No blank answers on tests, please!

Why did it take me 9 years of teaching to figure this out???  . . . It seems so simple now that I am doing it.

Maybe I only just noticed how big of a problem this is because I taught ALL applied level courses this year:


It’s like my students just gave up. On test problems I KNEW they could answer.

“But I’ve seen you do this in class!” I’d cry, “Why did you leave it blank?”.

And yet only now, during exam week, did I find a solution for this. And now that I’ve tried it, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it years earlier . . . it seems so simple:

“Do you have blank answers still? Then I’m not taking your exam. I’ll give you a hint if you like . . .”

And that’s how it went. As each student handed me their exam, I leafed through each page and if I saw any problem unanswered I would hand it back.

“But I have no clue how to do it!” they protested.

So I gave them hints. Showed them similar problems. Drew diagrams for them. I wrote each hint right on their test paper in pen to remind myself when I’m marking of just how much help they needed.

But every student answered every problem.

And that’s so important – because I can’t find evidence of learning when you’ve written nothing.

And the only thing I can’t figure out now, is why it took me 9 years to start doing this?! Thanks to Mary Bourassa for the inspiration!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Tests/Tasks & their Rubrics

Part 3 of 4 in a series of blog posts about Standards-Based Grading.

Making a test, task, or project

The first step is to decide which overall expectation(s) [OEs] you will be evaluating with the current task. You may evaluate more than one OE at a time. Then you’ll need to design a task or a set of test questions that allow your students to demonstrate their ability or knowledge for that skill or content. I find it helpful to organize my test so that all of the questions for a given OE are together (as opposed to grouping them by the categories – K/U, T, C, A – as we used to do). For example, in the grade 9 math test below, each page has questions for one of the 4 OEs being evaluated. Additionally, I have organized each page so that the simpler problems (more K/U  or level 1-2 type questions) are first, near the top of the page. The more complex problems (more Application or level 3-4 type questions) are at the bottom of the page.

mfm1P testa

mfm1P testb


PDF version of above Math test: Test 3 no answers

“Is it necessary to make a new, different rubric for each and every test or task?”

No, it is not. In fact, you could simply print out the achievement chart rubric from your curriculum document and attach that to your task or test.

achievement chart

However, I find that rubric too wordy (the students don’t bother reading it) and sometimes too vague for a specific project.

“Are we simply getting rid of the categories; K/U, T, C, A? Why include them in the assessment plan if we’re not using them to organize our tests?”

We are not getting rid of the categories. We will embed them into our test questions and tasks and often even use them to build our rubrics. For example,for the math test above, I used three of the categories from the achievement chart in order to build my rubric for the test. Notice also that I repeat the rubric 4 times; once for each of the OEs being evaluated on that test:

Math rubric

I check off the appropriate level for each of the 3 categories – which then allows me to determine an overall level for that OE. I do this 4 times; once for each OE (which also happens to be once for each page of the test since each page corresponds to a separate OE). At the end, I return the test & rubric to the student with the 4 levels. There is no “overall average” on the test, the student attempted for 4 different skills/expectations and so receives 4 separate levels of achievement.

How do we record these levels in our mark book? For that, we have Evidence Records.

More examples of tests/tasks w/ rubrics:

Gr. 9 geography test (using checkbricks): 3 test human geo

Do you have a test w/ a rubric you’d be willing to share here for colleagues in your subject area to see?
Get in touch:

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)