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Searching for clarity on formative assessment

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Education Week examined the confusion many teachers face regarding formative assessments, interviewing Gregory Cizek, professor of educational measurement and evaluation, for his perspective.

The article said teachers have different understandings of the purpose of formative assessments and how they are conducted.

Cizek, who co-authored “The Handbook of Formative Assessment,” said that because of the confusion, formative assessments often are implemented in very different ways, leading to very different educational outcomes.

Cizek told EdWeek that there are three basic schools of thought around formative assessments:

  • One says they are “quick, actionable assessments” that provide teachers with information about their students’ progress along the way.
  • Another adds the wrinkle that formative assessments also provide teachers feedback on their own instructional practices.
  • The third camp views formative assessment as teaching practices that help students understand their learning goals, figure out how far they are from their goals, and what must be done to reach them.

The article concludes:

“Even the formative-assessment experts argue about whether good practice can include a more "top down" approach, in which a teacher plans specific junctures in instruction for collecting evidence of student learning, or whether the only good formative assessment happens "from the bottom up," in the moment, with teachers watching and probing for student understanding.

More than a few educators and scholars will tell you that using the word "assessment" to name the practice is misleading. Formative assessment is nothing more than good teaching, they'll argue.

Good teaching, perhaps, but teaching in ways that the field itself is still struggling to define and verify.”