Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I Hate Formative Assessments!

Well, mostly, I hate the TERM formative assessments.  What does it really mean?  I think we get hung up on the term formative assessment and lose the real meaning.

When I think of grading and feedback, there is one purpose...communication.  The only thing that ever changes when giving grades and feedback is the audience.  So, instead of thinking of what sort of assessment we have (formative or summative), lets simply think of the audience of the result of the assessment and make decisions from there.

If the main audience of the assessment result is the student, DON'T USE A GRADE!  Why not?  If our audience is the student, our goal is to improve learning, and we know students do not learn from grades. When a student looks at a grade after an assessment, that is all they look at.  They don't look back at their work or task.  Instead, for learning, give descriptive feedback.

Some people say that the student is ALWAYS the audience.  In a perfect world where one student had one teacher, sure, that may be the case.  The truth is that most of us have classrooms full of 30 or more students. There are times when we need to "pigeon hole" students so we can keep things straight in our heads to plan flexible groups and future instruction. At these times we give some sort of formal assessment and write down a level of learning that reflects where individual students stand.  It isn't efficient to write down an entire descriptive comment for each student, so we summarize the learning with a symbol, or a grade. Anytime a grade is written down for a student, in my mind, it is a summative assessment.  I use this idea because if you assign a grade to a task, you are summarizing students learning.  But, who cares how we define it.  When a grade is written down, the audience changes.  The main audience is the teacher, because we use these grades to manage our classes.

Now, you can still use this information for formative purposes!  This is why things are so darn confusing!  As a teacher, now you know where students stand in terms of learning levels.  You can use this information to group students.  This doesn't mean that students are stuck at this level forever, but it is worth recording the learning level.  In my mind, it is entirely appropriate to put this information into the gradebook.  Why?  Well, you have a quality assessment that rates the level of learning of a student relative to a standard.  Write it down!  Then, when you do it again, write it down again.  After awhile, we will have a collection of evidence for each student relative to specific standards.  You are the main audience, but the student should still see this as well.

There are also times when the MAIN audience are people outside our classroom.  This would include parents, administrators, other teachers, etc.  Most schools have a system of report cards to accomplish this task with specific deadlines that these reports are due.  So, on that deadline, we have to look at our knowledge of where students are for each of our standards AT THAT TIME, and report that information out.  Obviously, it is more important to use more recent data on students.  This is one of the reason why we have been collecting this evidence over time, so when we need to summarize the learning at these specified intervals, we can.

Remember the MAIN audience:

  • If it's the students: descriptive feedback
  • If it's you: grade the assessment with level of achievement connected to the standard and record that grade in the gradebook.
  • If it's the report card: summarize what you know of the student, by looking back at the gradebook, at that time, per standard or per class depending on your situation.

Focus on the audience, not the type of assessment.

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