Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Maximizing the Power of Formative Assessments: When Teachers Work Together to Create Assessments for All Students in the Same Course or Grade, the Results Can Be Astounding

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Maximizing the Power of Formative Assessments: When Teachers Work Together to Create Assessments for All Students in the Same Course or Grade, the Results Can Be Astounding

Article excerpt

Formative assessment, done well, represents one of the most powerful instructional tools available to a teacher or a school for promoting student achievement. Teachers and schools can use formative assessment to identify student understanding, clarify what comes next in their learning, trigger and become part of an effective system of intervention for struggling students, inform and improve the instructional practice of individual teachers or teams, help students track their own progress toward attainment of standards, motivate students by building confidence in themselves as learners, fuel continuous improvement processes across faculties, and, thus, drive a school's transformation.

Common assessments--those created collaboratively by teams of teachers who teach the same course or grade level--also represent a powerful tool in effective assessment in professional learning communities. Put the two together and the result can redefine the role of assessment in school improvement.

But this synergy can be achieved only if certain conditions are satisfied. Three specific questions: How can common formative assessments contribute to productive instructional decision making? How can we make sure those assessments are of high quality? How can we ensure they are used in ways that benefit student learning? Our driving purpose is to maximize the positive impact of common assessments used to promote both student and teacher success.


If assessment is, at least in part, the process of gathering information to inform instructional decisions, then the starting place for the creation of any particular assessment is seeking clear answers to some key questions (Stiggins 2008):

* What is (are) the instructional decision(s) to be made?

* Who will be making the decision(s)?

* What information will help them make good decisions?

Answers will differ depending on the assessment's purpose. To be truly productive, a local district assessment system must provide different kinds of information to various decision makers in different forms and at different times.


Consider how assessments provide information for three different levels--the classroom level, the program level, and the institutional or accountability levels.

Classroom assessments. At the classroom level, students, teachers, and sometimes parents need information about what comes next in the learning process and continuous evidence about a student's location in that learning progression.

Teachers should have arrayed clearly focused and appropriate achievement standards into learning progressions to unfold within and across grade levels over time. These curriculum maps chart the learner's route to ultimate academic success. A balanced classroom assessment environment uses some assessments in a formative manner to support learning and some in a summative way to verify it, as at grading time.

To know what comes next in the learning, one must know where the students are now in their learning. Formative classroom assessments must provide an answer about where a student is located in his or her learning, not once a year or every few weeks, but continuously while the learning is happening. Effective classroom assessments clarify each student's journey up the scaffolding leading to each standard. It is never the case that, first, a student cannot meet a standard and then, all at once, he or she can. Over time, the student masters progressive levels of prerequisite learning that accumulate to mastery of the standard. Ongoing classroom assessment must track that progress in order to know, at any point in time, what comes next in the learning. Such continuous, ongoing assessment is essential to a balanced classroom assessment system.

This attention to each student does not require that every assessment be unique to each student or classroom. …

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