Overview of Research
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Well-constructed assessment criteria help students appreciate where they are in their learning and what they need to learn next. These criteria can form the basis for providing students with success criteria or learning intentions, and for supporting self- and peer-assessment. The criteria should be more detailed and provide more fine-grained information than is available in curriculum documents so that students are provided with detailed information about their next steps for learning (Andrich, 2006). Well-constructed assessment criteria also provide a firm basis for informative reporting.
Classroom assessments that serve as meaningful sources of information do not surprise students. Instead, they are well-aligned extensions of the teacher’s instructional activities. Such assessments reflect the concepts and skills the teacher emphasized in class, along with the criteria the teacher provided for how he or she would judge student performance. Ideally these concepts, skills, and criteria are also aligned with state, provincial, or district standards. Students see these types of assessments as fair measures of important learning goals. The results of the assessment facilitate learning by providing essential feedback on students’ learning progress and by helping to identify learning problems. (Guskey, 2007, p17-18)
- To what extent do your assessment criteria provide students with fine-grained information about where they are in their learning and what they need to learn next?
- How do you use your fine-grained assessment of student performance to inform your reporting to parents?
There is a substantial body of research that shows effective teachers assess their students well, they provide feedback that is clear, purposeful and that leads to further learning. They adjust their teaching based on the results of their assessments.
The teachers in this assessment snapshot have deliberately planned assessments that provide them with detailed information about their students' writing ability.
Formative assessment is an evidentiary process. ... Teachers who are expert at formative assessment collect information about their students' thinking, interpret the meaning behind their responses in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and consider what next learning experience or feedback will address those specific needs. Teachers who are not expert at formative assessment evaluate the correctness of their students' responses on tests and re-teach topics based on percent correct. In other words, teachers who are skilled at formative assessment focus on learning – what the students are doing – and teachers who are not skilled at formative assessment focus on teaching – what they should do "to" the students next. Note that after interpreting work, teachers need a repertoire of follow-up strategies that are somehow different because of the formative assessment information. Teachers find acting on formative assessment information even more difficult than interpreting it (Brookhart, 2011, p. 3).
Sound formative assessment practice however, requires adequate content-pedagogical knowledge (Herman, Osmundson, Dai, Rigstaff and Timms, 2011). The teachers in this snapshot needed to draw on their understanding of the different features of informative writing in order to devise and select assessments that would better help them understand their students' learning needs.
Students whose teachers spend more time and who more frequently engage in analyzing and providing feedback on student work achieve higher learning than students whose teachers spend less time and who less frequently do so. Teachers' attention to student learning as evidenced in classroom work-whether through observations of students in classroom discussions or analyses of student responses in … notebooks, other written responses, or end-of-investigation assessments-is associated with higher student performance (Herman et al., p. 19).
- How do you use assessments to help you to better understand your students' learning?
- How do you use the information you collect to refine your lessons?
- Do you work with colleagues and analyse students' work samples so that you deepen your content and pedagogical knowledge?
In an evaluation of the research of highly effective schools, Professor Geoff Masters found that in effective schools, all teaching staff had access to a broad range of student achievement data and used it to analyse, study and display individual and cohort progress. They also set aside time for in-depth staff discussions of achievement data and of strategies for continuous improvement of student outcomes (Masters, 2010).
The research also showed that effective schools are driven by a belief that every student is capable of successful learning. Teachers in these schools, place a high priority on identifying and addressing the learning needs of individual students. [They] closely monitor the progress of individuals, identify learning difficulties and tailor classroom activities to levels of readiness and need' (Masters, 2010, p. 13).
The teachers in this assessment snapshot deliberately chose to investigate why fairly motivated students were struggling with written assignments. Anecdotal evidence suggests that schools tend to overlook average and just below average students when planning school improvement initiatives. The interdepartmental approach taken in this assessment snapshot is likely to have a big impact on student learning, particularly for average and below average students who are willing to learn.
Wiggins and McTighe advise,
For a school to be a model learning organization, all faculty members should be professional learners: They should engage in deep, broad study of the learning they are charged to cause. What works? What doesn't? Where is student learning most successful, and why? How can we learn from that success? Where are students struggling to learn, and why? What can we do about it? Effectively tackling these questions is what the "professional" in "professional practice" means (Wiggins and McTighe, 2006, p. 26).
- How do you work with colleagues to evaluate student achievement data and how does this work inform your teaching?
- What information do you collect to evaluate your own teaching?
- Do you ensure you act upon your findings from an evaluation?
- Do you plan how you will evaluate an initiative before you start to implement it?
Brookhart, S. (2011). The Use of Assessment to Support Learning in Schools – Formative Assessment. Executive summary of address presented to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), India and the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) International Educational Conference, New Delhi, India. Retrieved http://www.acer.edu.au/documents/Susan.Brookhart.pdf
Herman, J., Osmundson, E., Dai, Y., Rigstaff, C., & Timms, M. (2011). Relationships between teacher knowledge, assessment practice and learning – chicken, egg or omelet. CRESST Report 809. National Centre for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST). University of California, Los Angeles. Retrieved http://www.cse.ucla.edu/products/reports.php?action=search&query=809
Masters, G. (2010). Teaching and Learning School Improvement Framework. State of Queensland (Department of Education and Training) and the Australian Council for Educational Research.Retrieved http://www.acer.edu.au/documents/C2E-Teach-and-learn-no-crop.pdf
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2006). Examining the Teaching Life. Educational Leadership, 63 (6), 26-29.
Gusky, T. (2007). Using Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning. Ahead of the Curve: In D. Reeves (Ed.), The Power of Assessment to Transform Teaching and Learning. (pp. 15 - 28) Bloomington, IN:Solution Tree.