Are We Using Formative Assessments Correctly?

Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam start with the argument that formative assessments can easily raise learning achievement inside our schools' classrooms. The learning that can happen inside a classroom is driven by what students and teachers do, and if what they do is informed, their efforts can be more deliberate and hence, more effective. Thus, no one can really argue against the importance of formative assessments. The problem lies on how faithful we are with regard to what formative assessments do entail. Thus, we need to be reminded here with the definition provided by Black and William: "We use the general term assessment to refer to all those activities undertaken by teachers - and by their students in assessing themselves that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities. Such assessment becomes truly formative only when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet student needs." It is only formative if we indeed "adapt the teaching to meet student needs".

Above copied from Black and Wiliam

This is where the problem lies. We often focus mainly on determining the needs and forget the second important part of tailoring our teaching to meet the needs that we find. In a recent paper published in the American Educational Research Journal, Carla Johnson and coworkers find that "master teachers implemented some aspects of formative assessment effectively and other areas were used much less frequently and/or effectively". What is unfortunate is that the areas often not implemented are: relating what is learned now with future goals (Learning Intentions and Criteria), and adapting the teaching to meet students' needs (Feedback on Instruction).

Above copied from
Johnson, C. C., Sondergeld, T. A., & Walton, J. B. (2019). A Study of the Implementation of Formative Assessment in Three Large Urban Districts. American Educational Research Journal.

Master teachers seem to be more focused on classwork like discussions, group work, and tests. What is sadly missing is looking forward and establishing a loop between where the student is and what the student and teacher should do.

The sad part is that this study only involves "master teachers". At this point, it is still not surprising to see teachers who do not even provide opportunities for students to gauge where they stand in a particular learning goal or task. And we are simply shocked when we find out where the students really are at the end of a school year.


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