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Assessment is regularly conducted by classroom teachers to determine whether students learn the lessons or have acquired the skills they have been taught. However, the prevailing concept of assessment is that it is given after lessons. It is also viewed as extra work that consumes time that would have been better spent in teaching. Some teachers do not even have the adequate knowledge as to how to assess properly having focused more on how to teach (in contrast with how to assess) during their years in teacher training school.
As a consequence, assessment results tend to function as a periodic “snapshot of student progress and as predictors of student performance on the end-of-year statewide tests (Heritage, 2007) rather than a tool to help teachers during instruction. This need is the reason why formative assessment should be implemented. Heritage defines formative assessment as “a systematic process to continuously gather evidence about learning. The data are used to identify a student’s current level of learning and to adapt lessons to help the student reach the desired learning goal (2007).
” It involves strategies which can be categorized into three types: On-the-fly-assessment which requires the teacher to provide quick “pop-up” lessons right during discussions to correct students’ misconceptions; Planned-for-interaction which requires teachers to think of questions beforehand which would make students think and explore ideas during discussion time; and, Curriculum-embedded assessment where the teacher solicits feedback by talking with the students about ongoing classroom activities like seatwork, board work or students’ notes.
There are four core elements of formative assessment (Heritage, 2007). First, it is a means for teachers to identify the gap between the students’ current status in learning and the desired educational goals. Second, it is designed to provide feedback at multiple levels. Third, it encourages student involvement in the daily classroom discussion. Finally, it aims to help teachers develop learning progressions. To use formative assessment successfully, however, teachers also need to possess certain knowledge and skills.
Teachers must have domain knowledge of their subject area of expertise; pedagogical knowledge; knowledge of their students’ previous learning; and assessment knowledge or knowing a variety of proper assessment strategies. With regards to the required skills, the successful implementation of formative assessment can only occur if teachers are able to create classroom conditions where learners feel a sense of community and can critique each other without fear. They must also help students learn how to assess themselves.
Teachers must be skilled in analyzing student inferences. Finally, they must be able to match instruction to the gap in the present skill level or knowledge of the learner. Heritage’s article provides a convincing argument for formative assessment as it points out the ineffectiveness of current assessment methods to actually help the learner. When students perform poorly in periodical and annual exams, it becomes too late to do something about things. Students either get low grades or are not promoted to the next level.
Something could have been done halfway through the school year had formative assessments been conducted. However, formative assessment can only be seen today as an alternative to the existing views since year-end statewide assessments, for example, would be a hard practice to do away with. The present school system, specifically the public schools, have been practicing traditional assessment methods for decades, even the new curriculum and programs do not change things.
Nevertheless, the article introduces a challenge to educators and administrators to try this alternative if it is being lamented that the quality of the aptitude skills of the students has been regressing every year. School administrators should mind the rationale behind formative assessment, which is placing more emphasis towards reforming student performance rather than the punishment-reward system that the traditional method offers.
Of course, this would mean additional training for teachers who are not used to employing formative assessment in their own classrooms and changes in the curricula of teacher training schools. Then again, the benefits of formative assessment as enumerated in the article far outweigh all cost considerations.
Reference: Heritage, Margaret. (2007, October). Formative Assessment: What do teachers need to know and do? Phi Delta Kappan, pp. 140-145.