Friday / June 14

We’ve Written Our Assessment, Now What? 4 Ways To Use a Common Formative Assessment

Writing a Common Formative Assessment (CFA) is a worthwhile process—but it is also hard work and time intensive. At the end of the design process, your team may ask themselves, “Now what?”

Teams want more use out of an assessment, not just the typical “template-driven” PLC conversation that usually follows the administration of a traditional assessment. Moreover, teachers want better data, not more data. A high quality CFA can provide rich information to your team about teaching, learning and leadership.

Here are four ways you can use that information:

  1. Monitor Progress

Common Formative Assessments are designed with “mini” progress checks throughout the unit. These quick progress checks, along with the success criteria (designed in the development of the assessment) allow students to monitor their progress towards the target.

The Assessment Capable Learner (Hattie, Visible Learning, 2009) is a student who can monitor their progress towards a learning goal. The research says this is one of the most powerful influences in the classroom and can potentially accelerate student learning by three years in one instructional year. One of the exciting things about a CFA is that the established checkpoints and the success criteria provide a starting point for students to monitor their own progress and thus help students become Assessment Capable Learners.

The Common Formative Assessment design is intended to help teachers monitor instruction and should provide specific, credible, high quality information that can be used to inform instruction in a timely manner (Ainsworth, 2012). The progress checks have been deliberately planned and therefore any adjustments made to instruction should be intentional targeted towards helping students reach the learning goals.

  1. Measure Achievement

Teams also use the post-unit Common Formative Assessment as a means to measure if students have met the standards-based outcomes. Ainsworth’s formative CFA process builds in additional teaching and learning time after the end of the unit for students who have not met the targets.

While the Common Formative Assessment is also used to measure achievement, the evidence can implicitly point to other factors that might have affected student scores. Ainsworth (Common Formative Assessments, 2012) points out that CFAs are always a “work in progress,” so it is important for teams to remember to also use the evidence as an invitation to revise the assessment to improve the quality, as needed, prior to next time the unit is taught.

  1. Formative Assessment is About Feedback

Whether formative assessments are scored and graded is less important than the even greater need to provide students with feedback that is accurate, fair, timely, and understandable. Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on achievement (Hattie, 2009). According to Hattie, feedback has an effect size of .75, which is associated with two, even three, years of student growth in one instructional year.

What Hattie discovered is that not only is feedback among the most influential ways of increasing student achievement, it has even greater value when it is from the student to the teacher. This is just another way that a CFA works not just as a tool to improve student learning but also as a tool to improve teaching.

Formative assessment and feedback can transform your practice if you are deliberate about how you use it. We first talked about using your Common Formative Assessment evidence to formatively monitor and to measure student learning. When you plug feedback into the CFA cycle remember that formative assessment is about feedback, not testing.

  1. Evaluating Impact of Teaching

Hattie refers to “Mind frames” (Visible Learning for Teachers, 2012) as core beliefs that educators have about teaching and learning. One of those Mind frames is “I (teachers/leaders) see assessment as feedback to me.” In other words, teachers and leaders who possess this Mind frame embrace assessment evidence as feedback on the effectiveness of their teaching. These educators then use the information not to rank or grade but rather to adjust instruction to better meet the needs of students.

Hattie often poses the question, “Is the impact you are having worth having?” How often has your team asked that question of themselves? The Common Formative Assessment provides valuable information to teams and serves as an indicator of what they taught well, what they didn’t teach well, whom they taught well, and whom they didn’t teach well. Your team can use the results from the CFA and respond to the questions above –and the great thing about a formative assessment is that you can always adjust your instruction if you aren’t satisfied with the responses.

Examining your Common Formative Assessment through the lens of progress and achievement data will provide a more complete picture of student learning and a more complete picture of teacher impact on student learning. Combine it with the power of collaboration and you will appreciate the hard work you put into creating a high quality Common Formative Assessment.

Written by

Laura Besser is a lifelong educator who supports teachers and administrators in sustaining best practices for gains in student achievement and transformation of culture.

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