Monday, December 12, 2011

New Frontiers in Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is an ongoing process of checking students' understanding and then adjusting instruction to best respond to student needs. This process of checking and meeting students where they are takes more teacher skill and flexibility than just marching through a pre-set curriculum, but it should lead to greater learning.

Today is the official release date for New Frontiers in Formative Assessment from Harvard Education Press. Almost two years ago the Noyce Foundation asked me to help share some of the best assessment work of our staff and grantees. I thought a book bringing together interesting work in the field might do the trick, so I put together a proposal, convinced the Harvard folks, and found a co-editor, Dan Hickey, who is an expert on assessment.

Together we solicited authors for twelve chapters on assessment projects and practices. Half the chapters describe the use of technology to aid assessment, often building it right into a learning program. Six more use simple paper and pencil tools to get at students' thinking.

The chapters are evenly divided among math, literacy, and science. It's our contention that different subjects require different approaches to assessment, and we provide plenty of real examples from the projects our authors have run. One chapter discusses techniques for teaching science vocabulary to young English language learners. Another examines how students can label and share graphs among networked computers in a classroom, and another describes a process for preparing teachers to look collaboratively and with diagnostic acumen at students' work in mathematics.

Lorrie Shepard of the University of Colorado at Boulder wrote an insightful foreword, discussing how testing can harm learning and how the chapters of the book provide an alternative. And Dylan Wiliam, assessment maven, gave us this blurb:
This is an extraordinary book. The chapters cover practical applications of formative assessment in mathematics, science, and language arts, including the roles of technology and teachers professional learning. I found my own thinking about formative assessment constantly being stretched and challenged. Anyone who is involved in education will find something of value in this book
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Working with the authors of these chapters was a privilege, and I'm proud of the book that resulted. I hope that teachers, curriculum developers, and other educators will find it useful. In coming posts I'll give short summaries of selected chapters.

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