Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Formative-assessment: Popham pushes the process

If we are to promote use of the formative-assessment process, it’s crucial that more educators accurately understand the process in the way that empirical studies have shown it works best. If research-ratified versions of the formative-assessment process are used widely by teachers, then many more students will learn better and faster. But if formative assessment is regarded as nothing more than a specific sort of test, its impact is apt to be trivial.
That's James Popham, a nationally respected assessment expert, in a new column for Education Week.  Popham argues that a sound and helpful understanding of formative-assessment is competing with a dangerous misunderstanding of that idea.

What's the sound version? Formative-assessment, Popham argues, is a process that "involves teachers’ and/or students’ use of assessment evidence to make adjustments in what they’re doing." That evidence can be gathered in many ways.  It's the use of the evidence that makes the difference for students.

What's the mistaken idea?  It's thinking of  "a formative assessment" as something like a traditional test, maybe even one purchased from a well-known vendor.  That makes the document or the activity of filling it in central, and it loses track of the adjustment to learning step that really matters.

How important is it to put the right version to work?  Here's Popham's summary of the research:
Recent reviews of more than 4,000 research investigations show clearly that when this process is well implemented in the classroom, it can essentially double the speed of student learning. Indeed, when one considers several recent reviews of research regarding the classroom formative-assessment process, it is clear that the process works, it can produce whopping gains in students’ achievement, and it is sufficiently robust so that different teachers can use it in diverse ways, yet still get great results with their students.
That's a powerful claim, and I'm betting the full analysis behind it will appear in Popham's new book, due for release next month.

One more thing: Popham argues that to be clear that formative use is central to the assessment process that matters, we should all insist on hyphenating.  In this post, I'm trying out his idea that formative-assessment needs to be spelled just that way.  I'm not fully sold, but it's an interesting option to consider.

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