Education Week - November 11, 2015 - Special Report - (Page S14)
November 11, 2015
Understanding Formative Assessment > www.edweek.org/go/formativeassessment-digital
A n A ri z on a
I n i t i at i v e
S et s S i g ht s
O n Teachers
T he st at e' s p u sh t o im p r o ve
d ay- t o - d ay assessm en t s
st ar t ed at t he t o p
By L ian a H eit in
ormative assessment is
a hyperlocal process that
happens in classrooms, and
often, just between a teacher
and an individual student. But
education leaders in Arizona are
making the instructional practice a
state-level priority and finding ways
to support individual teachers with
their daily-assessment tactics from
The state education department has linked up with Margaret
Heritage, an assistant director for
professional development at the
National Center for Research on
Evaluation, Standards, and Student
Testing at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has developed
an online professional development
course dedicated to learning about
formative assessment. Funded by
a half-million-dollar grant from the
Hewlett Foundation, the pilot course
is six months long-a much longer
commitment than most teacher
(The Hewlett Foundation also supports coverage of deeper learning in
About 3,500 teachers from seven
states-Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and
Utah-are taking the course. It
is hosted by the research group
WestEd and is free to participants
and states. About 40 percent of
those teachers are from Arizona.
According to Heritage, the Grand
Canyon State's education department has made a notable effort to
connect with district leaders and ensure teachers can implement what
they're learning during and after
the course. "To me, it's a model for
state support for formative assessment," she said. "The partnerships
Arizona has built within the state
have been really powerful."
Since the start of this school year,
teachers in more than two dozen
Arizona districts have become involved in the professional-development program. District leaders each
have a direct contact at the education department to help them when
a problem arises.
"They're accessible, and that's
huge," said Pam Betten, the executive director of curriculum and
instruction for the 17,000-student
Sunnyside school district in Tucson. "How many people can say, 'I'm
going to text the deputy superintendent at the state department?' ...
They must value the work because
they will always respond."
The state brought district leaders
together last spring for a two-day
training, led by Heritage, on what
formative assessment is and what
the course would provide. The department gathered them again later
to share their ideas on how districts
can support participating teachers,
for instance, with planning time,
coaching, and incentives.
"Arizona really took that strategic intent to heart and mapped out
a plan we think is a pretty strong
example of what a thoughtful implementation plan with communication
and support looks like," said Marie
Mancuso, an associate director for
WestEd's West Comprehensive Center, which provides technical assistance to the state education agency
While individual teachers are free
to take the course, many Arizona
districts have large cohorts participating. The Sunnyside district in
Tucson and the Chandler district
outside Phoenix each have more
than 200 teachers involved.
All Subjects, All Grades
Formative assessment is a natural instructional focus for the state
because it can be applied across the
board, state leaders say.
"We were immediately interested
in that work because we thought it
had application for all teachers and
wasn't content- or grade-level specific," said Sarah Galetti, the deputy
associate superintendent for K-12
academic standards at the Arizona
education department. "It's something all teachers could engage with."
Many districts were drawn to the
course for that same reason-and
also because they knew formative
assessment was an area of weakness for many teachers.
Michele Hudak, the dean of academics for Candeo Schools, a small,
high-performing charter in Peoria,
said that after hearing about the
professional-development opportunity, she put out an informal survey
to the staff asking them to define
and give an example of formative
"We got the results from that, and
it was pretty unbelievable what
people thought about formative assessment," she said. Not one of the
20 teachers who took the survey got
the definition completely correct.
Half had it partially right.
"There's this huge piece in formative assessment about ... the feedback loop, and that was one piece
missing in everyone's," she said.
As Heritage explains, the feedback
loop is the process of collecting evidence about student learning, identifying gaps, providing feedback to
students, and adapting instruction.
It's cyclical and continuous-as soon
as a gap is closed, the teacher creates new learning goals for the student to meet.
The course is now mandatory for
nearly all full-time Candeo teachers.
The school releases students early
every Wednesday for professional
development, and the teachers are
using that time to complete their
online modules. In other districts,
teachers are taking the course voluntarily and on their own time, either for a stipend or to satisfy professional-development requirements.
Ivette Sanchez, a 5th grade
teacher at Summit View Elemen-
tary in Sunnyside, said she initially
got involved because one of her
teaching goals for the school year
was to improve on her use of assessment. She soon realized she had the
concept of formative assessment all
"I thought formative assessment
was at the end of the week when I
gave them questions on multiplication to see if they could solve them. I
thought it was an end product after
teaching a concept," she said. "Now,
I've learned formative assessment
is what we used to call informal assessing, which is ongoing. While I'm
in the classroom, I'm assessing the
kids on whether they get it or not.
I'm thinking, what kind of question
do I ask next to promote higher understanding?"
Robert Hobbins, the associate
superintendent for curriculum and
instruction at Sonoran Schools Inc.,
a charter network with eight locations in the Tucson and Phoenix
areas, said he realized his teachers
had similar misconceptions about
formative assessment. At a summer
training, he heard teachers say that
instead of using daily end-of-class
tasks to gauge learning, they had
been giving students Friday quizzes
with a week's worth of questions.
"I cringed when I heard that," he
said. "It's the antithesis to what formative assessment is all about. ...
[By saving them until] the end of
the week after instruction was finished, they've lost an opportunity to
go in and reteach and differentiate
About 50 of the network's 150
teachers are now taking the course.
Both the districts and the state
are also concerned about test
scores, which are dropping in most
places, including Arizona, that have
moved to standardized assessments
aligned to the Common Core State
Standards. And while state leaders
say that's not the main reason they
got involved in the course, it has
been a consideration.
"Hopefully, when instruction is
strong, that will help improve student achievement," said Galetti
of the education department. "But
this is about classroom practice and
meeting the needs of all students."
The online Formative Assessment Insights course consists of
five modules, which are akin to
units and take about six to eight
hours to complete. In the first module, teachers listen to a high-level
introduction of the feedback loop
and learn the questions they and
their students should be asking
throughout instruction: "Where am
I going? Where am I now? Where to
next?" They watch a video of an 8th
grade math lesson and write online
responses about how the teacher
engages in the feedback loop. They
eventually set personal goals for
how to do this in their own classrooms.
Teachers will also participate in sev-
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 11, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - November 11, 2015 - Special Report
Table of Contents
Bringing Clarity to a Cloudy Idea
Should Formative Assessments Be Graded?
Common Core: Tools to Check Students’ Grasp
Putting Students in Charge of Their Own Learning
An Arizona Initiative Sets Sights on Teachers
Learning Progressions: Road Maps for Teaching
Tech-Powered Teacher Tools
Education Week - November 11, 2015 - Special Report