choices by using the COUNTIF formula some more.  The format changes somewhat.  First, I go down the first column and enter a, b, c, and d for the possible choices.  Then in the column under the first item, I enter =COUNTIF(B3:B28,“a”).  We cannot simply grab the corner and pull down without going back and correcting the cell numbers because they change with the pull-down.  We also cannot use the absolutes ($) because we want to pull sideways to copy the formula with the adjustments made by the spreadsheet.  So, the next one down looks like =countif(B3:B28,“b”), =countif(B3:B28,“c”).  Note that it doesn’t matter if the formula is in upper case or lower case.  Once we have all the items for one column, we can copy sideways.  


Getting the students’ scores

The next formula we need will give us the correct numbers for the choices the students made.  In other words, we can find out how many correct answers each student has.  The formula is =SUMPRODUCT(($B$2:$P$2=B3:P3)). The formula allows the comparison of the students choices in the row B3:P3 with the key row, $B$2:$P$2 using the absolute $ in front of the cell numbers.  The results from this formula will provide the number of correct choices.  The formula can be copied down by grabbing the square and pulling it down.  The key will not change, but the row for each student will change to match the student.


These formulas provide the basis for helping report and analyze student results and the test items.  In a subsequent post, I will show how to use these formulas to develop individualized reports for students and how to analyze student results and test items.

Reorganizing and Learning

May 22, 2016

I have been thinking about the process of learning as I am participating in a professional development course at my college. We are aiming to come up with an action research project. At present, I am considering a project on adding gamification elements into my reading and my writing classes. In considering this, I have been reflecting on learning.

Teaching involves getting students to reorganize their knowledge in some ways. The process involves making students uncomfortable with what they know; i.e., I don’t know enough to do this, or what I know doesn’t match with my textbook/teacher’s lecture/video information. The teacher helps the students deal with the failures that go along with the learning while also enabling the student to go through the successful reorganization.

Setting up a Test Results Spreadsheet

May 16, 2016

For some time I have been working on developing a means to learn more about the tests I give and give feedback to the students about their tests.  I find the most effective way is through using Google Sheets or Excel.  I tend to use Google Sheets because my work machine is a PC with the Office package (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook) and my home computer is a Mac without the Office package.

This post will show how to begin setting up the spreadsheet file for one type of test.  Subsequent posts will show some formulas I use and how to set up the reports page.

For a reading comprehension test that tests skills like words in context, main idea, and supporting information, I set up the main page with the test item number and the key under it like this.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 9.32.09 PM

I then add additional pages for each skill with the items from the test that criteria. To add additional sheets or pages, go to the bottom of the spreadsheet and click on the plus sign.


For example if question 1 and 3 are main idea questions, then that page will have links to question 1 and 3 on the new sheet.  First, it is a good idea to rename the sheets.  I renamed mine as student results and main idea.


Now, we want to link the main idea questions to the answer sheet.  We can do this quickly using the formula bar.  First, we find the cell we want to use as our landing space.  From this space, we enter the = sign in the formula bar and switch sheets to the Student Results sheet and click on the desired space.  In the formula bar, a formula should appear that looks something like this =‘Student results’!B2.  The information between the apostrophes is the sheet title.  The exclamation point tells us that we are linking to a different page.  This is followed by the cell reference where the information will be copied from.  I have experienced difficulties with this in Google Sheets and sometimes have to manually adjust the cell number to get the proper reference cell.  

Next we fill the spaces with the reference cells to be able to copy the selected information when we record the scores as is shown in this video.


We now have the basic elements for setting up the spreadsheet.  To complete it, we create new sheets for the the different skills and link them to the student results page.  We complete the fills.  We are now ready to record the student answers.


Google Drawing for Timelines

May 15, 2016

With reading classes, I try to design activities that require the students to read and reread the text.  One way to encourage this type of interaction with the text is through having students do different kinds of illustration or diagramming activities.  One of the first activities that I did with my students this last semester was to make a timeline for a reading.  I have done this in the past using a spreadsheet, but I was looking at videos on YouTube for ideas and found one that showed how to put a timeline on top of an image.  I decided to do this with my students.

I made a video explaining how to make the timeline.

I took the students to the lab and worked with them on making the timeline.  The lesson went well in that the students could complete the timeline in the time we had for the class and most timelines were accurate.  If they were not, I gave students feedback and encouraged them to revise their timelines until they were correct.

It is important with Google Drawing that all of the students have a Google account preferably setup before class.

This activity can help prepare for later illustration and diagramming of reading texts for showing the relationships between main ideas and supports, for showing organizational patterns, and showing statements and evidence.  The advantage of using Google Drawing early with a lesson like this is we don’t have to provide as much guidance on how to use Google Drawing after the first lesson.  Thus, the students can spend more time with the reading.

Thoughts on Zipgrade

May 14, 2016

During the last semester, I tried out Zipgrade, an application for Android and Apple systems.  I put in on my iPad and iPhone to use in my reading class and ran a few trials with it.

Zipgrade as the name suggests is a tool for quickly grading students’ work.  It grades multiple choice activities quickly giving an almost immediate score and can show the correct and incorrect items.  Zipgrade functions using the device’s camera whether tablet or phone to take a picture and process the information.  In addition, the website where the information goes puts the information into analysis so the teacher can see quickly how well the students perform on each item as well as how well they perform on the test or quiz as a whole.

Let’s walk through the procedure for using the application.  The teacher creates a key for a quiz or an exam on his or her device.  If the students’ information has been uploaded to the teacher’s account on the website, the teacher can assign the quiz or test to a class.  The teacher prints out the proper answer sheet (there are three options: 1o items, 20 items, and 50 items) for the quiz.  The answer sheet is a scantron type form with multiple choice options for five answers.  The quiz is administered with the students blackening their choices for the answers.  When they finish, the teacher lets the app take a picture of the answer sheet and the score is processed.  The teacher can share the results immediately with the students.

I found that setting up a class made it very easy for me to get on with the quizzes, grading, and analysis.  I imported my class from a .csv file.  Students were assigned id numbers which makes it possible to use different types of answer sheets.  Since I had set up the class, I also could print out individualized answer sheets with the students’ names and id number on the print out.  This made grading with the application quick and easy for the most part.  I also had data available after the test for analysis which not only told me how my students did, but also the data helped me see item by item the troublesome items and the items the students had mastered.

It was a quick process when it worked.  However, I experienced some difficulties.  The application is finicky about reading the answer sheets because they have to be perfectly level.  Also, it took me a while at first to get my phone and tablet aligned properly to read the answer sheets.  The bothersome part was that after a few answer sheets were read, the application quit processing the answer sheets on my iPad.  I switched to my iPhone and finished.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had not had my phone with me.  I don’t know if the same problem would have arisen if I had begun with my phone.

Pricing is reasonable.  The first one hundred answer sheet readings are free.  They charge 1.99 USD for two months and 6.99 USD for one year.  There is also a Value Purchase Program for Education through Apple that costs 12.99 USD that appears to have no time limit.

I plan to use this application in my next semester and will prepare for it.  I found Zipgrade in the middle of the semester and just did some trial runs.  It is useful and makes grading much easier and quicker so I can concentrate on teaching and analysis instead of making checks on papers.  I like having the data available though the report includes a lot of information which I found superfluous, but I think there are ways in Google Sheets for me to manage it better in the future.

In summary, a quick grading tool that removes the drudgery and provides some very useful analysis to help improve my tests and my teaching.