Formative Assessments: A Performance Check-Up

Posted by Matt Berringer on April 29, 2014

During an eSchool News webinar sponsored by SunGard K-12 Education, experts took a deep dive into formative assessments to highlight this tool that has proven a powerful ally for improving student performance and differentiating instruction. The panel was moderated by Joel Hames, M.Ed., SunGard K-12 director of product management, and featured Bethany Silver, Ph.D. —director of assessment, evaluation, and research of the Bloomfield Public School District, Conn. —and John Phillipo, Ph.D., founder and executive director of the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology.

For just a flavor of the session, read the insights from our panelists below. To listen to the discussion, click on this embedded media file below:

Joel Hames, Formative Assessment Panel ModeratorJoel Hames: Formative Assessment is a Process

Joel Hames emphasized that formative assessment is a process, not just a “thing that you do” and detailed the following four primary attributes of the process:

Clarify intended learning. Hames said that formative assessment describes “your learning targets in student-friendly language, something that they can grab on to and understand what the finishing line looks like. What are they supposed to get to?”

Elicit evidence. The evidence of student learning goes far beyond test papers. “It’s all the obtrusive and unobtrusive interactions you have with students in which you look at the work that they do, sit next to them, and provide that direct feedback,” said Hames. “It’s how they show understanding of their competency, their mastery of a concept through any number of different avenues.”

Interpret evidence. Educators must then interpret the evidence. “Understand what it means in the context of that student’s experience. The learning target itself,” Hames said. “How strong was your observation when you elicited the evidence? Does that connect well with interpreting and understanding where they are?”

Act on that evidence. “How do you move the student forward?” asked Hames. “What kind of feedback are you giving them to improve what they are trying to achieve.”

Bethany Silver, Ph.D.: Tips for Integrating Formative Assessment in the Curriculum, Classroom

“Formative assessment really is the very air we breathe in a classroom,” says Bethany Silver. “It’s that active, that engaged and [the point at which] students are learning effectively.”Bethany Silver, Formative Assessment Panelist

Bloomfield Public School has adopted SunGard K-12’s curriculum-mapping software, CurriculumCONNECTOR, to support the transition from state standards to the Common Core State Standards. The software, Silver says, supports formative assessment by archiving evidence of student learning. “[CurriculumCONNECTOR] has just exploded the possibilities in our district in terms of making the curriculum dynamic, in making it accessible to all our staff,” she says. “And, it’s just so exciting. We’re able to upload artifacts, examples of student work, rubrics, look-fors, etc., that teachers can really use to guide the student experience and that can really help shape the formative assessment process.”

“When we bring our curriculum into our classroom, all the strategies that we’re using should be in service to the intended learning. And, formative assessment is one of our strategies that guide the learning experience,” says Silver. “Make the demonstration of learning evidence clear and well-aligned to the intended learning—that’s how formative assessment can support that curriculum implementation.”

And, in the classroom, Silver said formative assessment happens in the “teaching moment” and offered some examples:

  • Text What You’ve Learned by Sarah Brown Wessling. At the beginning of class, students answer an introductory question by texting their response to Poll Everywhere. Wessling then projects those answers on the white board so students have an opportunity to share what they’ve learned and see what others have learned. In addition, Wessling drops those responses into a word cloud generator.
  • Quick Write. Students provide a 15-word summary, 50-word summary, or a 100-word summary of the key point of the homework assignment, etc. They then can engage in a Think-Pair-Share and based on that, the teacher will develop an understanding of where today’s lesson needs to start.

Silver noted that students should lead or partner in the interpretation of learning evidence. “It’s a very, very rich opportunity for students to understand how others are interpreting the curriculum and to broaden learners’ experience with that curriculum,” she said. “You are distributing that learning process and building an ownership of the learning between all of the students in the classroom—having them not only collaborate with you, but also having them collaborate with one another to build a true learning environment. And, that’s all done through the process of formative assessment.”

John Phillipo, Ph.D.: Good Processes Need Good Tools

John Phillipo, Formative Assessment PanelistJohn R. Phillipo—the founder and executive director of the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology, which assists schools and universities in linking 21st-centry educational reforms with the effective use of information technology—emphasized that “a good process needs good tools.” “I worry a lot about whether the teachers have those tools,” he said. “We need some easy-to-use tools that help us with this inventory of learning. Because if I see evidence of effectiveness, I don’t have time to type that all in.”

Phillipo emphasized that formative assessment needs to “really change” the curriculum.

“The curriculum guide is really an important document. But, sadly it’s also the most static document. What is going to happen with formative assessment is that is now going to have to become a living, breathing, organic document,” he said. “Formative assessment illustrates learner progress and provides teachers with the data necessary to footnote the curriculum … and we can do that in real time. Then we’re making the curriculum used and useful and visible based on student evidence.”

Phillipo believes the two-way exchange between curriculum and formative assessment isn’t as robust as it should be. “Right now, sadly, formative assessment is an island over here. And, we need to help pull some of that data together,” he says.

He suggested the following as elements of effective formative assessment system/process:

  • Help communicate the same information in a consistent and easy format to all stakeholders.
  • Leverage the home-school portal for communicating formative assessment results to parents.

SunGard K-12’s AssessmentBUILDER offers formative assessment support. To learn more, CLICK HERE.

Topics: Formative Assessments, CurriculumCONNECTOR, performanceplus