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How to Assess Online Students

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Remember back to the spring of 2020 when the College Board announced that the AP Exam was going to be administered online?

The reaction on the Internet was pretty consistent:

"All of the students are going to cheat!"
"Students will just Google all the answers!"
"Students will collaborate through text messages!"

It is likely that most of us had this first reaction. But after all was said and done, the College Board might have actually pulled the whole thing off. After grading AP exams for a week in June, we are quite convinced that most students took the exam authentically and got the score they deserved.

What Can We Learn from the 2020 AP Exam?

Let's first acknowledge that any plan for assessing online won't be perfect. There is always going to be some special case or loophole where some students could gain an advantage (this happens even when we assess in our own classrooms). But there are some general principles that we can follow that will make online assessment more authentic.

1. Assume that the assessment is open notes

There is no way that we can monitor what notes and books students have access to at home, so let's just assume they have access to everything (including Google). This means that we want to write questions that require answers that can't be found directly in a book or on Google. We want to write questions that require students to think and reason, rather than regurgitate a definition or formula they can easily find in their notes. One strategy for question-writing that is effective here is to include context in all of your questions.

2. Place time constraints on the assessment

Time constraints can be used for the assessment as a whole, or even for individual parts of the assessment. Students could be given 25 minutes to answer some multiple choice questions, then given 10 minutes each for two free response questions. Most of the learning management systems allow teachers to set up testing windows for assessments.

3. Use multiple versions when possible

While we don't have time or energy to make 30+ versions of every assessment, there are some easy things we can do to create different versions of our assessments. For multiple choice questions, there are many platforms that will allow you to shuffle the questions and the answer choices (or even randomly select questions from a pool). For free response questions, consider giving different questions to half of your class (we have had good luck finding questions using AP Classroom).

A note about feedback

While we hope that students are doing a majority of their learning during our daily lessons, formative assessments are one of the best ways for students to understand what they know and what they don't know. Teacher feedback on their responses is critical for this understanding. Create a system that will allow students to review their answers, see the correct solution, and get some sort of feedback from you (typed, written, or even audio feedback).

So, what are your best tips or strategies for other teachers giving online assessments?

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