Formative Assessment vs. Checking for Understanding
Posted: Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
by Rick Pomeroy
Many teachers claim that they are doing formative assessment when checking for understanding but, unfortunately, this is not always the case. The difference between formative assessment and checking for understanding lies in the purpose of the activity and what is done with the information that is gained in the process. Formative assessment can be one of the most powerful tools in a teacher’s arsenal for improving student understanding when
“….it improves instructional decisions, that are made by teachers, learners, and peers. The decisions can be immediate, on-the-fly, or longer term.”
“ The five key strategies (of formative assessment) are:
- clarifying and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success.
- engineering effective classroom discussions, questions, and tasks that elicit evidence of learning
- providing feedback that moves learners forward
- activating students as instructional resources for each other, and
- activating students as owners of their own learning
The ‘big idea’ (being) that evidence about learning is used to adjust instruction to meet the students – in other words, teaching is adaptive to the learner’s needs.”
Dylan Wiliam (2011) p. 45-46, Embedded Formative Assessment.
Checking for understanding is an important strategy in any class. If you aren’t connected to your students and how they are processing the content you are presenting in lecture, discussion, or lab, it is impossible to know when to stop and restate or revisit an idea. Unfortunately, many teachers do not take this critical step. Instead, after checking where their students are, they press on due to pacing guides and bell schedules, often loosing the teachable moment that pausing and adjusting instruction would provide. In our fast-paced, assessment-driven curricula, it seems counter intuitive to take the time to stop and address a common misconception, a missed foundational point, or a key relationship between concepts. As teachers, we often feel that they may not fully “get it” as a result of this activity but when they grapple with it in homework, when it is addressed in the bell activity the next day, and when it is visited during the test review, surely they will understand. Do they? Have those time “tested” strategies resulted in the deep and connected understanding that you would desire, or that the new NGSS driven instruction is striving for? Based on my years of observing in classrooms, I would say that the results are often disappointing, resulting in the implementation of other, add on activities, to generate enough points for a passing grade.
I do not claim to be an expert on formative assessment but in recent months I have had several opportunities to visit this topic. In that process, I have learned a few key points: First, good formative assessment is not a mistake and it does not happen by chance. Formative assessment is part of an overall assessment plan that seeks to generate the kind of information a teacher needs to insure effective instruction. Second, there are excellent resources for formative assessment strategies. Third, when formative assessment is integrated into instruction at all levels, students learn its value and use those opportunities to improve both their content knowledge as well as their pedagogical skills. In short, students learn how to learn. It would be impossible to cover, in detail, one, much less all three, of these key points but there are many resources available to help teachers who genuinely seek to improve their formative assessment skills. The text that I found most useful in helping me clarify my ideas about formative assessment is Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, Second Edition, 1993, Angelo, T. and Cross, K. P. Though the title indicates that the text is written for college faculty, the ideas about establishing an assessment system prior to instruction and the 50 Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS) provide an excellent overview of the value of formative assessment and creative ways to engage classes of 20-200 in these practices.
As we move forward, we need to engage our students both in their understanding of the content and sharing what they don’t understand. Armed with that knowledge, it is imperative that we adjust our instruction to engage our students’ thinking and their participation in their own learning.
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…