Formative Assessments:

A Necessary Conversation

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Formative Assessments Bring Dramatic Achievement Gains...

"...Research shows that students make dramatic achievement gains when teachers break instructional units into a progression of clear, well-defined learning targets; involve students in setting learning goals and assessing their progress; give immediate and corrective feedback; and set up peer collaboration activities to build content mastery. Known as formative assessment, this comprehensive and interactive process is a model of mastery learning, in which a student progressively develops skills and confidence under the guidance of a professional." --Formative Assessment: Not Just Another Test, Education Digest: Essential Readings
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Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment

This is not a book promo; however, the excerpts above are from a powerful text, Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment, by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam. This excerpt sets the tone for this one-pager: As instructional practitioners who desire to maximize our effectiveness as teachers, we must be intentional and deliberate in using standards-aligned formative assessments routinely in our classrooms.

True Formative Assessments are NOT …


  • ...a pop quiz that goes in the grade book (giving little to no feedback before moving on to the next step in the unit)
  • ...a time-filler in case a lesson ends early and there are ten minutes left before the bell rings (busy work)
  • ...a way to keep a paper trail in case a parent, administrator, or RtI team asks for work samples on a specific student...
  • ...a way to make sure there is a good number of grades in the grade book

SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENTS vs. FORMATIVE ASSESSMENTS

Summative Assessments


  • …are given after a sequence of learning events have taken place within a classroom
  • …are the post-learning assessment—“After all is said and done…” evaluation of how well the students hit their learning target (mastery of content standard)
  • ...Although data may be used in a formative manner, summative assessments provide more of a challenge for teachers and students because adjustments to teaching and learning must take place after the learning process.

Formative Assessments


  • …begin with clearly defined learning targets
  • …should be embedded deliberately alongside routine instructional practices
  • …are ongoing checkpoints that provide the teacher and the student with evidence of where the student is in relation to where the student should be in their learning (effective ONLY if the teacher provides valuable and descriptive feedback for students afterwards)
  • …provide students with “practice” at hitting the learning target, helping them to take ownership and to monitor their own progress (students will not be shocked at their performance on a higher-stakes summative assessment)
  • …inform teachers and students of the need to adjust teaching and learning while the learning process is taking place, giving teachers and students time to make essential changes (reflect, revise, re-teach)

Just a Few Examples of Formative Assessment Strategies...

10 Ways to Check Understanding (EdCampFlorence 2016 | Nira Dale)

“Should Grades Be Assigned to Formative Assessments?”

If it is understood that formative assessments are truly checkpoints of progress or “practice” during the process of learning, might we ask the question “Would it really be fair to penalize students for ‘practicing poorly’?”

To Illustrate:

The doctor gives you the directive that you must loose 20lbs. within three months, and he says it is imperative that proper diet and exercise be added to your weekly routine. In response, you began to drag yourself to the gym twice a week for the first month, planning to workout for an hour, but you could only last twenty minutes—ten minutes talking to a workmate in the locker room and ten minutes on the treadmill—resulting in little to no weight loss. Nevertheless, by the second month you build your stamina up to 45-minute workouts—30 minutes on the treadmill and 15 minutes of weight training. Also, although you are having trouble making nutritious food choices, you’ve begun to cut back on your portions while gradually introducing healthy foods into your diet. By the third month you finally clean up your diet, and you visit the gym three times a week. You’re now ready for your follow-up doctor’s visit.

After a thorough examination and questions, the doctor says to you, “You’ve lost the 20lbs, and your cholesterol levels are much better, but I’m not going to give you a clean bill-of-health because during the first two months you still had some junk food in your diet, and in the first month you kept falling off of your exercise routine.” …Now, how would you feel? …Is this really fair? Formative assessments can be compared to the process of a person learning to live a healthy lifestyle—you may fall off or even fail before stamina and good habits are established. The summative assessment measures whether or not you hit the target (loss the weight), NOT how much you struggled to get there.

That said, the above illustration depicts assessing the mastery of content standards or learning targets. However, there are times when teachers choose to assess and to assign small-scale low-stakes grades to assess 21st Century readiness skills (i.e. task-completion, meeting deadlines, etc. Daily grades, ungraded quizzes, and purposeful homework assignments may provide such skills without causing irreparable harm to the student’s overall average).
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"I used to ...teach curriculum, but now I teach students..."

“This is not [just] a follow-the-pacing-guide sort of teaching,” Ms. Wylie said.

A teacher quoted at the end of Ms. Heritage’s paper captures the essence of the paradigm shift Ms. Heritage has in mind.

“I used to do a lot of explaining, but now I do a lot of questioning,” said the teacher. “I used to do a lot of talking, but now I do a lot of listening. I used to think about teaching the curriculum, but now I think about teaching the student.”

--Education Week Published in Print: November 17, 2010, Updated: March 23, 2012

References

Formative Assessment: Not Just Another Test, Education Digest: Essential Readings, v76 n9 p16-19 May 2011 http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ926279

Educational Leadership: Helping Students Understand Assessment,

November 2005, Volume 63, Number 3

Black, Paul, D. William : Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment

Teach. Learn. Grow. http://www.nwea.org/

“Courageous Conversation: Formative Assessment and Grading” (Eutopia) http://www.edutopia.org/blog/courageous-conversation-andrew-miller

William, Dylan. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment, Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree

--Education Week Published in Print: November 17, 2010, Updated: March 23, 2012

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