Saturday, January 17, 2009

Popham's Formative Assessment

W. James Popham stopped Friday in Des Moines to visit with a crowd of DE, AEA, higher ed, and school officials. For years, Popham has extolled the virtue of formative assessment and his visit with educators coincides with the DE's focus on formative assessment as a pivotal part of the Iowa Core. Here are some of the highlights:

• He repeatedly mentioned it was a tougher challenge to bring formative assessment to Iowa. He (wrongly or rightly) assumed the state is driven by standardized testing as it is the home to Riverside Publishing, and was dismayed that ITBS was used for AYP. In addition, it has a "legacy of high-achieving schools" that makes change, in general, difficult.

• Referred to NCLB as "hijacking the label of formative assessment" for its own misappropriated purposes.

• Defined formative assessment as a "planned process in which assessment-elicited evidence of students' status is used by teachers to adjust their ongoing instructional procedures or by students to adjust their current learning-tactics.

• Later added that it can be used in a school-wide reform effort, or for classroom wide change.

• It is not a test, an interim test (such as NWEA) or the "unplanned, serendipitous use of student cues to adjust teaching". The latter is what many teachers would mistakenly define it as.

The presentation seemed awkward at times; you could tell Popham wasn't sure what he thought of the Iowa Core, and seemed frustrated with questions from audience members.

Regardless, the Iowa Core leadership team has identified Popham's work as crucial to successful teaching in Iowa. While it remains to be seen what it will look like, training on formative assessment will be delivered in either module 5 or 6.

What is most apparent to me is that even more than training in formative assessment, teachers need training in assessment in general. An overwhelming amount of professional development in Iowa is spent on instructional strategies, and there are quite a few teachers without a pedagogical base of what makes sound assessment. Including a large portion of 7-12 grade teachers who think assessment is synonymous with grading. Of content, instruction and assessment, the latter is our weakest point.

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