The introduction of formative assessment into our children’s classrooms this year has been a learning curve for parents. There are numerous discussions around Flat Rock dinner tables, “What happened to the homework, what are all these quizzes about, what am I seeing in Zangle?”
I am one of those parents learning this new educational approach. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I am learning and the resources I have consulted along the way.
I started with Wikipedia’s explanation of formative assessment (considering the source’s limitations and potential flaws):
Formative assessment is a self-reflective process that intends to promote student attainment . Cowie and Bell  define it as the bidirectional process between teacher and student to enhance, recognize and respond to the learning. Black and Wiliam  consider an assessment ‘formative’ when the feedback from learning activities is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet the learner’s needs. Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick have re-interpreted research on formative assessment and feedback and shown how these processes can help students take control of their own learning (self-regulated learning).
I like this definition because it makes clear the intent of the approach–creating a two-way learning environment. Students are learning how to master certain learning objectives and teachers are learning from students how to adjust their instruction to improve mastery of learning objectives.
I also found a good, relatively non-technical explanation of formative assessment. And to practice a little differentiated learning on ThinkRice.com, here are some great audio interviews about formative assessment and debunking some common myths.
Our (my wife and I) first reaction was to assume this was a radical shift in the educational process. A move away from doing homework and toward test-taking only.
I have to stop and give some kudos here to Simpson Middle School Principal Blaine Armstrong for hosting a parent informational meeting regarding formative assessment last year–long before its implementation.
From this meeting and as I researched formative assessment I corrected several of my own misconceptions, like:
- Formative assessment is a brand new concept
- Formative assessment disadvantages certain types of students
- Formative assessment advantages good test-takers
First, formative assessment is not only a mature concept, but is supported by several years of research and data collection. The terminology and differentiation between “formative” and “summative” assessments was used as early as 1967. But, more importantly you may recognize some popular features of formative assessments and differentiated instruction (its intended objective) used by your own teachers growing up.
Did your teachers ever:
- Walk the classroom observing students at work
- Allow you to retake a test you did poorly on
- Extend a project deadline when the class was struggling
- Have students accomplish similar assignments in different ways: chalkboard, recite, write
- Take practice tests or peer grade homework
- Group students into different reading groups
- Hover over a student that needs extra supervision to focus
Second, formative assessment is specifically intended to improve the performance of the full distribution of learning types in a classroom. Ideally, the formative assessment process will give teachers the feedback necessary to adjust instruction–assisting and challenging students at various levels.
Third, contrary to most initial reactions formative assessment will (theoretically) actually help poor test-takers. By design, formative assessment will observe student knowledge, appropriately adjust instruction, and ensure student mastery prior to test-taking. Therefore, even the poorest of test-takers should have a better chance for success in a class using the formative assessment process. This article suggests some strategies for linking assessments to instruction.
What does all this have to do with your child at Flat Rock Community Schools?
- Hopefully, it helps you gauge a little better if the formative assessment and differentiated learning is being applied in your child’s classroom
- Assist you in helping your student understand and take advantage of their opportunity to have input into the learning experience
- Encourage you to review some of the assessment tools your child’s teachers are using–learning for yourself where your child needs help
Ideally bringing formative assessment into Flat Rock Community Schools will continue our positive trajectory of improved student performance. Although this performance is often measured via summative assessments, like the MEAP, using formative assessment in our classrooms should improve the true mastery of these concepts.