"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Formative Assessment and Next-Gen Technotwits

Below are some words of caution from Margaret Heritage's paper, "Formative Assessment and Next-Generation Assessment Systems: Are We Losing an Opportunity?":
Yet what is striking in current discussions of next-generation assessment systems is that despite the evident connection between the processes involved in formative assessment, which Black and Wiliam identified in their 1998 review, and learning theory, the predominant paradigm for formative assessment in the U.S. persists as one of measurement – formative assessment, construed within a testing culture, as a test. This is not to say that an instrument cannot be used as a formative assessment – it can – in the sense that the information yielded can provide indications of students’ learning status relative to the “gap” that teachers and students can use to make adjustments to learning while that learning is developing. The point here is the relative emphasis given to formative assessment as an instrument. Notwithstanding references in next-generation assessment proposals to “using information formatively” or to “formative processes” the conception of formative assessment expressed is one of an instrument. Absent from this view are notions of consistently working from students’ emerging understandings within the ZPD, supporting learning through the instructional scaffolding, including feedback, and the active involvement of students in the assessment/learning process – all of which are hallmarks of effective formative assessment. Instead of considering formative assessment within the context of a measurement paradigm, perhaps we should be focusing on firmly situating the process of formative assessment within a learning community.
The second half of this paragraph is particularly important.  Few of those pushing for next-generation assessments understand formative assessment - as envisioned by thoughtful practitioners -  is a process, not an instrument (or mostly data collection with a few metrics spit out).  Yet another case of "reformers" picking out a very promising idea and twisting it into something very different.

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