Assessment Education Perspectives

The Foundation of Formative Assessment Post One: Components and Gap Analysis

First and foremost, I believe that my assessment practice should not harm the students that I am trying to teach. This is an idea that I had not thought much about before, but now believe that it is essential, especially in helping at-risk learners. “The reality is that when assessment is done poorly, students are harmed” (Chappuis, Commodore, & Stiggins 2017, p.2).

An assessment literate educator knows the value of effective feedback to improve student learning. Students need feedback to not only know what they are not understanding or what they can improve on but also to know what they are doing well. This feedback can lead to greater understanding. “(C)lassroom achievement has been found to improve when students, particularly low-achieving students, are actively engaged and receive feedback on their performance during an instructional event” (Whitte 2010). An assessment literate educator also knows that a “student’s emotional reaction to results will determine what the student does in response” (Stiggins, 2007, p. 26). This reaction can either be productive and lead to further student effort or can be negative and lead to a student to stop trying.

An assessment literate educator also knows that they are partners with students in their learning. It is important for students to be taught how to self-assess and how to set goals for their own learning. “Self-assessment is a necessary part of learning, not an add-on that we do if we have the time or the ‘right students’” (Chappuis et al., 2012 pp. 31-32). An assessment literate educator knows that students should be taught not only to self-assess, but how to use teacher assessments and their own self-assessments to increase their learning. “Armed with a better understanding of what they are expected to learn and how they will be graded, and giving them a leading role in their own education will improve their learning and responsibility for growth” (Assessment Literacy, 2017).

Formative assessment, or assessment for learning, is not a “toolkit” of strategies, and is not simply a method that a teacher uses to measure student learning during instruction. Formative assessment is “an ongoing interactive process in which students become partners with their teachers” (Chappuis, Commodore, & Stiggins, 2017, p.6). According to Rick Stiggins, assessment should “occur almost simultaneously” with instruction (2014, p.17). The idea of students and teachers both being involvement in assessment is crucial because the purpose of formative assessment is to improve student learning “while there is still time to act – before the graded event” (Chappuis et al., 2012, p.35).

Teacher use of formative assessment is crucial. Assessment literate teachers use the information that they gain from formative assessment to make adjustments to their instruction, both for the whole class and individual students. Properly used, assessment for learning provides teachers with a wealth of information that they use “during the learning to diagnose student needs, plan next steps in instruction, provide students with targeted practice, and offer effective feedback” (Chappuis et al., 2012, p.24).
Formative assessment cannot work without one of its essential features: effective descriptive feedback and communication. This communication begins with clear learning targets understood by students. During learning, feedback “identifies what students are doing right, as well as what they need to work on next” and is specific to “knowledge and skills emphasized in the current assignment” (Chappuis et al., 2012, p.31). This communication with students lets them know where they are in the learning process.

Again, the idea of students being partners with their teachers is essential because the process of formative assessment works because of another one of its features: it “change(s) the student’s interaction with assessment” (Chappuis et al., 2012, p.27). (Italics in original). For this changed student interaction with assessment to happen, teachers must guide students and help them develop their “capacity to monitor and adjust the quality of their own work” (Chappuis, Commodore, & Stiggins, 2017, p.7). Students who are partnered with a teacher that maintains an effective formative assessment process learn how to learn. They become cognizant not only of where they are in the learning process, but also of where they headed.

Furthermore, the idea of student involvement in their assessment is crucial as another feature of assessment for learning: student involvement in assessment can drive student learning. This student involvement and greater awareness of themselves as learners and of the learning process can “increase student confidence, engage students in managing their own learning, and foster higher levels of achievement” (Stiggins, 2014, p.7).

Components of Formative Assessments in My Classroom

Gap Analysis

An analysis of the components of formative and summative assessments in my classroom clearly shows an assessment system that is out of balance and needs to be redesigned. Too much of the assessment of my students is summative. My use of assessment also shows a complete lack of involving students in the assessment process – something that I now know can drive student learning. “With student involvement in the assessment process, comes proven yet untapped potential for increased student learning” (Chappuis, Commodore, & Stiggins, 2017, p.4). (Italics in original).

To balance my assessment system, I need to focus not only on creating, beginning and maintaining the formative assessment process, but I must also involve students in this process. I have already begun the process of researching and planning student self-assessment and implementation began last quarter. In my school district, ELD students are expected to write a narrative essay for inclusion in their student portfolios. Well before students began planning and writing their essays, I shared the learning targets with them. As we progressed through the lessons that I had planned as part of the learning progression, I referred to these learning targets as both what they were working on during that lesson and that they would also be the targets for the essay.

Before students began writing their essays, we reviewed the district ELD rubric for narrative writing. I wanted students to know how they were being graded and to know what they needed to include in their writing. As students asked for help during the writing process, I referred them back to the rubric as part of the feedback that I gave them.

Once students finished their rough drafts, we used the rubric to guide them through the revision process. First, I passed out a set of colored pencils to each student. We looked at each part of the rubric separately, discussed what it meant, and then underlined that part of the rubric with a specific color. Students then reread their rough drafts to look for evidence that met that part of the rubric in their writing. When students found evidence, they underlined it, on their rough drafts, with the specific color for that part of the rubric. Once students had completed reviewing their essays with a section of the rubric, they gave themselves a score, based on the evidence in their rough drafts, for that part of the rubric. Students then explained their scores to their groups by referring to the rubric and the evidence in their rough drafts. Finally, students used what they learned about their essays from this process to revise their essays.

In order to see what effect this process had on student learning, I scored both the final copy and the rough draft for twenty-six percent of my students and then compared the scores. I also kept track of if those students made changes to their essays and the types of changes that they made. The data from this shows a real impact on student learning. I found that 72.4% of students made changes and additions to their essays that went beyond simply fixing grammar and spelling errors. The changes that students made showed a greater understanding of explanation, and description. Students also added dialogue and transitions and rewrote sections that were unclear. Furthermore, overall scores for students that made changes grew an average of half a point on the district four-point rubric. This process, however, did not work for all students; 11% of students only made changes to spelling and grammar and 16.6% of student made no changes at all.

Even though 27.6% of students showed no effect from this process. The 72.4% of students making changes shows a fundamental shift in the idea of what revision means to students. In my experience, many students believe that revising an essay simply means to fix grammar and spelling issues. I have found it difficult to get students to focus on other changes or additions that they needed to make to their work. In the past, the overwhelming majority of students would listen to advice that I gave them during the rough draft writing process but ignore comments that I made on their finished rough drafts and only make changes to spelling or grammar errors.  Changing the idea of what revision means to students and getting them to really revise their work shows that this process works and that I should continue it.
My plan to rebalance my assessment system also involves continued research not only into the process of student self-analysis but also into the process of providing effective feedback to students. A comparison of the use of assessments in my classroom and my assessment philosophy shows a lack of feedback and effective communication not only to my students but to their parents and other stakeholders. I have already been attempting to provide more timely, effective feedback in my classroom as students are in the process of learning. I am trying to integrate my assessment with instruction as much as possible. I am in the process of reflecting on my instruction and identifying assignments, such as student journals, on which my use of feedback needs improvement.

One aspect of assessment that I now understand and that will also present a challenge is that my collection and use of data to adjust my instruction is a never-ending, cyclical process. It is not a lesson that I can learn and then say, “now I’ve got it.” I must continue to reflect, plan assessment with instruction, involve students, collect data, analyze, reflect and continue the cycle.

In my next post, I’ll dive into communication of assessment, so come back next week!

About the Author: John Young
John Young is a practicing classroom professional who teaches English Language Development at Montgomery High School in San Diego, CA. He is a student in the Masters of Science in Advanced Teaching Practices. John reflects on his role as an assessment literate educator, the value of effective feedback, the essential element of student involvement in their own learning process, and the need for having a communication plan.

John Young