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Balanced Assessment: From Formative to Summative

By: Kay Burke
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Learn how to integrate formative and summative assessments seamlessly into instruction. The research, rationale, strategies, and examples provided in this book will help teachers develop their own repertoire of formative and summative assessments to monitor, grade, and make inferences about a student’s ability to meet standards and curriculum goals. Exercises at the end of each chapter provide opportunities to reflect and plan action steps.

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8 Chapters

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Chapter 1: Standards-Based Instruction and Assessment: Begin With the End in Mind

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The idea of “beginning with the end in mind” means establishing goals for students to meet and then designing curriculum, instruction, and assessment around the desired outcomes. This is not a new idea, and there have been various attempts to put such an approach into practice.

In the 1960s, teachers struggled with having their students meet “behavioral objectives.” Behavioral objectives were very specific, and they addressed discrete bits of knowledge and skill that could be measured precisely. Measurement expert Robert Mager’s book Preparing Instructional Objectives (1962) stated that an objective must identify the expected behavior in detail, the conditions in which the behavior is to be displayed, and the criteria for judging students’ performance. Marzano and Kendall (1996, p. 8) contend that an example of a behavioral objective following Mager’s definition would be: “At the end of a 50-minute period of instruction, students will be able to complete eight out of ten problems in two-column addition within a five-minute period.” Not surprisingly, teachers felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of objectives required to specify educational outcomes, and the movement failed. The focus seemed to be more on accounting than on teaching, and the voluminous paperwork took too much time away from instruction.

 

Chapter 2: The Balanced Assessment Model: When Formative Meets Summative

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Assessment is a broad term that can be looked at from many dimensions, including instructional purpose. The instructional purpose of a formative assessment is to provide feedback during the learning process; the instructional purpose of a summative assessment is to make a final judgment at the end of the learning process.

Assessment is the process of gathering evidence of student learning to inform instructional decisions. If the evidence is accurate and timely, educators can use it to support student learning. Assessment consists of all the tools that teachers use to collect information about student learning and instructional effectiveness. Teachers use tests, presentations, observations, and class work to assess student learning. Evaluation is the procedure for collecting information and making a judgment about it. For example, standardized test scores, dropout and graduation rates, and promotion and retention rates are used to evaluate the success of a high school (Carey, 2001, as cited in Ataya, 2007). Assessment is an ongoing process that occurs daily, whereas evaluation often occurs at the end of an assessment cycle.

 

Chapter 3: Common Assessments: A Community of Assessors

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The sheer number of standards and the challenge of creating valid and reliable assessments to measure them preclude the traditional model of teachers working in isolation. Teachers today need to work in teams to create quality common assessments based on the standards to ensure consistency and equity for all their students.

Common assessments are formative or summative assessments that are designed by a grade-level, departmental, or vertical team, or by a district, for the purpose of assessing multiple groups of students throughout a school or district. They usually are created by teams of teachers who teach the same class or grade level. Often, they are used as school-level assessments to provide evidence to teacher leaders, curriculum personnel, and administrators that students throughout the school are meeting the standards. The data from the assessments help educators know what is working and what needs more work (Stiggins & DuFour, 2009). Common assessments are often created across a school district to ensure consistency and equity. Stiggins and DuFour (2009) refer to “institutional-level assessments”—common assessments that serve summative purposes to find out if schools and districts are as effective as they should be.

 

Chapter 4: Performance Tasks: The Key to an Engaging Curriculum

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Much of the curriculum covered in schools is derived from state standards, textbooks, school goals, educational outcomes, and learning objectives. Educators do not have much choice about what material they have to teach, but they do have a choice about how to structure the information to motivate students and engage them more fully in their own learning.

Meeting or exceeding standards may be an important goal of education in today’s results-driven environment, but many students don’t have the patience or the self-discipline to endure thirteen years of school for the purpose of passing tests. Regardless of the need to meet standards, take practice benchmark tests, and pass high-stakes state tests or end-of-course tests, most students demand and deserve more in the classroom. Darling-Hammond (2009) believes that teachers must be knowledgeable about how to teach diverse students and must continuously build on their pedagogical knowledge base. Then, she believes, teams of teachers have to work on the curriculum. “How,” she asks, “can we get the standards conceptualized in a way that is leaner, as other countries do, so we can teach deeply, using a project-based curriculum organized around those standards?” She suggests that “we have to transform the curriculum so [students] really care about it, so it’s meaningful to them, so they’re doing the kinds of exhibitions and demonstrations of learning that motivate them” (2009, p. 53).

 

Chapter 5: Checklists: Progressions of Learning

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Examples of checklists have appeared throughout the preceding chapters. This chapter will explore in more detail the various types and uses of checklists and will discuss how to create high-quality checklists correlated to curriculum goals and standards.

When most people hear the word checklist, they probably think of a “to-do” list for the day, a pilot’s preflight checklist, or a first-day-of-school checklist for a beginning teacher. Rarely do people think of checklists as one of a teacher’s most valuable instructional and assessment tools. Nor do they think of a checklist as a helpful organizational and study skill tool for students. The dual nature of the checklist allows it to provide both instructional guidance and formative feedback on an ongoing basis.

A checklist used in education is also called a learning progression. Popham (2008, p. 24) explains that a learning progression “is composed of the step-by-step building blocks students are presumed to need in order to successfully attain a more distant, designated instructional outcome.” For example, if the targeted curricular goal is writing a persuasive essay, students will need to master several smaller cognitive subskills, such as researching pertinent information, formulating a thesis statement, organizing the essay, and using appropriate grammar and mechanics.

 

Chapter 6: Rubrics: All Roads Lead to the Standards

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Rubrics provide criterion-based scoring procedures that guide teachers’ instruction and help them evaluate students’ performances more objectively. It takes skill and practice to create rubrics, but when they are done right, “rubrics are our friends!”

Defined in the simplest terms, a rubric is a scoring guide used to evaluate students’ responses to a performance assessment. Popham (1999) says that a rubric has three important features:

Evaluative criteria. These are the factors to be used in determining the quality of a student’s response.

Descriptions of qualitative differences for the evaluative criteria. For each evaluative criterion, a description must be supplied so that qualitative distinctions in students’ responses can be made using the criterion.

An indication of whether a holistic or analytical approach is to be used. The rubric must indicate whether the evaluative criteria are to be applied collectively in the form of holistic scoring or on a criterion-by-criterion basis in the form of analytical scoring. (p. 167)

 

Chapter 7: Formative Assessment Tools: Real Time and Real Fast

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Many instructional strategies also serve as formative assessments. They provide immediate feedback to teachers so that they can adjust their instruction and quickly implement appropriate interventions to clarify misunderstandings before students score poorly on summative assessments and final evaluations.

Formative assessments provide specific standards-based feedback that leads to improved student achievement. By using a variety of assessment tools to monitor students’ progress toward meeting curriculum goals and state standards, teachers assess where students are and then make effective and immediate decisions about what to do next to help struggling learners and to challenge accelerated learners.

According to Hoover (2009, p. 24), the assessment of struggling learners used to focus on “attempting to identify potential ‘deficits’ within the learner while simultaneously assuming that lack of progress toward academic or social-emotional benchmarks or objectives was predominately due to something going on ‘within’ the learner.” Under this “deficit assessment model,” students could go on for “two or three years struggling in learning before concentrated attention was paid to their needs” (Hoover, 2009, p. 25). Today, however, under the response to intervention (RTI) model, there is “an emphasis on proper instruction first,” along with “frequent assessments or progress monitoring” (p. 25) to ensure timely interventions.

 

Chapter 8: Summative Assessment and Evaluation: The Last Judgment

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The purpose of summative assessment is to provide the last opportunity for students to demonstrate their ability to meet standards within a specified learning period. After this final assessment has been administered, teachers synthesize all the formative and summative assessment data they have collected, evaluate the students’ work using school or district guidelines, and assign a final grade based upon students’ mastery of learning goals.

Summative assessments represent the culminating experience of a learning segment. A learning segment could be a chapter in the textbook, a curriculum unit, the first half of a grading period, an entire course, a quarter, a trimester, a semester, or a year. Summative assessments are usually administered after students have had multiple opportunities to master a skill through instructional guidance, repeated practice, and formative assessments. Airasian (2000, p. 95) says that summative assessments are used to “evaluate, or sum up, the outcomes of instruction.” The major difference between formative assessments and summative assessments is their relation to grades. Formative assessments provide feedback and are either not graded or graded but weighted less than summative assessments, since students are still in the “formative stages” of learning. They affect the instructional decisions teachers make during the learning segment. In contrast, summative assessments are almost always graded because their purpose is to determine whether or not the student has mastered the standards, and they are administered at the end of the learning segment. The grade could be in the form of a letter grade, percentage score, or label such as “meets standards” or “exceeds standards.” These grades are what Airasian (2000, p. 95) describes as “official grades,” because they become part of the students’ report cards and permanent records.

 

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