New Report: Formative Assessment and Next-Generation Assessment Systems

Posted by on November 21, 2010

The wrong paradigm

As educators across the country focus on designing new ways to gauge what students are learning, they risk distorting the meaning and practice of formative assessment, Education Week reports. According to Margaret Heritage of the National Center for Research on Evaluation (who has recently issued a paper on the matter), two consortia of states now working toward new assessment systems for Common Standards lack “the right mind-set,” because they consider formative assessment to be “mini-summative” tests. Formative assessment guides instruction when the teacher clearly defines what students should know, periodically gauges their understanding, and gives them descriptive feedback to help reach those goals, in contrast to simply giving a test score or a grade, Heritage says. Students engage in the process by understanding how their work must evolve, and by developing self-assessment and peer-assessment strategies. Heritage’s comments echo others’ concerns that formative assessment has been hijacked as the standards movement has pressed states into large-scale testing systems. The result is a paradigm of measurement instead of one of learning. While summative tests can provide valuable information for decisions about programs or curricula, according to Heritage and others, the most valuable assessment for instruction is the continuous, deeply engaged feedback loop of formative assessment. Money would be better spent in building educator skills in this technique than in paying for more test design.

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