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A New Formula for Assessment, Accountability, and Learning

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Curriculum Embedded Performance Assessment Should Lie at the Center of Teaching, Learning, and Accountability

Yesterday we began exploring the white paper, “Re-Balancing Assessment: Placing Formative and Performance Assessment at the Heart of Learning ad Accountability”, published in January 2015 by Stuart Kahl of Measured Progress,  Bryan Goodwin of McREL International, and Peter Hofman.

After examining the unimpressive results that decades of largely summative, high-stakes testing have yielded, and their intended consequences, it quickly becomes apparent that we need a better approach. While the realities that have encouraged our current system remain – costs, testing time, security concerns – it is still entirely feasible to have wide-scale assessments that are far more productive constructs.

Principles to Guide the New Formula

The proposals put forth in this paper revolved around increased use of formative and performance based assessment. The following principles are espoused, elaborated on, and supported with achievable implementation approaches:

  • At all levels, accountability and assessment should reflect both foundational knowledge/skills and deeper learning.
  • Consistent expectations between state accountability and local assessment are required to help all students achieve deeper learning.
  • Accountability systems must be upgraded to reflect and deliver on the reality that policymakers and educators at different governance levels have different data needs.
  • Curriculum-embedded performance assessments — CEPAs for short — should lie at the center of the teaching and learning process and accountability.
  • Performance tasks in on-demand components of state assessments and in CEPAs should provide high-quality measures of student learning.
  • Results from locally scored (but state audited) summative tasks within CEPAs should play a role in state accountability assessment.

Formative Assessment

The paper notes how the 1998 paper “Inside the Black Box” by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam synthesized 250 international studies and found that formative assessment was profoundly successful, with an effect size translating into 16 to 26 percentile points in achievement (Black & Wiliam, 1998b).

Unfortunately, the term “formative assessment” is often misappropriated and misunderstood.

“Formative assessment is both good teaching and good learning, because it empowers students to self-assess and guide their own learning.” True formative assessment is, “a sequence of instructional steps, one of which involves ongoing monitoring and evidence gathering of student learning related to a particular learning target. This evidence gathering occurs during instruction to provide real-time feedback to students and teachers to guide adjustments they both can make to learning and teaching, and it can be accomplished by a variety of techniques, tools, activities, and measurement instruments besides typical classroom tests and quizzes. It takes time and effort to implement, but when done well, can have, in effect, a multiplier effect on various components of the learning process …”

Performance Assessment: Right for the Times

What I found most exciting about my conversation with Stuart Kahl and sinking my teeth into this paper was learning about performance assessment. This was a new term in my experience, but it has been around for a long time.

“Indeed, it is likely as old as assessment itself. More than 100 years ago, progressive educators encouraged the use of portfolios to measure students’ higher-order skills. The authentic assessment era of the late 1980s and early 1990s saw the adoption of portfolios and performance tasks in several states as part of local—and even statewide—assessment programs that persist today in some school systems. During this period, educators and assessment experts alike learned much about the importance of aligning the assessments with key content and ensuring scoring reliability so results might be used for accountability purposes. Even more recent advances in technology (e.g., electronic portfolios and distributed scoring) can relieve some of the logistical challenges that hampered these efforts in the past, making the use of performance assessment more feasible.

Despite this early progress, we hit a bump on the road to better integrating performance assessments into the learning process when increased annual testing, quick turn-around of test results, and high-stakes accountability prompted states to cut back or eliminate performance-based components of their large-scale assessments, even as the need for deeper learning to prepare students for college, career, and citizenship grew more evident.”

Fortunately, the call for college and career readiness and the growth of competency based reforms have prompted more widespread use of performance assessment in recent years. This combined with recent advances in technology indicate that now may be a better time than ever to more significantly embed performance assessment in education.

The reader is encouraged to explore performance assessment further in the paper.

Let’s take a look at how formative and performance assessment can be incorporated in our schools’ approach to improved wide scale assessment.

Putting it all Together With Curriculum-Embedded Performance Assessment

The construct suggested to incorporate these proven assessment techniques into our approach to standardized testing is the “CEPA”: Curriculum-Embedded Performance Assessment. A simple example of a CEPA is offered:

“A fully developed CEPA would include content standards and learning targets and offer additional guidance for instruction and assessment, as well as scoring rubrics and sample student work.

Heat Transfer

  • Activity 1: Students individually or in small groups research methods of heat transfer online. They discuss what they have learned about conduction, convection, and radiation (student-guided learning).
  • Activity 2: Teachers check student understanding of methods of heat transfer via ungraded quizzes, interviews, or class discussion (formative assessment evidence gathering, feedback, and adjustment).
  • Activity 3: In small groups, students design and conduct an experiment to determine which of two fabrics better protects against the winter cold. Materials required include tin coffee cans of different sizes (with lids), two different fabrics (e.g., plastic and wool), fasteners, thermometers (thermal probes), timers, and hot water (performance activity).
  • Activity 4: Students individually write up a formal lab report of their experiment(graded summative product).
  • Activity 5: Teachers, via questioning, lead class discussion of how methods of heat transfer played a role in the design and implementation of the research(formative assessment reflection and reinforcement.
  • Activity 6: Students individually research how a home heating system works and write a paper describing a home heating system and how different methods of heat transfer are involved (graded summative product).

The paper goes to explain that by, “embedding performance assessment in curriculum as part of discrete lessons, units, or whole project-based programs, we can promote, measure, and guide deeper student learning. In part, the impact comes from the ability to use formative assessment extensively in the instructional phase, with all of its attendant benefits, and use performance assessment for the deeper engagement and application phases of learning, encouraging and empowering students to carry out richer, more rigorous, and meaningful work. In so doing, we promote students’ motivation to learn, an essential ingredient in student success. By relying heavily on the formative assessment process in the instructional phases, CEPAs challenge and support students by giving them a clear understanding of what success looks like, helping them chart a path to success, encouraging student ownership of the journey, and providing ongoing feedback to motivate students to stretch themselves on assessment tasks.”

A framework for integrating CEPA into accountability assessment at the state level is offered and explained, and is summarized in the diagram below.

CEPA-in-state-assessments

Re-Balancing Assessment: Placing Formative and Performance Assessment at the Heart of Learning ad Accountability” provides a close looks at concerns, challenges, opportunities, and obstacles inherent in moving towards CEPA as an intergral part of better assessment. Interested readers are strongly encouraged to download the PDF and review it.

Tell a Colleague …

These are exciting times we live in, and the possibility of moving away from the negative consequences and standardized summative wide scale testing are very encouraging. Please share this article with your colleagues, administrators, and anyone you know who is passionate about tackling this issue which is challenging and frustrating educators and parents, and largely failing so many of our students and our children.

 

3 COMMENTS

  1. […] Formative assessment is both good teaching and good learning, because it empowers students to self-assess and guide their own learning.” True formative assessment is, “a sequence of instructional steps, one of which involves ongoing monitoring and evidence gathering of student learning related to a particular learning target. Read More. […]

  2. […] Curriculum Embedded Performance Assessment Should Lie at the Center of Teaching, Learning, and Accountability Yesterday we began exploring the white paper, “Re-Balancing Assessment: Placing Formative and Performance Assessment at the Heart of Learning ad Accountability”, published in January 2015 by Stuart Kahl  […]

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