Voice from the Industry

Creating Effective Formative Assessments

Assessment is one of the most debated issues in education. Too much testing, or failure to use assessment results in a constructive way, can doom an educational system - and its students. When tests are not used the right way it breeds frustration among teachers, students, and parents.

That said, assessment is a crucial part of education. Teachers must have ongoing data in order to understand their students' strengths and weaknesses and to understand when their instruction is missing the mark. It is important for schools to conduct assessments in a way that provides meaningful data that will improve teaching and learning, and anyone who develops educational content should either create their own formative assessments, provide tools to help teachers create assessments based on their content, or partner with a company that can provide an assessment solution.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) puts new emphasis on formative assessment - the method of assessing students in order to monitor student learning and improve student success. This is something that we at Apperson fully support. Timely formative assessments give teachers insight into student learning and help them create a plan for student improvement.

Here are some tips on how to best use formative assessments to help teachers improve instruction and help students learn.

  1. Create good test questions.
  2. Adopt technology that allows educators to get immediate results.
  3. Ensure adequate time for teacher training.
  4. Help educators get students involved.
  5. Provide opportunities for educators to change instruction if students don't get it the first time.

Create good test questions
Creating good test questions is the first step. In a 2014 white paper, assessment expert Nancy Sindelar offered a five-step process for writing standards-based test items:

Step 1: Define your learning targets. Figure out what you want students to know and align your assessments to those targets.

Step 2: Identify an assessment format. Some common forms are multiple choice, short answer, essay, true-false questions, or a project. Consider the best way to measure the learning target and the amount of time available for administering and scoring the test.

Step 3: Develop test items. Test questions and rubrics may come from textbooks or from online sources, or they could be created by teachers. If you are creating them make sure the questions and rubrics are aligned to the specific standards and learning targets. If not, make sure you provide a tool for teachers to create and administer formative assessments themselves.

Step 4: Pilot the test with one group or class.

Step 5: Analyze the results to determine whether there are any poorly written questions.

Adopt the right technology
Technology makes analyzing assessment data much easier than it used to be. Online testing and cloud-based platforms provide immediate results and data analysis reports. Many schools still use paper tests or a mix of paper and online tests. There are solutions for this too. High speed scanners have the ability to quickly scan paper answer sheets and digitize those answers so that instructors can access them online.

Offering your customers a cloud-based system can mean that educators have access to analysis reports quickly and easily so they can get the most out of their assessments.

Provide professional development
Assessment is a vital part of ensuring student success, but teachers may not always be comfortable with data analysis. It is important to properly train teachers and staff on how to get the most out of their assessment data. In a Feb. 16, 2016 Apperson-sponsored webinar, Nancy Sindelar advised teachers to use the time allotted in their team meetings to discuss data analysis reports. Companies should provide resources, whether online or in person, to train teachers and staff on how to review and discuss data.

Get students involved
Making students part of the assessment discussion is important for them to take ownership of their learning. Formative assessments are all about measuring student progress and giving students feedback. Students will be more successful if they are engaged in the process. For example, instructors can use the data reports to initiate class discussions. If most of the students got the same question wrong, the instructor can spend some class time discussing the question and get feedback from students on why the question was confusing. Instructors can take the opportunity to reteach if needed.

Change instruction when needed
Educators often reteach a topic that scored low the same way they taught it the first time. As a curriculum developer, you should offer ways to vary instruction if the first approach did not work. Understanding how educators use your content is the first step in the process. When you observe your products being used in classrooms, you can better determine ways to help educators deliver it in varied ways.

Formative assessment can be an extremely helpful tool for educators to measure student progress, provide feedback, and improve teaching and learning. However testing alone does nothing. Educators and school systems must also understand what to do with assessment data once they receive it. Teachers must have access to quick, easy-to-understand data analysis reports. Companies need to incorporate appropriate technology to provide immediate results and help educators learn new ways of delivering content to have a larger impact on learning. Taking these steps will help schools use formative assessments to improve teaching and learning and thus improve student success.

Patrick Cozens is Director of Marketing for Apperson, which develops K-16 assessment solutions. Apperson's products support and encourage a holistic learning and development approach by helping educators turn assessment data into actionable information. For more information, visit www.Apperson.com. Patrick may be reached at patrick.cozens@apperson.com.


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