In an environment of high-stakes assessments – where a large portion of a student's grade is determined by a single assignment – students often feel anxiety and, when circumstances make them feel desperate to succeed, can lead to academic integrity violations. Here are some alternatives to high-stakes testing and assignments that can accomplish the same goals while creating an environment that reduces student anxiety and stress, emphasizes learning and feedback, and provides an inclusive approach to content mastery.
Frequent, Low-Stakes Assessments
An alternative to a few high-stakes exams (midterm and final, for example), is to break the content into more frequent, low-stakes assessments like quizzes. Rather than have a single midterm worth 40%, consider giving four quizzes (in Weeks 2, 4, 6, and 8, for example) wroth 10% each. More frequent testing encourages students to stay up to date with the material and prevents "cramming" for the midterm (which is not conducive to long-term learning). It also lowers student anxiety since each test is worth significantly less of their overall grade, reducing the chances that a bad day will significantly impact their ability to succeed in the course.
Mix Group and Individual Assignments
Group quizzes/worksheets provide a good way to get students to solve problems together. Questions that work well for group work like this tend to be conceptual in nature (rather than calculations). Providing one copy of the questions to a group of three students is a good approach to encouraging group discussion and streamlines grading (Gradescope makes group submissions simple and fast). Possible uses include in-class worksheets that directly address student misconceptions, group quizzes the day or week before individual quizzes to help students clarify their understanding, and group post-lab questions.
Give Students Multiple Ways to Demonstrate Their Understanding
Not everyone takes tests well, despite having deep content knowledge. Consider having short-term projects or creative ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge in addition to exams. These might include creating a poster or infographic, writing a paper, or creating a video. Giving students a range of choices can help them feel motivated and included in the course.
Create Frequent Immediate-Feedback Assignments
Consider using Canvas quizzes (which can be automatically graded) to test basic knowledge students need to master before class. Giving short quizzes, worth just a few points, with multiple attempts possible, is a great way for students to check their knowledge of the basics. By building in automatic feedback to incorrect answer choices, course instructors can give students instant feedback with little effort after the initial set-up.
Example of a Flipped General Chemistry Course with Frequent, Low-Stakes Assessments
This is an example of the sections of the syllabus related to grading and assignment distribution in a freshman-level general chemistry course:
Description and Assessment of Assignments
Assignments in the course include quizzes, in-class work, laboratory reports, homework, and a final project.
Class sessions will be used to reinforce the pre-lecture video content and give students practice solving problems. In-class work will be assigned and collected that day. Some in-class poll questions will be answered via Poll Everywhere. Points will be earned for answering in-class questions using the Poll Everywhere system. If you are not present in class, you may not earn these points and no make-ups are allowed. A small portion of poll questions will be dropped at the end of the semester to account for occasional unavoidable absences and technical issues. In addition to poll questions there will be four in-class group activities throughout the semester, worth 10 points each. You must be present and participate to earn these points.
Lab meets approximately ten times during the course. Your total lab score will be comprised of pre-lab assignments, lab reports, a lab practical exercise, and a safety quiz. See the lab Canvas site for information about lab requirements. All questions regarding lab should be directed to your TA or the lab instructor.
There are ten homework assignments throughout the semester. You may work with other members of the class on the homework, but your submitted work must be your own. Homework assignments are due almost every Wednesday at 11:59pm, and submissions will be via Gradescope. Homework is graded on completion and answer keys are posted on Thursday mornings after the assignment due date. No late homework will be accepted after the deadline.
At the end of the semester, you will be asked to construct a poster related to an important chemical reaction. Detailed instructions will be given around Week 8. Your poster will need to clearly define and explain the topic you are covering, give an overview of the chemical reaction and its role in society, describe important and relevant thermodynamic and / or kinetic data, including enthalpy, entropy, Gibbs free energy, reaction rates, along with other relevant information, describe the importance / relevance of the reaction, and explain any disadvantages / issues with the reaction. Your poster will be graded on accuracy, completion, visual presentation, focus, organization, references, and style. This poster is worth 10% of your overall grade in the course, with 1% of this based on peer evaluation participation. Final drafts are due for peer evaluation by 5pm on Monday, November 28. Your final product is due no later than 11:59pm on Wednesday, December 7.
Your grade will be determined according to the following distribution:
To receive a passing grade, satisfactory work must be done in both lab and the lecture portions of the course. You are encouraged to check your grades in Canvas.
Course final grades will be determined using the following scale:
|A||93 - 100||930|
|A-||90 - 92.9||900|
|B+||87 - 89.9||870|
|B||83 - 86.9||830|
|B-||80 - 82.9||800|
|C+||77 - 79.9||770|
|C||73 - 76.9||730|
|C-||70 - 72.9||700|
|D+||67 - 69.9||670|
|D||63 - 66.9||630|
|D-||60 - 62.9||600|
|F||Below 60%||Less than 600 points OR less than 145 lab points earned|
Feedback from students:
"Broadly speaking, the variety of opportunities we have to apply our knowledge in the class, from quizzes to homework assignments to the final project. Not only does this allow us to recover from one bad grade, but it encourages students to work and become familiar with the material in different ways rather than for big, high–stakes exams only. In addition, because students are exposed to the content in multiple ways, this in itself prepares us for bigger quizzes because we are constantly reviewing and studying the material."
"The way this course is taught as a whole is extremely helpful, as we get to learn something as much as we can the night before, and during class, we get to fully understand the material through lectures and examples."
"The videos and video quizzes were my favorite part of this course. I learned so much in those short videos and really got to engage the information immediately through the video quizzes. Great practice and very clever way of imbedding the information into long term memory storage."
"The MOST valuable aspect is the established preview/review system using homework sets and video quizzes."