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#CorwinTalks: Reimagining How We Approach Assessment

Classroom Based Formative Assessment – Assessing as you teach, it’s what you do!

By Francis (Skip) Fennell, Beth McCord Kobett, Jonathan A. Wray

Assessing student learning is an important responsibility for all schools and teachers. At the classroom level, day-to-day involvement with assessment includes consideration and use of formative assessment. Ongoing use of classroom-based formative assessment techniques monitors and guides teacher planning and instruction. Such assessment must be an “equal partner” in classroom decisions related to planning, teaching, and learning.  

Formative assessment informs! Though widely used and discussed, many question the extent to which formative assessment is understood and regularly used in mathematics teaching and learning. Our position is that formative assessment is an integral component of what you do every day. Over the years, we have spent time distilling and validating, through classroom use, a strategic set of classroom-based formative assessment techniques called “The Formative 5” – Observations, Interview, Show Me, Hinge Questions, and Exit tasks. We like to think of these techniques metaphorically as a palette of five “colors” that teachers can skillfully blend to formatively assess and guide teaching and learning on a daily basis. 

Directly connecting classroom-based formative assessment to planning and teaching within each lesson can truly influence teaching and learning.

Feedback is an important component of the assessment process. Planning, teaching, and using assessment to inform instruction without also providing, receiving, or facilitating feedback denies the importance of supporting student engagement. Feedback is not just connected to planning, teaching, and assessment; it’s what defines the next steps learning-wise for your students and planning-wise for you. 

Consider the relationships that you have built with your students and how these relationships inform the feedback that you provide. How do your students respond? What kinds of feedback best support your students?

Feedback is multidirectional and includes providing opportunities for teacher-to-student feedback, encouraging student-to-teacher feedback relative to an assigned task, as well as planning for opportunities for students, as they truly engage in the mathematics they are learning, to provide student-to-student feedback. We also recognize that the feedback provided or received actually launches the next lesson you will prepare, teach, and assess. 

Classroom-based formative assessment can and must guide and monitor your planning and instruction every single day. Our book, The Formative 5 in Action presents a plan for engaging K-12 classroom-based formative assessment techniques that work.

‘Bump-It-Up Walls’ 

By Lyn Sharratt

The learning space, we call the Third Teacher, is where students access support in their learning through clearly displayed Learning Intentions, co-constructed Success Criteria, anchor charts for learning support, and Bump-It-Up Walls (BIUWs).

BIUWs bring together Assessment Literacy and Instructional Intelligence as they provide students with a visual scaffold of expected practices when they are co-constructed. BIUWs allow students to improve their work by comparing it to anonymous exemplars and by following explicit next steps to achieve it (Sharratt, 2019, pp. 139–142). Figure 1 depicts a Bump-It-Up or Performance Wall. BIUWs are visual displays of rich performance tasks that explicitly show what low-level (Levels 1 and 2) work might look like compared to Level 3 (expected), and Level 4 (the highest level) work looks like (Sharratt, 2019, p. 139). There can be more than four levels. Bump-It-Up or Performance Wall are a K-12 Resource Tool for ALL Students.

BIUWs help teachers communicate clear expectations and help students develop the thinking skills required to become evaluators of their own work. They are classroom Data Walls and provide students with a visual reminder (and visual Descriptive Feedback) of what the Success Criteria look like and how to get there. BIUWs provide guidance for students to use in self-assessment and goal-setting. They anchor the learning and ensure a common vision of the Learning Intentions and Success Criteria. When what it takes to get to the next level is shown on the BIUW and discussed often in class, students and teachers can deconstruct what is required to move the piece of work from a low to high level.

 Figure1: Bump-It-Up or Performance Wall

Source: Sharratt, L. CLARITY What Matters MOST… Corwin, 2019

Assessment As, For, and Of Learning

By Margo Gottlieb 

Looking into my closet, I decide my clothes for the day based on what is the weather forecast, where I am going, who I am going to see, and how long I plan to be out and about. At times the selection of my attire is deliberate; at others, it is quite impulsive. Walking into their classrooms, teachers make similar decisions each day regarding where their students are, what are the learning targets, how to actively engage their students, and which options to offer students to show their evidence for learning. In essence, just as I make a daily needs assessment of my wardrobe possibilities, so too do teachers take inventory of potential activities based on their students’ interests and characteristics to optimize their learning opportunities. That’s the gist of classroom assessment.

We often mistakenly equate assessment with standardized testing, an activity that is usually outside the control of teachers.

Actually, assessment is an iterative process, one in which both teachers and students can become change agents. Within the process, we envision a model of assessment as, for, and of learning as a course of action that revolves around relationship and trust building among students, educators, and families. Most importantly, we leverage the richness and strengths of our multilingual learners’ vibrant resources to ensure the linguistic and cultural sustainability of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and using information is the essence of assessment. It can be spontaneous, occurring in the moment, or planned over time, such as embedded in the design of a long-term project. Just as the Dress for Success movement is one of empowerment that leads to personal independence, so too can classroom assessment where students, if given choice and voice, can attain autonomy. 

Written by

Francis (Skip) Fennell, PhD, is emeritus as the L. Stanley Bowlsbey Professor of Education and Graduateand Professional Studies at McDaniel College in Maryland, where he also directed the Elementary Mathematics Specialists and Teacher Leaders Project (ems&tl). He is a former classroom teacher, principal, and supervisor of instruction, and past president of the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE), the Research Council on Mathematics Learning (RCML), and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

Beth McCord Kobett, EdD, is a professor of education and associate dean at Stevenson University, where she leads, teaches, and supports early childhood, elementary, and middle preservice teachers in mathematics education. She is a former classroom teacher, elementary mathematics specialist, adjunct professor, and university supervisor. Beth also served as director of the First Year Seminar program at Stevenson University. She recently completed a three-year term as an elected board member for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and was the former president of the Association of Maryland Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMMTE).

Lyn Sharratt is a practitioner, researcher, and consultant working in remote and urban settings worldwide. She focuses her time and effort on increasing each student’s growth and achievement by working alongside leaders and teachers to put FACES on their data, taking intentional action to make equity and excellence a reality for ALL students.

Jonathan A. Wray is the coordinator of secondary mathematics for the Howard County Public School System. He leads the implementation of mathematics instruction and engages teachers and administrators in professional learning opportunities focused on equity-based and effective teaching practices and instructional leadership. Jon served as the project manager of the Elementary Mathematics Specialists and Teacher Leaders Project (ems&tl) and was an elected member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) board of directors.

Dr. Margo Gottlieb, a staunch advocate for multilingual learners and their teachers, has always envisioned multilingualism as a cornerstone of education. As co-founder and lead developer of WIDA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Margo has been a language teacher, coordinator, bilingual facilitator, director of assessment and evaluation, and an international advisor. She is the bestselling author of multiple books on assessment, including Assessment in Multiple Languages, Classroom Assessment in Multiple Languages, and the forthcoming Assessing Multilingual Learners: Bridges to Empowerment. 

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