Data Driven: Authentic Assessment and a Data Based Business Case Study
What is authentic assessment in the math classroom? It’s probably not a math test. Tough to admit, as I give lots of math tests, but a test is so limited, so contrived, so singular. The most authentic assessment I have been part of in the math classroom was our culminating project for Data Driven this summer – a business case study presented to people in the business world.
A friend of mine from college who now works for a predictive business analytics company ran a case study on my students. The case was for a bagel store that wanted to expand – they had data on the profit of their current stores over time, and data on features of the current stores. In teams of four, students had to advise the bagel company on where the company should build 10 new locations, and what the layout should be. My friend served as the lead of the company’s expansion team – the students had a halfway call with him and could email him at any point during the week with questions or requests for data. At the end of the week, students presented (via Skype) their recommendations and defended them with questions.
HOW WAS THIS AUTHENTIC?
- We learned a billion things and amassed a ton of data analysis tools this summer – instead of being directed what to use where, students had to sift through their knowledge to figure out what was appropriate. Though they received an initial prepackaged dataset, the problem was wide open and had very little hand holding. If they wanted to use census data about median incomes in zip codes, they had to go find that data, clean it up and attach it to the given dataset before they could use it.
- All the math that they were doing was supporting a genuine and interesting, multifaceted problem, instead of being motivated by just being a question on the test. If they needed to do a multiple linear regression, it was because they wanted to figure out something about the data, not because a question asked them to do a multiple linear regression.
In addition, it was a problem that forced them to translate their mathematical knowledge into human decisions. They had to tell the story that the data was presenting, had to make choices that didn’t have a “correct” answer, and had to defend everything they were doing in a way that a naive non-math outsider could understand.
- Presenting to an outside audience forced them to be as prepared as possible, and also taught them a lot of lessons about communication! I wish I had taken a picture of one group when they were on a conference call with my friend. They were pacing around the room, hands on heads, brows furrowed, goofy smiles from feeling awkward – so much more learning was happening than if they were presenting to me! I also just had to sit and watch them struggle through things, like explaining what a t-test was, during their final presentation, which gave me deep insight into the results my teaching.
- There were many points of entry and many different depths that students could take it. There were immediate things that anyone could do, and things that only a professional data scientist could have done, which made the problem perfect to test everyone, but give the students needing a bigger challenge a place to go.
HOW WAS IT STILL INAUTHENTIC?
- The data was fake, the business fake, the audience fake. The advantage to this was that I could ensure that the math involved was the right level, and that the problem was doable, but perhaps this took something away from the motivation for the students.
- There was no followup from the final result. Wouldn’t this have been even more awesome if they were presenting to a real company, or community organization, that was trying to make a real decision? And then they could see what the company actually decided and see what the results were.
- There were students in each group that didn’t contribute. I don’t think anyone didn’t want to contribute, but it’s really hard to work in teams. I think that this exercise tested their collaboration skills, but perhaps didn’t assess every single student’s math skills.
Though this course was unique in its format (long 4 hour classes, only 12 students, no curricular pressure) and did not come with grades, there is so much from this to take to my school-year classroom. How can I include more authentic assessments in my day to day classroom life? Assessments with multifaceted, human problems that motivate great math along the way; ones with many points of entry and many places to go; and ones where they have to defend their decisions to audiences other than me.
It’s important to remember that “authentic” is not a binary designation, so my goal is to add pieces of the above to my normal classroom assessments one step at a time.