Summative Assessment: Biomes Unit Test

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Students will demonstrate their knowledge of the content in the biomes unit by completing a test consisting of several multuple choice questions and a short essay.

Big Idea

The information we've learned so far allows us to make an educated statement about biomes.


This lesson is the final test and summative assessment for the biomes unit.  The test consists of 25 multiple choice questions, and a short essay which students can write on their choice of 1 of any 4 short answer prompts.  
Please note that all of the sections below are timed at 0 minutes.  This is because this lesson consists mainly of instructions for teachers and an explanation of my rationales.

However, I usually try and allow students to have about 60 minutes with the test.  So I have them start pretty much right away once they've come to class (I do take a few minutes to quickly review test policies and allow them to organize their resources before they begin).


Connection to Standards:

In this lesson, students will demonstrate their understanding of the content in the biomes unit by producing clear writing, developing a thesis by selecting relevant, supporting facts, and accurately using domain-specific academic vocabulary

Testing Policies and Rationale

Call me "old school", but tests are an essential part of school.  Regardless about how one might feel about the assessment value of traditional, multiple choice tests, if you consider the SAT and ACT, AP Exams, college finals, then the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, etc., tests are very much a part of the student experience in high school and beyond. 

I happen to believe that tests are good practice for students and a great tool for teachers to gauge how well their students have learned the material (and perhaps, by extension, how well the teacher taught the material).

With that said, however, tests are not necessarily the most equitable means of assessing student knowledge.  Considering that multiple choice and short essay questions largely depend on a student's ability to read at grade level and both comprehend and produce academic English, ELLs and socioeconomically underprivileged students can be at a distinct disadvantage compared to their native English speaking, more affluent peers.

Therefore, I tend to build in as many resources and support opportunities throughout the unit to make the test less of a test of your background and more a test of your comprehension of the material covered in the unit.
On this test, each multiple choice question is worth 1 point, and the short essay is worth 5 points.  The test, then, is worth 30 Points in total.


Testing policies:

  • I arrange students as spread out from one another as possible in the available class space (in contrast to the clumped groups of four students the class is usually arranged in)
  • Students are NOT allowed to talk with each other at any point during the test, although they may ask me questions of clarification on any directions, or some aspect of a specific question (and in the case of ELLs, I will go so far as to simplify the language of both questions and answer choices as needed).
  • Students are allowed the following resources:
  • I absolutely DO NOT allow students to use their cell phones during the test.  On the one hand, students could text each other answers, but I'm more concerned by the fact that when I did allow cellphones on one test (which I announced could only be used as mp3 players), one student's short essay was lifted word for word from one uploaded to the internet.  In short, it's too easy for students to cheat on the test if they're allowed to have their smartphones at hand. 

The Test Itself

60 minutes

Once I have reviewed the policies, students have their resources ready, and I've rearranged their seating, I distribute a copy of the test to each student.

While students are working on the test, I occasionally get up from my desk and circulate the room, trying to both dissuade any academic dishonesty and get a sense of how students are progressing through the test. 


When students finish the test, I ask that they bring it to my desk immediately.  This not only removes opportunities for students to copy answers from each other, it saves me time on grading: as students turn in their tests, I can stagger the grading of their multiple choice segments of the test so as not to save all of the grading for my personal time.

To grade the multiple choice segment, I mark a blank copy of the test to use as an answer key.


I usually have the first homework assignment for the next unit ready on my desk and ask students to pick this up as they turn in their completed test.  They can then work quietly on this assignment or on something for another class until the end of the period.  If all students finish the test before the end of the period, I will announce that they can enjoy some "chill time" for the last few minutes of class, but this rarely happens... a few students almost always work right up to the end of the period.




Grading the Short Answer

My current Environmental Science course is not AP, but I would eventually like to offer an AP Environmental Science course to my students.  So, considering that a short essay is part of the AP exam, including short essays or free response questions on my tests seems like a good practice.

I firmly believe that while multiple choice questions can be a measure aspects of student content mastery, they can't fully measure that mastery.  In a sense, in a short essay response, there's "nowhere to hide" and students need to demonstrate their ability to make an argument or statement of fact supported by multiple pieces of evidence from their learning throughout the unit.  


I grade the written portions of the tests using this rubric

The short essay question is worth 5 points.  On most of my tests, there are 20-25 multiple choice questions and 1 short essay.  My rationale for making the short essay worth 5 points is that, even if a student were to answer every multiple choice question correctly, they couldn't receive an "A" on the test without also writing at least a satisfactory essay.  I think this is reasonable because I believe an "A" on a test should be a mark of some achievement. 

There are 3 domains on the rubric and I weigh each of them equally.  This may not be a perfect system, but I am hoping to give students with different academic strengths as good a chance as possible of doing well on this section of the test.


As you can see in the attached student examples, I provide grades vertically for the three aspects of the rubric:

  • Addressing all parts of the question
  • The quality or "correctness" of the information
  • Use of class vocabulary and supporting examples

Each domain is worth 5 points and the average of their three scores gives them their total out of 5 points. 

So, in this example of a short essay that was scored a 4 out of 5,

  • they received 3 points for addressing all parts of the question because although they mentioned temperature in the chaparral, they forgot to mention temperature of the temperate rainforest.  Furthermore, they did not mention the geographic distribution of either biome.
  • The received 5 points for the quality of their provided information because everything that they did say was correct, meaning they didn't offer any incorrect information. 
  • They received 4 points for use of class vocabulary and supporting examples because they missed an opportunity to use the vocabulary term "crepuscular" (which I took great pains to emphasize in the adaptations to biomes presentation) and could have offered more explanation regarding how the skin of slugs is an adaptation to this biome.  However, they did mention specific comparative information on the seasonal climatic variation in the chaparral and utilized class vocabulary of "evergreen" trees in the temperate rain forest.
  • To arrive at their score, 3+5+4 = 12, and 12 divided by the 3 domains = 4 out of a possible 5


As a point of comparison, in this example of a short essay that was scored a 3 out of 5,

  • they received 2 points for addressing all parts of the question because they did not mention precipitation or geographic distribution for either biome they discussed.
  • The received 5 points for the quality of their provided information because everything that they did say was correct, meaning they didn't offer any incorrect information.   I'm somewhat conflicted on this grade looking back at it now because I feel they should have offered more information... but I was trying to be consistent in grading multiple short answers and was essentially rewarding students for having the discretion to avoid providing incorrect information.
  • However, they only received 2 points for use of class vocabulary and supporting examples because they failed to demonstrate any mastery of class vocabulary (such as "thermoregulation", the major adaptation they're discussing) and, although they do provide at least one example of adaptations, they don't do a very good job of expressing a more complete understanding of how organisms adapt to these different biomes.  In this case, by failing to address all parts of the question in the first place (i.e., they're really only differentiating the tundra and the savanna by temperature), they didn't leave themselves much of an opportunity to use much class vocabulary or further support the major differences between these biomes apart from the basic difference of temperature.  
  • To arrive at their score, 2+5+2 = 9, and 9 divided by the 3 domains = 3 out of a possible 5