The core idea is the process of teachers checking steadily on student progress toward clear standards and using what they see to adjust instruction and ensure further progress. It does not have to look like formal testing, and it especially does not have to look like testing that takes time away from teaching. Ideally, students' regular learning process on one day gives teachers the information they need to plan effective work for future class periods--or even to adjust what's happening right then in the classroom. Ideally, the assessment and the learning become a seamless, unified process.
In his 2008 Assessment Manifesto, Rick Stiggins describes how significantly higher levels of student performance emerge when schools combine:
- That ongoing type of classroom assessment used to plan immediate instruction.
- Interim or benchmark assessments multiple times a year used by schools and programs to figure out whether their major strategies are effective, need tweaking, or need major rethinking.
- Annual accountability assessments used to identify schools that are reaching high standards and decide if any schools need outside assistance to get back on track to those standards.
The gap-closing schools caught my eye because I looked at the annual accountability results, but when I asked how they got there, they described their own work as built on an understanding that came from classroom and benchmark assessment work as well. They also described teamwork to analyze student progress--shown in those assessments--that fits the PLC model.
Assessment for learning isn't different from the gap-closing approach or the PLC approach. It's the same process described from a third angle.
Earlier posts on the Stiggins manifesto and its three-part concept of sound assessment are here.