Maybe Everything Your Students Do Should be (Formatively) Assessed
Earlier today I was reading a blogpost over at On The Edge of Tomorrow titled Can Standardized Test Data be Formative. I found blog owner Ben Grey to be quite thought provoking with this piece. He suggests that standardized testing at the end of one school year could become valuable information for instructors in the following year. He goes on to explain how the amount of information from standardized tests should be building year after year. By the time a student enters middle school there will be years of data showing progress, strengths, and weaknesses. While for the most part teachers aren’t looking forward to state/provincial testing, these assessments have become a part of the educational systems in North America. As teachers we can use this data. Ben states,
I honestly don’t know how much valuable information can be found and used in a formative capacity in state standardized testing. I’ve a feeling, though, there might be more there than we realize.
After reading this statement I was reminded of a session speaker (who will remain nameless) I listened to at a recent conference. In response to a question about how to assess student responses during class conversations the speaker shared that the teacher could not and should not comment on students statements and that he didn’t believe student thoughts/conversations could be assessed. His reasoning was given in the form of a question, along the lines of “How can you tell someone that their thinking process is not good, or that your own thinking process is better than theirs”.
This sentiment bothered me. At a teachers conference, an expert and consultant is telling the audience that student thoughts and conversations can not be assessed. And that feedback is not an appropriate part of classroom conversations. How absurd! In what I’ve learned in my struggles and triumphs as a classroom teacher recent readings (Fisher et al. 2008; Kenney et al., 2005; just to name a few) regarding building discourse in the content areas, it is imperative to give students feedback. And in order to give effective feedback, you must first assess the students performance. We have all had discussions with our class that we have altered or adjusted on the fly because we wanted to elicit better responses from our students. Those adjustments are successful, because we assessed student progress and used that information to adjust our instruction. This is, of course, formative assessment.
So now, I would like to both affirm and extend Ben Greys conjecture. Yes, standardized tests can be used for formative assessment. We can also formatively assess classroom discussions. We can gather information from formal assessments, conversations, and observations of student performances. This data can then be used to decide where our teaching goes next. I think that the more informed we are regarding our students, the better judgements we will be able to make regarding their learning.
Maybe everything our students do should be assessed, guiding our teaching and informing our students of their progress. I’m not suggesting that we need to keep more records, make more rubrics, and mark more multiple choice exams. We certainly have a multitude of information coming to us already (as noted in Grey’s article). But maybe we can use all of this information in a more formative manner.