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Voices from the Middle--Moving from Print to Practice, December 2013 (21.2) - Previous Revision

This Issue’s Focus: Feed Forward: Linking Instruction with Assessment

This issue of Voices from the Middle focuses on formative assessment as a process, a way of thinking, rather than a product. The articles in this professional development guide are arranged to guide the conversation from theory to practice.

Laying the Foundation for Our Thinking

“Tough Teacher Evaluation and Formative Assessment: Oil and Water?” by W. James Popham

“Assessment: The Bridge between Teaching and Learning” by Dylan Wiliam

General Discussion Topic

These two articles combine to ground our thinking about formative assessment in this issue. Popham and Wiliam represent foundational thinkers, writers, and researchers in the field of assessment, guiding teachers and administrators in the notion of formative assessment as an essential process for student learning. In an era of increasingly high-stakes measures for teachers and students, can teachers afford not to embrace the principles of formative assessment?
Key Points
•    Teachers who employ formative assessment are more likely to be instructionally effective.
•    Formative assessment is a process rather than a particular type of assessment. It is a planned process rather than simply a series of spur-of-the-moment actions.
•    Students’ achievement will play a prominent role in almost all states’ teacher-evaluation procedures, and teachers who employ formative assessment procedures will almost always engender improved achievement in their students.
•    This is precisely the moment when sensible teachers should learn to employ the formative assessment process.
•    No matter how carefully we design and implement instruction, what our students learn cannot be predicted with any certainty.
•    It is only thorough assessment that we can discover whether the instructional activities in which we engage our students resulted in intended learning.
•    Feedback is considered by many to be the heart of formative assessment.
•    The quality of feedback that can be provided depends on the quality of evidence that is elicited in the first place.
•    Effective feedback requires a plan of action about what to do with the evidence before it is collected.

Using These Articles with Your Team

Just as the Common Core State Standards emphasize literacy in every content area, formative assessment must be a component of every classroom and every discipline in order to be successful. When you and your colleagues are in team meetings, are you planning for formative assessment experiences throughout your interdisciplinary units? Are you using formative assessment results and artifacts in team meetings when discussing individual student progress? Are you using formative assessment results when conferencing with parents?

Why Not Try This?
If the idea of formative assessment is new to you, start by looking at an upcoming unit of study. You have already determined what you want them to know and be able to do by the end of that unit, and you have some experience with the final assessment. Whether you have data and student work samples or not, try to identify where students in the past have struggled to meet your expectations or attain the learning goals you set for them.
Next, look back through the structure of the unit. Identify places where you may be able to intervene to provide more scaffolding, structure, or assistance. These may be the perfect points for that planned process of formative assessment. Have they struggled with vocabulary development? How can you assess their word knowledge before the summative assessment? At what points would checking on their progress toward your learning goals be helpful for you and your students?
Another important concept related to formative assessment is feedback. We have to plan to give feedback, and we have to allow time for students to do something with it. We need to give feedback in a timely fashion so that students can use it, and middle school students may need significant support for how we expect them to use our feedback. This could mean asking students to respond to our feedback using an exit slip after we return an assignment, or leading a discussion of general trends after an activity or project. We may need to add an extra peer conferencing session to a writer’s workshop. Feedback that is only filed in a notebook or folder does not make our students more effective learners.


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