Three Tips for Developing Elementary Math Tests

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Elementary math tests are an essential part of the assessment process. Without the information that test results provide, it is nearly impossible for a teacher to accurately judge whether or not her students are understanding or retaining the material she is presenting to them.

Because test results are so important, designing appropriate tests to assess student progress is paramount. How, then, do you develop elementary math tests that accurately measure the success or failure of student learning?

Three tips for developing elementary math tests

Here are three things to consider when you are in the planning stages of your test development.

1. Demonstrate arithmetic through show and tell

Early elementary students are usually very concrete learners. They can often understand a concept in a hands-on way even when they are not able to accurately articulate it verbally. When at all possible, allow your students to show you what they have learned with physical — or even virtual — props. For instance, students could demonstrate their understanding of basic mathematical concepts by adding or subtracting objects from a group or construct basic geometrical objects on paper or from straws or popsicle sticks.

Even interactive computer games can be used to test an individual student’s understanding of math. Many of them are available for free on the Internet, including the resources available at the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives.

2. Use both timed and un-timed tests to develop math skills

Math skills can be divided roughly into two parts — problem-solving and rote memory. Both skills are equally valuable. The analytical, problem-solving side of math is important for working through story problems and understanding complex mathematical operations. Testing for this kind of understanding should not be timed. Students need to know they can take as long as they need to puzzle their way through the work.

Rote memory is an important skill for a fundamental reason: Without a quickly accessible database of facts such as multiplication tables, further understanding of math problems is simply impossible. Therefore, you should encourage a solid understanding of the basics with timed tests. A word of caution, however — according to an article in Education Week, timed tests can cause young students to develop test anxiety and lose confidence in their math abilities. Timed tests should be used to build rote memory skills, not to grade students on how many problems they can solve.

3. Mix and match types of math questions

Every subject — even one as concrete as mathematics — can be assessed in many different ways. When designing elementary math tests, teachers can include true and false questions, multiple-choice questions and questions that employ problem-solving skills. According to the “Improving Your Test Questions” page of the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, every type of math problem has both positive attributes and drawbacks. Multiple-choice questions, for example, offer “highly reliable test scores.” On the other hand, they can take a lot of time to create and encourage students to simply guess at the answers. By using many different types of questions on any given test, you can take advantage of the best attributes of all of them without weighing your assessments down with the negatives.

It’s elementary math fluency that matters

Students gaining and retaining knowledge of each subject is what matters most in any school setting. Elementary math tests are just one tool available to teachers to measure both of those important factors. Whether tests show that your students are learning or reveals knowledge gaps, important data has been gathered. By using good testing tools, you will either have the satisfaction of your students succeeding, or you will be able to modify your teaching style and your curriculum.

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