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Confusion over Formative Assessment

Salem High School Earth Science teacher, Wes Lester, recently sent me this link to a post on Edutopia about Formative Assessment (AFL). I found it to be an excellent post and worth reading, so I left a comment stating this. Because I left a comment I then received an email every time someone else posted a comment. One such comment made me realize that some people out there do not fully understand Formative Assessment or AFL.

Here was the comment:

Yes, I think formative assessment is important however it is not the only measure of a student's success. Unfortunately we are currently in an environment that places so much emphasis on formative and standardized testing. In my school, it seems as if the formal testing never ends. They are tested in September (a formative), October (SRI), January (formative), March (state test), April (SRI), and finally in May (formative) not to mention the unit test required by the district. The structure, lenght and environment that is created around these test are such that students become desensitised. In an effort to help make this over testing environment tolerable, I must come up with alternative ways of conducting my own assessments.

It has gotten to a point that the students moan when they are told that it's a testing day. Several pupils have even asked why there is so much testing. I candidly explained that testing won't go away and that even when you get older there are yet more test to come. (driver's test, SAT's, professional test, etc.) This explanation seemed to make it more palatable. In truth, I feel that these children are tested because of the demographics of the district and past performances. Neighboring counties within the same state don't administer nearly as many assessments.

This person has confused Formative Assessment with an official testing program. It's probably not this teacher's fault as it sounds as though the school district has bought into a specific benchmark assessment program and called it formative assessment. While benchmark tests and testing programs can be used as formative assessments, effective Formative Assessment is what occurs in a classroom each and everyday.

Formative Assessment is graded and it is ungraded. It is formal and it is informal. It is big and it is small. It is ANYTHING that provides the teacher with feedback on how well students are learning, and it is ANYTHING that provides students with feedback so they can guide their learning. It should not lead to students asking "why there is so much testing" or "moan[ing] when they are told that it's a test day." It should not be "the,,, measure of a student's success" but rather an indicator of how they are learning so that they can end up having success.

I'm glad that our school is encouraging teachers to view Formative Assessment as a tool/philosophy that can look different in each and every classroom.

Click here to read the entire post from Edutopia.
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Coaching in the Classroom

I was speaking with a colleague the other day about the fact that some in our organization are still having a difficult time understanding and recognizing assessment for learning practices. Some continue to see assessment for learning as an elusive strategy or project that they have not yet figured out. In reality assessment for learning is nothing more than figuring out ways to regularly check the status of student learning and provide specific descriptive feedback and instruction that will lead to further learning and/or deeper understanding.

A recent post to this site borrowed a sports analogy from A Repair Kit for Grading, 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, by Ken O’Connor. I think expanding on this idea might bring some clarity to assessment for learning. The post explained that coaches design practice in order to prepare their team for the big game, the test. Throughout the week, coaches are continually monitoring practice, stopping the action regularly to provide specific feedback regarding the performance of the athletes compared to a clearly defined standard. At the highest level of sports, practices are even recorded and reviewed by both the coaches and the athletes so that both might see the errors and understand what needs to be done to correct them. Each practice is designed to meet the needs of the team and is based on observation and formative evaluation of the previous practice. The practices themselves are not graded; their sole purpose is to provide opportunities to prepare for the game.

The best teachers are coaches in the classroom, constantly monitoring the progression of learning and providing feedback that will lead each student further toward mastery of the standard. Formative assessment is the practice of formally and informally collecting information that informs both the teacher and the student about their progress. This information is used to provide feedback and to design lessons to ensure that every student is ready for the big game. One major difference from a more traditional approach is that practice opportunities are used more for providing feedback and less for determining grades.

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Simple AFL activity in Math

A colleague of mine reminded me this morning of an AFL strategy that she observed me using a few weeks ago. I decided to share!

Students had a quiz and I wanted to make sure that they understood what they were to be assessed on. So at the beginning of the class, I wrote 5 problems on the board similar to those on their quiz. I explained that after they had successfully completed those five problems, I would give them their quiz. Each student was able to get their answers checked, get feedback, and then rework the problems until I was satisfied that they understoof the material. Then they took their quiz. It was an easy thing to do, but gave me lots of feedback about what the students knew and didn't know. It also gave them confidence in their abilities to complete the work.

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