Deconstructing Skill Based Assessment

Since Dan has linked to a bunch of readers who have implemented skills based assessment derived from his model, I thought I better post my own experiences with this.

I used this in my grade 8 math class (integrated concepts, heterogeneous grouping) as a way to revise the algebra that they had already been exposed to, with an eye towards needs-based differentiation. I divvied the algebra units from grade 7 and 8 into 25 skills, 5 of which I would consider ‘extension’. (Resources at the end.)

How it worked:

  • I handed out a sheet that listed the 25 skills and asked the students to self-evaluate their abilities, based on their performance on homework and tests if possible, using a 3 band rubric: sad face – not sure of what to do or how to do it; blah face – can do it sometimes but with minor mistakes; happy face – anytime, anyplace, bring it.
  • Once a week (usually on a Monday, based on our homework rotation) students would be given a 25 question quiz, with each question was aligned to the corresponding skill. The students had 20 minutes to complete as many questions they wanted. Each question usually had two or more problems: one simpler, one more complex.
  • I would then give the students 40 minutes to review any topic that they wanted using any method available to them: practice worksheets in small groups, one-to-one or small group help with me, using web resources that I had already searched out, or viewing screencast movies created by me or my teaching partner for that particular skill.
  • I would grade the quizzes on a 3 point scale, corresponding to the different faces and return the work within a day or two.
  • The goal was to receive two happy faces (show skill mastery twice) in order to receive a ‘gold cup’ for that skill. Students kept track of their own results on their skills sheets but I only asked them to record progress.
  • I kept track of all results in my gradebook.

After a couple of weeks, some of the students pointed out the obvious: why not review at the beginning of the lesson and then complete the assessment at the end? Much better…

This went on for 10 weeks, excluding the brief hiatus in the middle so that we could complete some in-class projects. All in all, I’m quite happy with the outcome of this little experiment and will definitely include it next year.

The Good:

  • Reinforced discrete algebra skills on a weekly basis, something we couldn’t always do in our integrated setting.
  • Students seemed to enjoy it and liked the simple 3-band rubric.
  • Many students showed significant growth and improvement over the 10 weeks.
  • Teachers in grade 9 will have a way of checking the entry level of students by looking over their skill sheet.

The Bad:

  • Time in class needs to be more structured – at times it felt like a free-for-all where little was being accomplished.
  • Students kept working on skills that they had already shown mastery in. This is a fundamental change in assessment and learning for them and that needs to be stressed. They didn’t really like the idea of skipping questions at the beginning (what does that say about how they’ve been trained???).
  • It got a bit repetitive for the students. More variation in the materials would be nice. These can be added throughout the process in the future.

The Unknown:

  • Will this actually have an effect in the grade 9 classroom? I’ll find out since I’m one of the grade 9 teachers…
  • The idea was to have students who showed mastery in all skills act as student leaders as well as create their own screencast movies for skills of their choice. Only a couple of students actually got that far, however. As tablets become more pervasive in the school, I hope it will be easier to get the students creating content that can help their peers.



algebra-skills-test-1 – Apologies: some of the characters have magically changed, but you get the idea I hope.

A sample math screencast: Graphing in Standard Form

A sample student screencast: FOIL in Korean

Comments are closed.