- Balancing new assessment systems within a state
Formative assessment works. Empirical evidence attests to students’ learning dividends whenever formative assessment is used. Nonetheless, far fewer classrooms employ formative assessment than its advocates recommend or its research base warrants. Just as “teachable moments” occur in classrooms, today represents a distinctive opportunity for states to effectively encourage more widespread adoption of formative assessment. Two current events, (1) the push for teachers to be evaluated according to student growth and (2) uncertainty about common-core assessments, present a rare opportunity to convince a state’s teachers that they will personally benefit by using formative assessment. And, happily, so too will their students.
It is important to remember that appraisals of formative assessment’s influence on students’ learning, particularly the catalytic Black and Wiliam 1998 review of classroom assessment, have been uniformly positive. The process by which teachers and/or students make assessment-illuminated adjustment decisions about what they are doing almost always leads to improved student achievement. And yet, even though we have recently seen publication of a spate of “how-to” books dealing with formative assessment, and prominent educators have strongly endorsed the adoption of formative assessment, the harsh reality is that in most states the proportion of teachers’ actually using formative assessment is paltry. How can this be changed? Two unusual current events have, fortuitously, created a twin-punch rationale for state leaders to advocate more widespread usage of the formative-assessment process.
First, in the vast majority of states, new teacher-evaluation programs have been installed as a consequence of the federal Race to the Top Program or the ESEA Flexibility Program. In order to successfully take part in either of these programs, state officials have agreed to the establishment of rigorous teacher-evaluation procedures in which student growth constitutes “a significant factor” in a teacher’s evaluation. In other words, students’ test scores will now be a major determinant in evaluating the quality of most of the nation’s teachers. And here’s where the formative-assessment process can be seen as personally beneficial to a state’s teachers. That’s because reams of research demonstrate that the use of formative assessment will decisively help students learn better. Teachers now, for their own self-preservation, must supply convincing evidence that their students have been learning. Accordingly, we can show a state’s teachers how the formative-assessment process can emphatically enhance students’ learning irrespective of how such learning is measured. Teachers’ instructional efforts can be made more successful via formative assessment, and this is the golden moment to make the argument so it successfully alters teachers’ classroom behavior.
Second, because the actual nature of the two assessment consortia’s tests intended to measure students’ mastery of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will not be officially ascertainable until the 2014-15 school year, teachers who prematurely pursue mistaken visions of those CCSS assessments may be wasting their efforts. A temporizing strategy to enhance teachers’ formative-assessment skills may better position a state’s teachers for ultimate CCSS success. When the nature of a state’s chosen CCSS accountability assessments is official, then use of formative assessment can be genuinely successful.
Three long-standing advocates of formative assessment, UCLA’s Margaret Heritage, Caroline Wylie of ETS, and W. James Popham of UCLA will each present a set of independently derived suggestions regarding how a state’s educational leaders can take advantage of these two time-sensitive inducements to expand a state’s use of formative assessment. Two state educational leaders, Sarah Mc Manus of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and Leila E. Williams, Deputy Associate Superintendent of the Arizona Department of Education, will react to the practicality and likely success of the presenters’ suggestions. An open audience discussion will follow.