Thursday, November 11, 2010

Getting formative assessment right

Yesterday's post shared Margaret Heritage's report, Formative Assessment and Next-Generation Assessment Systems: Are We Losing an Opportunity? She argues that the formative assessment that produces greater student learning is a process embedded in ongoing instruction, and that the testing instruments being proposed by the new multi-state assessment consortia will yield much weaker results.

Today, I want to link that argument to three running PrichBlog themes.

In Rick Stiggins' Balanced Assessment Manifesto, there's a powerful concept of students, teachers, and parents all seeing a clear path the student can climb to success on important learning standards.  That understanding creates a virtuous spiral in which students master one step, gain confidence, reach for another step, and cycle upward with growing knowledge, skill, and certainty that they can succeed.

When Margaret Heritage argues for a formative assessment process, I think she's arguing for the approach that can create that positive growth.

The professional learning community approach focuses on teachers working together to analyze student work in relation to standards and to figure out ways to keep each student moving forward.  The PLC environment is central to what works in raising teaching quality and developing consistent strong instruction for all students.

Formative assessment as a process also looks to me like the approach that will most help PLCs develop, flourish, and change student results.

Over the last year, Kentucky teachers have been developing capacity to use new mathematics resources, and another group of Kentucky educators are now exploring an innovative approach to equipping students to handle the complex texts they'll need for college and careers.  Both efforts are being supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through grants to the Prichard Committee, and I'm honored to have a role in coordinating and supporting that work.

The math effort uses formative assessment lessons designed to help reorient class work around deeper, richer, more engaged understanding of mathematical concepts and practices.  The literacy work models teaching tasks and instructional strategies for use across science, history, literature, and other classes, always focused on ensuring that students climb steadily toward higher levels of skill and confidence.

Both versions are explicitly rooted in the research Heritage cites, and both offer strong examples of the kind of formative assessment process she advocates.

Seeing those three connections, I think it's going to be important to figure out whether the consortia really are working toward the effective version of formative assessement. If not, it's going to be important to discuss whether that can be changed, and especially important to build the formative approaches that really work into the ways we teach and learn here in Kentucky.

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