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«Approved by the NCTE Executive Committee October 21, 2013 Effective teachers are constantly engaged in the process of formative assessment: offering one ...»

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As teachers refine their powers of observation and their skill in analyzing, they become better able to see what students are learning and to plan for future learning experiences. In addition to this “in-the-midst” analysis, teachers also protect time to engage in more thoughtful analysis by capturing information about learning that can be reviewed and studied over time.

During this focused analysis, teachers review the information available and ask themselves and one another three key questions: “What do you see?”; “What do you make of it?”; “What will you do about it?” (Boudett, City, & Murnane).

Choosing a Formative Assessment Stance As school decision makers are poised to select new assessments, we urge them to choose a path that supports a formative assessment stance. Teachers deserve protected time and quality support as they learn to observe closely and analyze deeply;

students deserve a classroom context that allows teachers to do this. Over time, this professional development raises the quality of teaching and, in turn, the level of student learning. The more teachers can see and understand what students are doing, the better they can support those students in their learning.

Beyond that, decision makers can critically analyze what authentic formative assessment is and is not. Keeping in mind the following chart, teachers and administrators together can choose and create tools and strategies that will truly inform practice, support students, and improve learning.

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Consider multiple kinds of information, based in a variety of tools or Focus on a single piece of information strategies Works Cited Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. London: Granada Learning.

Burke, C. (1987). Burke reading interview. In Y. Goodman, D. Watson, & C. Burke, Reading miscue inventory: Alternative procedures. Katonah, NY:

Richard C. Owen.

Cizek, G. (2010). An introduction to formative assessment: History, characteristics, and challenges. In H. Andrade & G. Cizek (eds.), Handbook of formative assessment, 3-17. New York: Routledge.

Gallagher, C. W. (2008). Kairos and informative assessment: Rethinking the formative/summative distinction in Nebraska. Theory Into Practice 48, 81–88.

Gallagher, C. W., & Turley, E. D. (2012). Our better judgment: Teacher leadership for writing assessment. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Heritage, M. (2007). Formative assessment: What do teachers need to know and do? Phi Delta Kappan 89.

Johnston, P. H. (1997). Knowing literacy: Constructive literacy assessment. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Joint Task Force on Assessment of the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English. (2010). Standards for the assessment of reading and writing. (Rev. ed.). Urbana, IL: NCTE and Newark, DE: IRA.

Pinchok, N., & Brandt, W. C. (2009). Connecting formative assessment research to practice: An introductory guide for educators. Washington, DC:

Learning Point Associates.

Serafini, F. (2010). Classroom reading assessments: More efficient ways to view and evaluate your learners. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Stephens, D., & Story, J. (1999). Assessment as inquiry: Learning the hypothesis-test process. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Vygotsky, L. (1986/1934). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Annotated Bibliography Research/Theory of Formative Assessment Afflerbach, P. (Ed.). (2010). Essential readings on assessment. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

This book in IRA’s Essential Readings series is a collection of research-based and peer-reviewed articles that have appeared in past IRA publications.

Well-respected authors address various reading assessment topics such as the role of teachers, a historical view of reading assessment, the importance of formative assessment, and the consequences of assessment. Each article is followed by questions for reflection. Afflerbach discusses the importance of assessing the affective aspects of reading development as well as the cognitive, and notes that there is a decided lack of alignment between what we know about the reading process and how we assess it. (NOTE: This review was originally published in Talking Points.) AFL. Position Paper on Assessment for Learning from the Third International Conference on Assessment for Learning. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.fairtest.org/position-paper-assessment-learning This short position paper, developed by an international committee of assessment scholars, criticizes how recent developments in educational policy have led to “misunderstanding” and “distortion” of the original ideas behind formative assessment. In order to clarify, they talk about assessment for learning, which they define as “part of everyday practice by students, teachers, and peers that seeks, reflects upon, and responds to information from dialogue, demonstration, and observation in ways that enhance ongoing learning.” Andrade, H., & Cizek, G. J. (Eds.). (2010). Handbook of formative assessment. New York: Routledge.

A collection of essays by leading international assessment scholars, this book is divided into three major sections: (1) foundations of formative assessment, (2) formative assessment methods and practice, including concrete information on latest advances in techniques and technologies, and (3) challenges and future directions. The various essays offer a thorough review of research into formative assessment, lively discussion of distinctions in that research and resulting definitions, and studies into practical applications.

Cizek, G. J. (2010). An introduction to formative assessment: History, characteristics, and challenges. In H. Andrade & G. Cizek (Eds.), Handbook of formative assessment (pp. 3–17). New York: Routledge.

This thoughtful essay introduces the reader to the formative assessment movement. Cizek summarizes roots of the movement, focusing on the work of Bloom and Scriven; identifies ten characteristics of formative assessment as distilled from a number of research studies; and suggests challenges for those who want to implement formative assessment. A very useful essay for those seeking to understand the history of research into the concept of formative assessment.

Gallagher, C. W. (2008) Kairos and informative assessment: Rethinking the formative/summative distinction in Nebraska. Theory Into Practice, 48, 81–88.

Gallagher explains Nebraska’s now-defunct approach to assessment, one that gave great autonomy to teachers and honored local, context-ful assessments. In the article he rethinks traditional distinctions between formative and summative assessments, suggesting that the distinction between the terms should be about how the information is used, rather than simply the form of the assessment.

Genishi, C., & Dyson, A. H. (2009). Assessing children’s language and literacy: Dilemmas in time. In C. Genishi & A. H. Dyson, Children, language, and literacy: Diverse learners in diverse times. New York: Teachers College Press.

This chapter from a larger work examining the tensions between childhood language and developmental diversity in a context of increasing standardization takes the view of early childhood teachers not as technicians or test administrators, but as decision makers, using their highly situated knowledge of students gathered through careful observation to help students learn more. In addition to a theoretical overview, Genishi and Dyson offer portraits of early childhood teachers who tell, in their own words, how they assess their students in nonstandardized ways.

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.

Hattie’s extensive meta-analysis of effect sizes of various approaches to teaching and learning identifies feedback and knowing when students are or are not progressing, key components of a formative assessment system, as two of the most powerful tools teachers have to improve learning.

Joint Task Force on Assessment of the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English. (2010).

Standards for the assessment of reading and writing (Rev. ed.). Urbana, IL: NCTE and Newark, DE: IRA.

Building from thirty years of research reflecting the field’s growing understanding of language, learning, and the notions of literacy, this document provides a set of standards to guide decisions about assessment in reading and writing. The standards stress teacher agency, the primacy of assessment as a tool to improve teaching and learning, and the constant need to consider the effects of assessment on students. In addition to the standards themselves, the document offers illustrative case studies and a glossary of key assessment terminology.

McMillan, J. H. (Ed.). (2007). Formative classroom assessment. New York: Teachers College Press.

In his very important first chapter of this review of formative assessment, McMillan differentiates between formative assessments, which are always embedded in instruction in order to improve instruction and student engagement, and benchmark assessments, which, while often named as formative by the commercial testing market, do not provide the level of detail necessary to improve teaching and learning.

Other authors in the collection are some of the big names in assessment: Richard Stiggins, Dylan Wiliam, Gregory Cizek, and others who write about the research base of formative assessment, the implications for high-stakes testing and large-scale assessment, and specific strategies for classrooms.

Shepard, L. A. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29.7, 4–14.

In providing a historical overview of assessment’s relationship to traditions of teaching and learning, the author argues for the need for assessment to change both form and function in order to “create a learning culture where students and teachers would have a shared expectation that finding out what makes sense and what doesn’t is a joint and worthwhile project, essential to taking the next steps in learning” (10). She offers as components of such a culture: dynamic, ongoing assessment, investigation of prior knowledge, feedback, explicit criteria, and self-assessment.

Wiliam, D. (2010). An integrative summary of the research literature and implications for a new theory of formative assessment. In H.

Andrade & G. Cizek (Eds.), Handbook of Formative Assessment (pp. 18–40). New York: Routledge.

Wiliam’s essay offers meta-analyses of studies surrounding formative assessment as well as a meticulously researched discussion of various definitions of formative assessment. He then suggests new definitions and directions for formative assessment that focus on “the extent to which evidence of learner achievement is used to inform decisions about teaching and learning.” Useful essay for those seeking exposure to scholarly studies on formative assessment.

Practical Applications Boudett, K., City, E., & Murnane, R. (Eds.). (2013). Data wise: A step-by-step guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Although the title may suggest that this is a book about using summative assessment data, the process outlined by the authors is more about helping teachers develop assessment literacy by learning to observe closely the “learning-in-action” in their classrooms and to use thoughtful review of observations as well as student samples to inform practice and teacher learning. One of the most significant contributions of the book is the expanded definition of “data” beyond traditional use of standardized test data to include classroom assessments of learning as well as teacher assessments for learning. The companion text, (Boudett, K., & Steele, J. (Eds.). (2007). Data wise in action: Stories of schools using data to improve teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press), provides detailed examples of how teachers, schools, and districts have reorganized themselves to support more generative use of broader assessment information.

Collier, L. (2013). Finding and using evidence of student learning. The Council Chronicle (September), 6–9. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

This brief and teacher-accessible article discusses several approaches and rationales for formative assessments being used by teachers in primary and secondary contexts. The first of these, "exit slips," allows teachers to gain "personalized, 'just in time'" information about student progress and allows teachers to identify select students to follow up with and to determine if whole class reinstruction is necessary.

Similarly, writing samples and "literacy letters" allows teachers to "spot individual and group patterns" of learning within the classroom. Use of smartboards and quizzes, too, are highlighted as key ways of determining individual and class-wide progress. Finally, this article explains how teachers might collaborate across classes to look at student formative assessment data to make determinations about next steps.

Filkins, S. (2012). Beyond standardized truth: Improving teaching and learning through inquiry-based reading assessment. Urbana, IL:


Filkins takes us into classrooms of secondary teachers in various disciplines as they learn strategies for inquiring into their students’ reading.

The book is filled with examples of in-forming assessments that help teachers create meaningful instruction and is refreshingly honest in both its portrayal of the complexity of this work and the need for teachers, schools, and districts to find ways to support inquiry-based assessment. This book is part of NCTE’s Principles in Practice imprint, based in the IRA-NCTE Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing.

Filkins, S. (2013). Rethinking adolescent reading assessment: From accountability to care. English Journal, 103.1, 48–53.

In this article based in his own experience as teacher and literacy leader, Filkins argues for a change in our stance on assessment, suggesting that “when we assess out of care, we engage ourselves and our students in the challenging work of taking an inquiry stance, actively seeking to learn more about what they can do and addressing their needs directly, as best we can, in authentic contexts for literacy and learning.” Truly formative assessment, he suggests, must be informing for the teacher and transforming for the student.

Fisher, D., and Frey, N. (2007). Checking for understanding. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

This very readable book explains how the strategy of checking for understanding can become part of every classroom. Fisher and Frey offer concrete and engaging classroom examples for using oral language, questions, writing, projects and performances, and tests to truly determine what students know and adjust instruction accordingly for all learners.

Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (2013). A formative assessment system for writing improvement. English Journal, 103.1, 66–71.

The authors offer practical means for acting on information gathered about student writers by suggesting the use of error analysis sheets to look for patterns on drafts-in-process to focus instruction for whole class needs, small group needs, and individual needs.

Gallagher, C. W., & Turley, E. D. (2012). Our better judgment: Teacher leadership for writing assessment. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Gallagher and Turley focus on writing assessment at the secondary level, offering portraits of teachers who have created thoughtful and meaningful assessments designed to help improve student writing. Through these portraits, they demonstrate that in order to stop being treated “as targets of assessment rather than agents of it,” teachers must build their own expertise in assessment. Throughout the book, they offer a number of concrete ideas of how teachers might take on this role. This book is part of NCTE’s Principles in Practice imprint, based in the IRA-NCTE Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing.

Heritage, M. (2007). Formative assessment: What do teachers need to know and do? Phi Delta Kappan, 89(2). Retrieved from http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/k_v89/k0710her.htm.

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