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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Has Formative Assessment been Oversold?

Has Formative Assessment been Oversold?

Related Tags: Assessment
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A few months back, this blog post appeared on Edweek, which raises the question "Has the research on Formative Assessment been oversold?" http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2009/05/has-the-research-on-f... Here is the story. Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black published an article back in 1998 entitled Inside the Black Box. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_6952/is_n2_v80/ai_n28723313/?tag=c... This article presented research suggesting that more frequent informal assessments could be used to great effect. They recommended that teachers use such assessments to "inform" or modify their instruction to respond to how students were learning. They also suggested that students would learn much more if teachers de-emphasized grades and focused more on qualitative feedback. They suggested teachers share models of good work, and make it clear to students what quality work looks like. They encouraged the use of rubrics and other descriptors, so students can be guided towards high quality work. Now, more than a decade later, this article has been hugely influential. Formative assessment is a common term, and our textbooks have whole sections devoted to the practice. The blog post I referenced points out that the original study was not presented as a "meta-analysis" -- a systematic review of research. Nonetheless, some of the publishers referencing the study are terming it such as they are using it to justify their claims for the power of this practice. Furthermore, as time has passed, the effect sizes that are claimed have grown bigger and bigger -- which provokes the question -- has formative assessment been oversold? What do you think? What have your experiences been with formative assessment? Do you think it is a powerful tool? Or has it been hyped beyond reason?

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Erika Dyquisto's picture
Erika Dyquisto
University Lecturer and mother of 3rd grader; classroom volunteer

I just had a conversation on this very topic with my daughter's teacher, who was surprised that my daughter would ask for help at home when she never does at school.

Formative assessment is absolutely essential in terms of allowing a teacher to know when for a student is needing differentiated instruction. It also is essential to know when a student needs extra support so that he or she doesn't have to "fail" in order to receive that help, a situation that can be devastating for a student's self esteem.

However, when formative assessment is combined with extensive summative assessment, a student may form the impression that they must not fail, that learning is about testing. Such a situation can repress educational risk-taking and kill a love of learning as well as set up a situation in which they are afraid to ask questions because they must "appear right" all the time.

Don't get me wrong; I'm absolutely for formative assessment, but I think--given the current emphasis on summative testing--teachers need to ensure that students know the difference between the two so students are not discouraged from learning.

susan donnelly's picture

[quote]A few months back, this blog post appeared on Edweek, which raises the question "Has the research on Formative Assessment been oversold?"http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2009/05/has-the-research-on-f... is the story. Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black published an article back in 1998 entitled Inside the Black Box. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_6952/is_n2_v80/ai_n28723313/?tag=c... article presented research suggesting that more frequent informal assessments could be used to great effect. They recommended that teachersuse such assessments to "inform" or modify their instruction to respond to how students were learning. They also suggested that students would learn much more if teachers de-emphasized grades and focused more on qualitative feedback. They suggested teachers share models of good work, and make it clear to students what quality work looks like. They encouraged the use of rubrics and other descriptors, so students can be guided towards high quality work.Now, more than a decade later, this article has been hugely influential. Formative assessment is a common term, and our textbooks have whole sections devoted to the practice. The blog post I referenced points out that the original studywas not presented as a "meta-analysis" -- a systematic review of research. Nonetheless, some of the publishers referencing the study are terming it such as they are using it to justify their claims for the power of this practice. Furthermore, as time has passed, the effect sizes that are claimed have grown bigger and bigger -- which provokes the question -- has formative assessment been oversold?What do you think? What have your experiences been with formative assessment? Do you think it is a powerful tool? Or has it been hyped beyond reason?[/quote
When I clicked on the link it stated the article no longer exists
well Can I have assistance with another link this blog is so informaive ponder the pun:) thank you !!!!!

Fred Welfare's picture
Fred Welfare
High School Science: Biology and Earth Science

Most of the expectations for formative assessment were already in place, perhaps the effort was to make teachers more aware of their decision-making processes during instruction and preparation. As a High School teacher, I am not convinced that Formative Assessment is the be-all-end-all. Students need to perform regularly on 30-50 question tests with open-ended problems included, and not cheat to pass! I can pretty well figure out where the weak learners are or what the generalized misconceptions are by asking questions during class and perusing student work products. Formative assessment is a methodology to get teachers addressing student needs in a more immediate or daily manner. However, we are a testing society. The SAT is not a joke. Students need to develop willpower and concentration and must get out of their anti-test attitudes and see tests as opportunities. Formative assessment adds a negative appraisal to real testing, and this negativity is backed up through linkage, or should I say unconsciously, to the administrators. If the students took their education seriously, they would work towards high scores on exams and test scores would not be attributed to testing skills but to actual learning achievement through paying attention and reading.

Jeremy Hammond's picture
Jeremy Hammond
High school Social Studies from Colchester, Vermont.

I agree that the term is another in a long line of catch phrases. However, the purpose is valid. Any time that we can use data about our students to better meet them where they are, the better off we all are. Working in a school that embraces DI, we try to use formative assessment as often as possible. I still feel like I could do it more often, however (especially with my SS classes).

Fred Welfare's picture
Fred Welfare
High School Science: Biology and Earth Science

Yes, formative assessment has validity - it is another tool for the teacher's metacognitive toolbox. I was reading Pedro Noguero's, "The Trouble with Black Boys." The book is interesting, actually it seems more like a series of articles. Anyway, I was reading the book to get a better understanding of the problem of hostile and/or uncooperative black/hispanic male students. One point he makes is that testing is felt as a threat where the expectations of the culture, or should I say of the school, get interpreted in terms of the students' racial identity which is also understood in a one-down manner. Hence, students are lacking confidence when taking tests and not performing up to speed. My thinking during class in terms of formative assessment should be reflected in summative test scores. But, it is not; my feedback to students and adjustments of lessons based on formative assessments does not lead to summative improvements. Something else is needed. Noguero makes many suggestions from his research on the problemm of the racial achievement gap. If you would like, I would be glad to get into more detail.
Fred Welfare

Elicia Cardenas's picture

I did my student teaching in a school that used a massive, 100+ skill checklist as a report card. In the late spring, we spent about two weeks doing so-called "formative assessments" to see if each of our 28 students had mastered very specific skills, such as those cited in your post. Not only was this incredibly difficult for the teacher (and we had two, a mentor and a student teacher, to share the burden), it seemed very much at odds with the whole idea of formative assessment. In fact, it felt like we were administering a final, summative, End Of The Year test across all subjects, with the knowledge that the results of these little assessments were the ones going on their 5th grade end-of-year report card.

We had been doing quick, informal assessments all year, and had a very good idea of where each of our students stood in their learning, but not at the level of the checklist.

The system that we were required to use seemed to be burdensome, difficult, and stressful for teachers and students alike, and at odds with the idea of "formative assessments" as I understand them.

Fred Welfare's picture
Fred Welfare
High School Science: Biology and Earth Science

Many of the experiences from graduate school are often forgotten or drastically edited. It is often a good idea to review graduate school classes for a reminder of the strong points the professor was trying to make. It does sound like a summative assessment, but in the context of your college course it was meant to emphasize, or imprint, the process of formative assessment. Formative assessment during teaching involves making decisions about adjusting instruction either during class or in relation to the next class to address student learning difficulties. One of the main factors I consider is the nature of students' misconceptions about the subject matter.
I would find the checklist you mentioned something interesting to read. Can you send it?
FredWelfare

Joe Dillon's picture

"But there is a way that good ideas can get turned into bureaucratic nightmares."

There is actually more than one way. Public schools right now are inadvertently still searching for more.

Strong formative assessments allow you to know your learners and evaluate the effectiveness of your instruction. Tough to "oversell" this. In the absence of strong formative assessments, teachers can be shocked at their student's performance on summative assessments, like unit tests and standardized tests. When a teacher gathers formative data about student learning regularly, she can usually predict student performance on summative assessments.

When a teacher feels like she has to "start doing" formative assessment in order to meet an externally imposed expectation, there is a danger that the fundamental purpose is lost. "I have to pay critical attention to the learning in my classroom daily so I can better know and support all of my students," turns into, "I have to create formative assessments because I'm not supposed to use numbers any more." Or something equally misguided.

Michelle Kochen's picture
Michelle Kochen
Kindergarten Teacher from Baltimore, Md.

I know there is a lot of information about how Reggio Emilia (schools in Italy)use anecdotal notes and documentation in wonderful ways.

Tami's picture
Tami
Former Teacher, Co-founder & COO of GradeCam Corporation

While I don't think the benefits of formative assessment have been oversold, perhaps the possibility of realizing those benefits has been--unless we give teachers tools to make their jobs easier. When I was teaching (before GradeCam), I found it very challenging to get my arms around knowing what each of my students knew on an ongoing basis, especially in that small window of time research shows has the most impact on student thinking.

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