Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The American History Required Knowledge Test

[Photo by MC Quinn.]

We take a laid-back, eclectic approach to education. Although I recommend certain library books or audiotape lessons, I give my older students a lot of freedom in planning and scheduling their studies. They enjoy being able to follow their interests as far as their ability allows, but they are also expected to cover at least the basics of the subjects they hate. But as my daughter approaches the end of high school, my problem is: What do I put on her transcript? How do I grade such a free-wheeling style of learning?

Here is one method: Create a "required knowledge" test. List the things that any educated person ought to know about that topic, and then turn each item into a short-response question. To pass the course, my student must give the correct answer to every item on such a test. To get a B, she must go beyond the basics and show an understanding of the whys and wherefores of the subject --- that is, she must write essays or do experiments. And to earn an A, she must dig deeply into one area and write a research paper.

Here is an example: The American History Required Knowledge Test.

Author Dennis Fermoyle explains:

"Every quarter I give a test at the end of each quarter called THE REQUIRED KNOWLEDGE TEST. It was inspired by those Jay Leno type man-in-the-street interviews, where they ask people questions that any citizen should know, and they give ridiculously stupid answers. Often they are about current events, but sometimes they are about American history. (Question: Who did we fight in the Revolutionary War? Answers: China, Russia, or Vietnam.)

"When I give this test, students have to show that they know the answer to every question in order to get a passing grade for the quarter. If they get one or two wrong, I'll just have them come up after class and tell me what the correct answers are, but if they get a significant number wrong, they'll have to take the entire test again. Students can still fail for the quarter even if they take care of this requirement --- and some always do --- but they can't earn a passing grade without it."

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