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  • Jesse Olsen, Sara Needleman, and Hayley Tanler

Encouraging Formative Assessment

Recently one of JumpRope’s clients shared questions that got Jesse, Hayley, and Sara talking. They agreed that their collective response to the client’s queries was worthy of sharing through a blog post. You know the principle: If one student is asking good questions, others likely have the same questions.

Here are this school partner’s questions:

  1. What are the best practices for getting teachers to enter data progressively and formatively during the term rather than entering more at the end of the term? (Actually, this is a problem that pre-dates standards-based education.)

  2. What are the best practices for using JumpRope as a means of formative feedback to students (and by extension to parents using the parent and student portal)?

And here’s what this Terrific Trio had to say:

Sara: Athletes and coaches take on the task of analyzing tons of game footage. This careful self-examination and the feedback the athletes get from their coaches is formative feedback. Why do they take the time to look at the footage and deconstruct it? To get better.

As teachers, we need to understand that ours is a coaching job, not a sorting job. We can't help our students reach for our targets and move closer to mastery if we don't let them know, along the way, where things are going well and where they need to improve.

Coaches want to see their players do better each game because they want to increase the team’s chances of winning. When the players do well, the team looks good. (So does the coach, by the way.) The same is true for schools and classrooms (teams), students (players) and teachers (coaches). We all look (and feel) better when our students do well. When we acknowledge that “doing well” is seen in students making strides toward mastery and recognize that happens, in part, through our deliberate and careful feedback, it’s easier to see how important formative assessment data is.

Displaying the right amount of formative data allows students to see where they are and where they need to go. It helps the teacher help the student to set goals. Jan Chappuis writes a pithy article that speaks to teachers partnering with students through the use of formative assessment, with the goal of improving learning. And if you’re interested in learning a lot more on formative assessment, check out Robert Marzano’s materials.

The answer to the parent and student portal question, to me, is about framing. Again, my job as a teacher is to help my students learn. I want to marshal all my resources toward this end. Parents are a huge resource. When they know how well their student is (or is not) doing, they can more effectively collaborate with the teacher.

Trouble is: Sometimes teachers see parents as a threat. And lots of parents are scared of teachers. That is where the framing thing comes in: Getting them to see one another as partners who share the common goal of helping the kid learn as best and as much as she can. Parents can't help if they’re in the dark. They need to see assessment data, as it is available, if they’re going to be helpful to teachers.

Hayley: The first thought that I had was that teachers need practice too; they need time to look at data with each other and to analyze and plan from it. This process needs to be modeled or scaffolded in the beginning.

I think a great suggestion would be to have small teams of teachers agree to collect data (multiple and varied assessments) on a certain target or set of targets for a period of time with the goal of coming together, analyzing the data to inform their instruction, and planning action. Then returning to the group with the data after their action...analyzing...and so on. Teachers who learn together and plan their actions based on what they have learned are highly effective. PLCs can provide a strong framework for this learning.

Jan Chappuis is also one of my perennial go-to resources. Here is a resource that has some amazing ideas on how to involve students in the analysis of their learning (re: parent portal, progress reports, self-reflection) And of course, superman Ken O'Connor’s A Repair Kit for Broken Grades is hugely helpful. Here is a condensed version of the fixes. I think fixes 13 and 15 are particularly appropriate for this situation.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is for teachers (and students and parents for that matter) to recognize that they can use data and that it's a means to an end and not the end itself - but they need explicit and guided practice.

Jesse: I have a couple of product-wise things to add. The Grade Submission report provides stats that can inform internal processes/accountability with teachers. It is an administrator’s way to see which teachers are actively entering data. But in the end, the best accountability I've found is to push use of the student and parent portal: Once kids are checking scores regularly, they will do the work of holding teachers accountable to regular feedback, and it's usually far more more authentic and effective than administrative initiatives.

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