Saturday, March 26, 2011

Killing me softly

The recommendations of a government task force in 1988 and all subsequent statements of government policy have emphasized the importance of formative assessment by teachers. However, the body charged with carrying out government policy on assessment had no strategy either to study or to develop the formative assessment of teachers and did no more than devote a tiny fraction of its resources to such work. Most of the available resources and most of the public and political attention were focused on national external tests. While teachers' contributions to these "summative assessments" have been given some formal status, hardly any attention has been paid to their contributions through formative assessment. Moreover, the problems of the relationship between teachers' formative and summative roles have received no attention.
I'm reading that summary, and feeling Kentucky history.  From KERA's first pages, we knew, in one sense, that changing what happens in classrooms was going to be the important part of changing our children's futures.  In another sense, though, we have indeed allowed the summative assessments, the external tests, first KIRIS and then CATS, to hold our state policy attention.

There's more:
It is possible that many of the commitments were stated in the belief that formative assessment was not problematic, that it already happened all the time and needed no more than formal acknowledgment of its existence. However, it is also clear that the political commitment to external testing in order to promote competition had a central priority, while the commitment to formative assessment was marginal. As researchers the world over have found, high-stakes external tests always dominate teaching and assessment. However, they give teachers poor models for formative assessment because of their limited function of providing overall summaries of achievement rather than helpful diagnosis. Given this fact, it is hardly surprising that numerous research studies of the implementation of the education reforms … have found that formative assessment is "seriously in need of development." With hindsight, we can see that the failure to perceive the need for substantial support for formative assessment and to take responsibility for developing such support was a serious error.
Again, it's our story.  The best energy behind Senate Bill 1 came from educational leaders talking about the need to develop the deep, important, day-to-day versions of formative assessment practices.  We, too, have come to see "a serious error" and to work on taking new state-wide responsibility for making the real changes that matter for learning.

So, who knows all about us?    The quotes above are from Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, in their groundbreaking, constantly cited, Kappan piece, “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment.”  They think they're writing about England and Wales.

I think they're writing about Kentucky, and I'm stunned to know how completely our path can be described by scholars so very far away.

Monday, I'll be ready to take up their dare about doing the next work better this time around.

 Right now, though, I'm going to crank up some Roberta Flack, and think about someone far away "telling my whole life with his words, killing me softly with his song."

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