Assessment of learning, those end of the term or year summative or interim assessments, are designed to determine the measure of a student’s learning. Simply put, did the student learn what they were supposed to learn and to what extent? It is with these scores that a teacher can assign a grade. Formative assessment, or assessment for learning, is a measure that is perhaps more than anything else a yardstick for the educator to determine what they need to do to move the learner forward. It is not for grading!
Andrew Miller’s recent blog at Edutopia – Courageous Conversation: Formative Assessment and Grading – touches on this and answers the question why in his words…
For one, a grade is supposed to answer the question: “Did the student learn and achieve the learning targets or standards?” If this is the case, then the summative assessment primarily represents achievement. Formative assessment is practice. It is part of the journey. I would feel evil if I punished a kid during practice and then, literally and figuratively, brought that punishment to his or her “A-Game” in the final match (summative assessment).
In fact, student learning from formative assessment shouldn’t even be a factor in grading. Why? While some students have greater knowledge of a certain topic than others at the outset of a lesson, if teachers are successful in their efforts at imparting that lesson, all students should, at least, have the same baseline knowledge of that lesson once it’s taught. If they all can’t meet that baseline of measurement, then where does the responsibility lie? With the student or the teacher?
While some teachers may say that the responsibility lies with the student, those teachers who are making a real impact in the classroom using the practice Miller describes would probably answer “both.” With formative assessment strategies and techniques, teachers can make quick reads of where students are in learning the lesson and make adjustments along the way. If they identify a few students who aren’t moving forward, they can provide additional information or support accordingly. If students are collecting and using the evidence of their learning, with the help of their teacher and peers, they, too, can make adjustments in their learning tactics and seek out peers as resources. As Jay McTighe and Ken O’Connor state in their article – Seven Practices for Effective Learning:
Formative assessments occur concurrently with instruction. These ongoing assessments provide specific feedback to teachers and students for the purpose of guiding teaching to improve learning. Formative assessments include both formal and informal methods, such as ungraded quizzes, oral questioning, teacher observations, draft work, think-alouds, student-constructed concept maps, learning logs, and portfolio reviews. Although teachers may record the results of formative assessments, we shouldn’t factor these results into summative evaluation and grading.
Formative assessment strategies should be part of teacher professional development programs – part of how teachers teach minute-to-minute and day-by-day. If these strategies become part of the process by which teachers build their lesson plans, the real grading that occurs from summative assessments will improve.
Are you an educator and use formative assessment in the classroom? How does it fit in with your grading strategy or the grading policy of your district?