Let’s Get Formative: Teacher Assessment and Professional Development

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is integral to teaching and learning.  Daily, teachers are assessing the degree to which their students have mastered content objectives. Teachers may circulate the classroom to observe and diagnose, review classwork, or engage students in question-and-answer dialogues to determine student learning.  What if these same concepts of effective formative assessment that teachers use with students were used by school leaders to assess teachers?

In 2006, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), representing all states and territories, created the Formative Assessment Advisory Group, who partnered with the Formative Assessment for Students and Teachers (FAST) and State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards (SCASS) groups to explore various definitions of and properly delineate the concept of formative assessment. The FAST and SCASS groups approved the following definition:

Formative Assessment is a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes.

In the classroom, quality formative assessment must:

  1. Be attendant to the unit goals and essential questions,
  2. Be explicitly linked to a lesson learning objective that has been clearly communicated to the students,
  3. Occur frequently and in differentiated formats, and
  4. Lead to re-teaching content specific to the needs of each student, group of students, or an entire class.

Similarly, in a school, such applications related to quality formative assessment must:

  1. Be attendant to the mission of the school,
  2. Be explicitly linked to a vision for effective teaching,
  3. Occur frequently and in differentiated formats, and
  4. Lead to professional development aligned to the specific needs of the teacher, group of teachers, or an entire faculty.

These four applications of formative assessment as applied to teachers are briefly described for further consideration:

  1. Formative assessment of teachers must be attendant to the mission of the school.   The mission of the school must not only be the words articulated in a mission statement found on walls and handbooks, but must be evidenced in word and deed by all school stakeholders:  students, parents, faculty, staff, administrators, benefactors, and community members.
  2. Formative assessment of teachers must be explicitly linked to a vision for effective teaching.  Relative to the educational mission of the school, it is vital for school leaders to establish and communicate their vision for effective teaching.  Adopting research-based and nationally known documents for the teaching profession such as The Framework for Teaching by Charlotte Danielson or the Model Core Teaching Standards by the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium articulate a vision and provide a basis from which all assessment can occur.  Once such an anchor document is adopted, the document and, therein, explicitly articulated vision must become part of the language of teaching, and the assessment and evaluation of teaching, in the school building.
  3. Formative assessment must occur frequently and in differentiated formats.  Grounded in the anchor document, assessment can occur frequently throughout the school day:  informal in passing or lunchtime conversations, formal conversations, while conducting walkthroughs, in grade level or professional learning communities’ meetings, and so on.  Every point of contact with a teacher or teachers is an opportunity for a school leader to formatively assess and engage the teacher or teachers in professional dialogue relative to effective teaching. The vocabulary and concepts inherent to the anchor document become integral to self-reflection, formative assessment, and ongoing professional dialogue among teachers and the school leader.
  4. Formative assessment must lead to professional development.  As a result of ongoing, regular formative assessment of teachers,  the school leader must consider how best to meet the specific needs of each teacher, groups of teachers, or an entire faculty through professional development aligned with the anchor document.  School leaders have numerous resources at their disposal including their own experience as teachers and the aggregate experience of teachers in their building, as well as, print and electronic journal articles and Internet video libraries like those at www.teachingchannel.com and http://pdinfocus.ascd.org to support teachers.

Revising the previously stated definition of formative assessment, one that applied to teachers may read:

Formative Assessment is a process used by school leaders and teachers throughout the school day that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve teachers’ professional development aligned with the school’s vision for effective teaching. 

What are your thoughts on Formative Assessment? I look forward to reactions, questions, and comments; all feedback is welcome.

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