LWISD Bullfrog Bulletin

January 29, 2016

What are formative assessments,

I remember the 10:00 pm news beginning with the statement, “It’s 10:00; do you know where your children are?” I am not sure whether this came from an Amarillo, Ft. Worth, Rapid City, or Oklahoma City television news station, but I do remember the statement mostly because it sent a slight shiver down my spine at the thought of not knowing not only the geographical location of my children but also where they were educationally, emotionally, etc. This statement comes to my mind when I hear the term formative assessment(s). Dictionary.com defines formative assessment as “ongoing assessment of a pupil's educational development within a particular subject area,” but I am not sure that the definition tells me what it means. So, I always think of the word “form.” It is used to inform us and to enable us to form opinions (supported by data) concerning where a student is or students are as far as mastering standards in the classroom. Learning by Doing by DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, and Many defines formative assessments as “assessments for learning.” The book states that they are “part of an ongoing process to monitor each student’s learning on a continuous basis.” Formative assessments may be given to students as often as every day, every few days, every few weeks, or a combination of all of the above. Typically, they are used to measure “a few things frequently and are intended to inform teachers regarding the effectiveness of their practice and students of their next steps” (75-76).

It all sounds quite complex, but formative assessment is actually very easy, and many teachers use formative assessments quite often, even if they don’t realize they are doing so. For example, if you have used a ticket out the door to see how well your students understood an objective, you used a formative assessment (if you looked at the results and determined your next steps in planning because of the information you gathered). If you ever used a K-W-L in your classroom where students listed things they knew and wanted to know at the beginning of the period and returned to it at the end of the period to add what they learned, you used a formative assessment. The “A, B, C, D” cards that I have seen in numerous classrooms are a wonderful means to formatively assess students. It is very easy to see who understands a concept and who does not as one sees letters of various colors raised in the hands of students. White boards are often used to formatively assess. Teachers have students leave everything they write on the boards in order to see what students are thinking. If they revise, they do it in a different color, but they don’t erase. Another great formative assessment tool is the “Chalkboard Splash”. Students answer a question, solve a problem, etc. and post their answers on sticky notes or tape paper on various large posters. Then, students work in pairs and groups and look at the things posted. Students can be guided to look at similarities, difference, and/or surprises, but 1) students have to read what other students say, 2) all students have a voice, and 3) the instructor can gather whether students have the concept, don’t have it, or could with a little help.

So, where do the assessments that we currently administer on our campuses fit in with the term formative and the other term, summative assessments (which usually takes place at the end of something when there is little chance of re-teaching the material involved)? Our true CBA assessments, which are used both as a summative assessment at the end of each unit as well as a formative assessment in determining interventions and re-teaching that should occur as a result of the data. These assessments should show us whether or not students are performing at a basic, proficient, or advanced level.

Most effective teachers assess students often, sometimes multiple times during a class period. There are thousands of ways to formatively assess our students. An easy way to assess is by using effective questioning techniques. When questions are asked of the entire group, often only students who know the answer respond. Holding all students accountable for answering questions is a great way to determine the level of learning.

Formative assessments can greatly improve student learning and help us answer “Yes” to the question: “Do you know where your children are” without shivering. Using formative assessment has been compared to the difference in a physical examination and an autopsy (Accountability in Action: A blueprint for learning organizations), and what any good driver does when he/she scans mirrors every five seconds (Lemov, Teach Like a Champion). According to W. J. Popham’s article Transformative Assessment, “Formative assessment is a potentially transformative instructional tool that, if clearly understood and adroitly employed, can benefit both educators and their students . . . formative assessment constitutes the key cornerstone of clearheaded instructional thinking. Formative assessment represents evidence-based instructional decision-making. If you want to become more instructionally effective, and if you want your students to achieve more, then formative assessments should be for you” (3,15).

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Student achievement will never rise above the assignments students are given or tests they are asked to pass.

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February 4--Guided Reading Walks at Effie, Howry, Marine Creek, Miller

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