Education Week - January 9, 2013 - (Page 29)

EDUCATION WEEK n JANUARY 9, 2013 n 29 Formative Assessment’s ‘Advocatable Moment’ E A man and a child walk to a funeral home in Woodbury, Conn., for the wake of Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, who died trying to fend off a gunman at the school. Charles Krupa/AP By W. James Popham very educator knows what “a teachable moment” is. It’s the brief period of time when events serendipitously conspire to teach students something that otherwise might be difficult for them to learn. Teachable moments are really quite special, and they don’t come along all that often. A teacher who wastes a teachable moment, therefore, commits a pedagogical sin of omission. Interestingly, American educators are now on the cusp of a different sort of special moment. In this instance, it stems from a unique historical occasion during which teachers’ adoption of the formative-assessment process should be advocated with both honesty and unparalleled zeal. Yes, this is formative assessment’s “advocatable moment.” First off, it is important to recognize that formative assessment works. That’s right: Ample research evidence is now at hand to indicate emphatically that when the formative-assessment process is used, students learn better—lots better. This should come as no surprise, for the essence of formative assessment is surely commonsensical. Formative assessment is simply a planned process wherein teachers, or their students, “ academic achievement, whatever the demographic mix!” There are different models of dual-language education, including 50/50 two-way (in which half of instruction is presented in English and the other half in the target language), and 90/10 full immersion (in which nearly all instruction is conducted in the foreign language being taught). Communities with native Spanish-speaking, Mandarin-speaking, or other English-language-learner populations can benefit from the 50/50 model—a program that promotes academic achievement through enrichment, rather than remediation. In 90/10 programs, native English-speaking students benefit from the academic rigor inherent in learning nearly all content through the target language. For students who enter these programs in the elementary years, school districts and states would develop companion middle and high school coursework that would build their language skills and ensure high-level proficiency by high school graduation. No doubt, it will be difficult to wean our schools and districts from their traditional language approaches. But these approaches seek to teach language to 100 percent of the students with a success rate of 1 percent. Instead, we should aim for 10 percent participation in dual-language education to achieve 100 percent success, and support the remaining 90 percent of students with courses that will build survival language skills, cultural understanding, and global knowledge. The good news: We can redeploy the existing world-languages course platform, teaching positions, and support resources to implement a language-learning and international education agenda that will actually achieve results. In doing so, we will be in tune with the demands of states, businesses, and parents to better prepare students for the global world in which they will live and work. n DAVID YOUNG is the chief executive officer of VIF International Education, a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based company that works with states, districts, and schools on international education. J.B. BUXTON is the founding principal of the Education Innovations Group, in Raleigh, N.C., and a former deputy state superintendent of education and governor’s education adviser in North Carolina. Ample research evidence is now at hand to indicate emphatically that when the formative-assessment process is used, students learn better.” use assessment-elicited evidence of student learning to decide whether to make changes in what they’re currently doing. Teachers find out if they need to adjust their ongoing instruction. Students find out if they need to alter the ways in which they’re trying to learn. Formative assessment is, at bottom, an ends-means process in which teachers and/or students rely on assessment consequences (the ends) to decide whether any adjustments are warranted in what they’re doing (the means). It’s really not surprising that formative assessment works so well. What is surprising is how few U.S. teachers use the process. It does work, and it can make teachers more effective. Yet, although considerable rhetoric has been expended in recent years calling for teachers to employ formative assessment, its usage in our classrooms is meager. Nonetheless, two events now taking place in American education provide us with a unique opportunity to remedy this shortcoming. In fact, they set the stage for a special moment when education leaders of all stripes can legitimately advocate the use of formative assessment. Let’s briefly consider what they are. The first event stems from adoption of the Common Core State Standards by almost all our states. Not surprisingly, commercial publishers are inundating U.S. educators with instructional materials ostensibly directed at promoting student mastery of the standards. But let’s be honest, we really won’t know the true nature of the common core’s success until the two assessment consortia—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or parcc, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or sbac—complete their test-building, by the spring of 2015. Only then will U.S. educators know with certainty how the common core has been operationalized, and whether students have mastered the content. And here’s where formative assessment can prove beneficial to the nation’s teachers. Remember, formative assessment helps students master curricular targets. Rather than asking teachers to guess about what the common core really means, shouldn’t we urge teachers to sharpen their instructional skills through the use of formative assessment? Then, when the assessment-consortia tests are released, those teachers can focus their more potent instruction on the skills and knowledge the tests are measuring. The choice for educators shouldn’t be between curricular guessing and becoming more instructionally skilled. A second event that’s setting the stage for full-on advocacy of formative assessment is the installation of more-stringent teacherevaluation procedures throughout the United States. Spurred by federal incentives, including the Race to the Top grants, state officials have recently adopted teacher-evaluation systems in which student growth must be “a significant factor.” Indeed, in many states, fully 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will hinge on student performance on state or other achievement tests. Once again, this is an instance where formative assessment can help teachers. Remember, formative assessment works. When it is used, students learn better. By using this assessment-rooted instructional process, teachers can increase the test-based achievements of their students. Regardless of the particular array of achievement tests used by a given state to evaluate its teachers, the teachers who employ formative assessment are apt to get their students to perform better on those tests. “Student growth” will be demonstrated on the tests because, in fact, student growth will have occurred. These two stage-setting educational events are nontrivial developments. The adoption of the common standards and the explosion of federally initiated teacher-evaluation programs are both likely to make whopping differences in what goes on in our schools. Teachers who are adept at carrying out the formative-assessment process, therefore, will be better positioned to deal with either of these precedent-setting events. This is an extraordinary moment in time when leaders of American education can legitimately advocate that teachers should adopt formative assessment because it will be in teachers’ best interests to do so. Happily, if teachers follow this advice, those who benefit most will be their students. n W. JAMES POPHAM is a professor emeritus in the graduate school of education and information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, in Washington. His next book, Evaluating America’s Teachers: Mission Possible?, will be published by Corwin Press in April.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 9, 2013

Education Week - January 9, 2013
State Lawmakers Gear for Action On Broad K-12 Issues Menu
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Teachers Seek Specialized Peer Networks
Shootings Revive Debates on Security
Student-Press Ruling Resonates From 1988
News in Brief
Report Roundup
FOCUS ON: INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE: IB Supporters Tout Program’s Links With Common Core
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Federal Effort Aims to Bridge Ed. Tech., Learning Sciences
U.S. Students Exceed International Average, But Lag Some Asian Nations in Math, Science
New Global Results Spark Questions On Finland’s Standing
Head Start Gains Found to Fade By 3rd Grade in Latest Study
Testing Group Selects Exam to Gauge ‘College Readiness’
State Chiefs Pledge Teacher Prep, Licensing Upgrades
Blogs of the Week
Post-Tragedy, Difficult Choices Loom
At Sandy Hook, Grim Day Unfolds
Legal, Logistical Concerns Seen In Call to Arm Adults
Tragedy Sets Off Fresh Debate Over Federal Gun-Policy Role
Advocates Worry Shootings Will Deepen Autism’s Stigma
K-12 Aid Outlook Murky, Despite ‘Cliff’ Deal
District Race to Top Winners Split $400 Million Pot
Policy Brief
Top State Ed. Positions Turn Over as Year Ends
CAROLYN LUNSFORD MEARS: After the Tragedy, What Next?
DAVID YOUNG & J.B. BUXTON: Language Education We Can Use
W. JAMES POPHAM: Formative Assessment’s ‘Advocatable Moment’
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JEFFREY R. HENIG: Reading the Future of Education Policy

Education Week - January 9, 2013