In considering my idea for the Unit 1 summative assessment -- the brochure written to farmers in the Amazon Basin -- it's important to stop and do a reality check to see if it will be a useful and valid assessment. The following questions come from p. 180 of the UbD workbook.
How likely is it that a student could do well on the assessment by...
1.) Making clever guesses based on limited understanding?
Not very. The students are going to have to translate some complicated ecological concepts into language that the farmers could understand. It's not enough for them to say that slash-and-burn agriculture is bad or that shade-grown crops are good; they have to be able to provide a well-reasoned argument from the ecological principles we discussed in class.
2.) Parroting back or plugging in what was learned, with accurate recall but limited or no understanding?
I don't think so. Accurate recall may help them remember some basic facts about the Amazon, but explaining the connection between the farmers' activities and the resulting changes in the ecology will require a deeper understanding.
3.) Making a good-faith effort, with lots of hard work and enthusiasm, but with limited understanding?
Anyone who puts in a lot of legitimate hard work on the project will have formed a deeper understanding by the time they finish. This isn't something they can just push through with brute force.
4.) Producing lovely products and performances, but with limited understanding?
No matter how pretty the brochure, the student isn't going to score well unless they make a solid, persuasive argument.
5.) Applying natural ability to be articulate and intelligent, with limited understanding of the content in question?
While being articulate and intelligent will certainly help, I think it will be easy to tell from the student's arguments whether they have a true understanding of the content or not. It is possible for a person to articulate a superficial argument in an attractive way, but I don't plan on being taken in by such pretty facades.
How likely is it that a student could do poorly on the assessment by...
6.) Failing to meet the performance goals despite having a deep understanding of the big ideas? (i.e., the task is not relevant to the goals)
I don't think that's very likely. I plan to make clear to the students what I'm looking for, in terms of the structure and format of the brochure, so as long as the student is reasonably articulate they should be able to convey their understanding in the content of the brochure. My one concern here is for the English Language Learners, but the language gap is something that they're going to face with any substantive assessment. If a known ELL is having trouble expressing him- or herself in text, I should have plenty of advance warning and be able to make accommodations. Perhaps I can work with the student's English teacher to help them sharpen the technical aspects of their writing. In any event, I plan to ask the students to turn in a draft of their brochure before the project is due, which should give us advance warning to clear up any difficulties of this sort.
7.) Failing to meet the scoring and grading criteria used, despite having a deep understanding of the Big Ideas? (i.e., some of the criteria are arbitrary, placing undue or inappropriate emphasis on things that have little to do with the desired results or true excellence at such a task)
This seems very unlikely to me. I'll be grading the students' work on two rubrics, one for Understanding and the other for Performance, as recommended by the UbD textbook. If the student has good understanding of the material, that should come out during the draft stage, and I can give them tips at that time to help sharpen up their execution.
On the whole, I think that this project meets the desired objectives for a summative assessment. The key, as Page told me yesterday, will be to make sure that the students are clear on what is required of them, and to check their progress at the draft stage to make sure that they're on the right track.