Are Your Assessments Good, Not So Good, or . . . Great?
“What does a good formative assessment look like?”
“Can you please show us some examples?”
These are the types of questions that often surface as collaborative teams in PLC schools delve into the work of developing common formative assessments. Ironically, the answer to these questions lies not in the assessment tool itself, but in how the tool and the information it generates are used. In other words, formative assessment is not a tool or an event, but a variety of strategies that involve acting on the assessment data to improve learning.
Laurie Shepard defines the characteristics of a good formative assessment as “an assessment carried out during the instructional process for the purpose of improving teaching or learning. . . What makes formative assessment formative is that it is immediately used to make adjustments so as to form new learning” (Shepard, 2008).
So, in answer to our original questions, teachers already have a multitude of potential good formative assessments in their toolboxes . . . quizzes, short written responses, classroom activities, and/or homework assignments. If the assessment is administered for the purpose of giving feedback to students and teachers in a risk-free (non-evaluative) setting and students engage in additional practice for revising their learning prior to subsequent evaluation, the assessment qualifies as a good formative assessment. If, however, the assessment is administered, graded, and returned to students without opportunity for intervention, extension, and/or additional demonstration of learning, the assessment would fall in the category of not so good.
Research in recent years has consistently highlighted the power of formative assessment, or as it is often called, assessment for learning. In fact, Dylan Wiliam points out, “When implemented well, formative assessment can effectively double the speed of student learning” (Wiliam, 2007). Certainly, if formative assessment has the potential to double the speed of student learning, that would put it in the great category as a high-impact strategy. What, then, are the conditions for great formative assessment?
Teams of teachers work interdependently to create common formative assessments by:
- Analyzing their content standards to identify and agree on a limited number of essential standards and learning targets . . . those that students must master to ensure continued academic success
- Creating assessment maps for each unit of study that include planned flexible time for intervention, sequence effective learning of the essentials and provide consistent formative assessment experiences prior to summative, evaluative assessments
- Agreeing on student-friendly versions of the essential standards and sharing them with students
- Collaboratively developing short, targeted formative assessments that directly align to the essential standards being learned and match what has been taught
- Analyzing the assessment results, as a team, to pinpoint specific learning problems and agreeing on instructional actions to address such problems with those students who need additional time and support
- Taking action in a timely fashion . . . providing students with feedback, more practice, and additional opportunities to demonstrate their learning . . . prior to summatively evaluating student mastery of the essential standards and targets
In summary, a good—or even better, great—formative assessment is not one that is purchased or looks a certain way. It is one that is used by teachers and students to enhance and increase learning. What, then, will you do to ensure that the formative assessments you are using can be considered great?
“Formative Assessment” by Laurie Shepard in The future of assessment: Shaping teaching and learning (C. Dwyer, editor), New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. (p. 279-303)
“Changing Classroom Practice” by Dylan Wiliam in Educational Leadership, Dec. 2007/Jan. 2008 (Vol. 65, #4, p. 36-41)