Standing with Students: A Children's Rights Perspective on Formative Literacy Assessment

By Crumpler, Thomas P. | Language Arts, November 2017 | Go to article overview

Standing with Students: A Children's Rights Perspective on Formative Literacy Assessment


Crumpler, Thomas P., Language Arts


Formative assessment involves teachers, students, and others collecting and interpreting evidence about student growth and achievement to make decisions about instruction (Black & William, 1998). In our current educational climate of accountability and high-stakes assessment, formative assessments can be marginalized. In this column, I ask: How can we stand with students to create assessment opportunities that are situated in equity and learners' rights and that recognize the multi-dimensionalities of literacy learning (Elwood & Lundy, 2010)? Further, how do we stand with teachers to design formative assessments that evaluate attributes such as resiliency (persevering in challenging learning situations) and reciprocity (a readiness to take up collaborative work while being comfortable with ambiguity) (Johnston, 2005)? This essay addresses these questions by developing four guidelines for reimagining formative literacy assessment from a children's rights perspective and by providing examples of strategies and assessments that align with those guidelines. This approach is anchored in active learning partnerships with elementary students in order to make the case for new possibilities with formative literacy assessment.

A Children's Rights Perspective

The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNRC) identified broad rights of children, including provision rights, protection rights, and participation rights (Lansdown, 1994). The UNRC's emphasis on participation rights, which include students' rights to challenge decisions, can help us shift literacy assessment toward more student autonomy (Lansdown, 1994). From a children's rights perspective, children should be "actively involved in construction of their own social lives, the lives of those around them, and of the societies in which they live" (James & Prout, 2015, p. 5).

In many assessment practices, however, students are often not positioned as active designers of their own social futures (New London Group, 1996). The New London Group forecasted the shifting nature of literacy practices and argued that systems of schooling must reposition students as designers through which "meaning-makers remake themselves" (p. 76). Literacy assessment is a catalyst for this remaking when students have rights and options. However, in too many schools, assessments are planned and decisions made without consulting students. Ironically, the United States remains one of the few countries that never ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Childhood in American education is traditionally viewed as a time of becoming, innocence, vulnerability, and protection (Mayall, 2002). Children should be protected within a society; however, traditional views can diminish agency and position children in schools with little voice in their own learning trajectories (Elwood & Lundy, 2010). Recent scholarship challenges this perspective and encourages rethinking childhood as socially constructed, relational, and dialogic, thus expanding children's agency for their lives (James & Prout, 2015; Quennerstedt & Quennerstedt, 2014). This view of childhood positions students as active participants in formative assessment. Researchers have also argued for the social construction of literacy (Bloome & Green, 2015; Cook-Gumperz, 2006) with implications for schooling-especially in dayto-day classroom assessment practices.

By bringing together assessment inquiry, shifting views of literacies, and research on childhood, I developed the following four guidelines for formative literacy assessment situated in children's rights (Crumpler, 1996; Tierney, Crumpler, Bertelsen, & Bond, 2003):

1. Formative assessment is a participatory partnership in which teachers stand with students.

2. Assessment opportunities in which teachers explore social futures with students are vital.

3. Prospects for deep self-assessment in which students stand up for themselves must be central to formative assessment. …

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