Since the very first county fair, assessment has been the key to communicating success. Let your mind wander a bit to imagine the smell of apple pies, and the sounds of forks clinking against the glass plates as the judges rotate from pie to pie tasting each entry. Imagine the taste of the perfect pie—the one that will receive the coveted blue ribbon – cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, the perfectly-cooked apple slices, and of course the tender flaky crust that houses each morsel. When a pie receives the blue ribbon, the fair’s highest honor, participants begin to take note of how the pie smelled, tasted, and looked. They do this so that they can imitate and improve upon the winning entry.
In this process, assessment has happened on many levels. First, the blue ribbon was awarded; next, each element of the pie was critiqued; and finally, contestants strive to improve upon the process and product, so that when the next county fair occurs, their pie will be the winner. While our classrooms may not be county fairs, they too are assessing. In classrooms, the teacher is using assessment to determine what students are learning and if they can use that information in their day-to-day lives.
Keeping with our blue-ribbon pie analogy, let’s look at how judging the pie-baking contest at the county fair mimics the process of assessment in the classroom. To do this, we must first recognize three types of assessment: summative, interim, and formative.
- The awarding of the blue ribbon is the pie-baking summative assessment. It is the final outcome of the complete process of baking, sampling, and judging each element of the pie. Once you drop your pie off at the county fair, you cannot make any changes. The pie will be judged, and a ribbon placed. Summative assessment in the classroom is used to answer the question, “What did the students learn?” Instructionally speaking, this is the end-of-course test that shows mastery of what is learned. At the end of the day, when students pass outcome assessments, such as PARCC, Smarter Balanced, end-of-course, unit tests, chapter tests, and the list goes on, they are receiving their blue ribbon—or not.
- As we prepare for next year’s pie-baking contest, we seek feedback from our friends and family about the progress that we have made towards mimicking the award-winning pie. We do this to help us improve with each new pie that we bake. The feedback loop that we are engaged in during this phase is a form of interim assessment. It is assessment to help us improve on the next generation of the pie. In the classroom, interim assessment is a way to check the progress of student learning. Each time we collect this information, it helps us to determine how the student is progressing toward the goal. It helps us understand how close to the blue ribbon (or in this case, being proficient on the state criterion referenced assessment) the student is performing. Educationally speaking, interim assessments take place in between formative assessments and summative assessments.
- As we follow the recipe for baking our award-winning apple pie, we take steps to evaluate the quantity, quality, and proportion of each ingredient that goes into the pie. Experimenting with the number of folds we use when preparing the crust and how that impacts its flakiness; judging the impact of using fresh nutmeg and cinnamon sticks, rather than canned spices; and choosing different apple types and determining the impact on texture that various thicknesses of the slices produce – these are all steps that inform our final product. Each of these decisions impacts the outcome of getting a blue ribbon or not. The manipulations that we make as we bake pie after pie serve as formative information; they inform what we do next.
Formative assessment in the classroom informs learning. In education, the general goal of formative assessment is to gather detailed information about instruction and to gain a better understanding of what needs to happen in the classroom so that the student can master the content they need to be successful in the curriculum. What makes an assessment “formative” is not the technique, or the assessment, but rather the way that it is used to enlighten in-the-moment teaching and learning. It is the manipulations that we make to our instruction.
So how does one earn a blue ribbon in the classroom? By having a balanced assessment program that captures: where the student is, currently, in their learning (formative); informs whether students are on target to making their achievable goal (interim); and finally, defines what the students actually learned (summative). Using tools such as MAP and Skills Navigator can help your students to earn their own blue ribbon.
More Formative Assessment Resources: