Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Are the testing consortia getting formative assessment wrong?

Effective formative assessment gives students and teachers feedback they can use immediately to steer further learning.  The key is providing descriptive evidence right in the middle of the classroom learning process and putting it right to work.

Are the new multi-state consortia working on Common Core State Standards Assessments building that kind of formative capacity? Maybe not.

Margaret Heritage argues that both consortia are instead proposing much more conventional testing that will yield much less important achievement results. Dr. Heritage is Assistant Director for Professional Development at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing at UCLA.  In a new report to the Council of Chief State School Officers she argues that:
despite the pioneering efforts of CCSSO and other organizations in the U.S., we already risk losing the promise that formative assessment holds for teaching and learning. The core problem lies in the false, but nonetheless widespread, assumption that formative assessment is a particular kind of measurement instrument, rather than a process that is fundamental and indigenous to the practice of teaching and learning. This distinction is critical, not only for understanding how formative assessment functions, but also for realizing its promise for our students and our society.
The report comes with detailed research citations explaining why and how the formative assessment process can significantly raise student results, and raises an alarm about whether the two groups now working on multi-state assessments are focusing on testing instruments that cannot deliver that kind of impact.

Check out EdWeek's Curriculum Matters for a further summary or read the full argument by downloading Formative Assessment and Next-Generation Assessment Systems: Are We Losing an Opportunity?

For background on the assessment consortia, start with these earlier PrichBlog posts on Smarter/Balanced and PARCC.


  1. Thank you for creating awareness regarding this issue. In addition to the testing consortia not understanding the real purpose of formative assessment, many school administrators across Kentucky (including KDE and EPSB staffers) do not understand the concept. Being a frequent observer in classrooms across the state, I can't tell you how many times I have seen teachers promote and use exit slips as formative assessment based on what they have been told to do by administrators. An exit slip to check for learning might be fine if the lesson will be continued until the next day and the teacher will have time to assess the exit slip responses for each student prior to continuing the lesson; however, in 9/10 times this is not the case and the exit slip becomes nothing more than a summative measure of students' work. As you stated, what is key to using a formative assessment is to make sure it occurs prior to (e.g., pre-test) or during the actual instruction so as to inform the teacher with respect to whether or not the instructional process needs to be altered.

  2. I, too, appreciated your raising this issue,Susan. After reading the fuller article via the link, I was struck by one of the key distinctions between formative vs. summative assessments: the involvement of students in the evaluation process. This was always an intuitive approach for me when I was in the classroom, so this research is especially validating.


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