Types of Assessment
Dr. Dugan noted that it is important to distinguish between the different types of assessments that teachers use. Formative assessments are used to determine where a student is in the learning process to inform the teacher where students need additional instruction and where they have mastered the material. Dr. Dugan compared formative assessments to a chef working in the kitchen, tasting dishes to see if the cooks have prepared the dishes correctly or if more seasoning is needed. Formative assessments may be done in a variety of ways, including classroom discussions, exit slips, quizzes, observation, and other means.
Summative assessments are intended to provide a summary of how well students have mastered the material after instruction is done, such as a final exam in a course, a student portfolio created over the semester or year, or the PARCC exam. Dr. Dugan stated that summative assessments are like the chef’s dish heading out into the dining room for the restaurant critic.
In between these two are interim assessments, things like chapter or unit tests, which measure how well students have mastered materials but also inform how the teacher should proceed. Dr. Dugan noted that formative assessments generally should not be for grades, as students are still struggling and learning the material. She shared how some students can lose hope when these assessments are graded, because they may do poorly on them while learning the material and then when they have mastered the subject, their summative assessment can’t pull their grade up by itself.
The key, Dr. Dugan shared, is to have balanced assessment with frequent formative assessments, periodic interim assessments, and limited summative assessments. Yet when Bensenville School District began their first assessment inventory, they found that they were completely out of balance. There was almost no formative assessment being done. There were some interim assessments, but they were used in a more summative way, mirroring the ISAT’s multiple choice format. There were many summative assessments. Dr. Dugan described their approach as over testing but under assessing.
Critical Questions About Assessment
As a result of their first assessment inventory, Bensenville began having frank discussions about which tests were providing valuable information. Coupled with research showing that regular, high-quality, classroom level formative assessment could increase student achievement, Bensenville realized that they needed to change how assessment was done in the district. Dr. Dugan noted three critical questions that they asked about every assessment:
- Does the assessment arise from high-quality standards?
- Does the assessment produce accurate evidence of learning?
- Does the assessment provide results that reliably inform decisions?
Dr. Dugan also noted that the district needed to have teachers well-versed in the role of assessment in the classroom. The district provided extensive professional development for teachers on assessment, both in knowing its role in informing instruction and it creating effective formative assessments for the classroom. The effect of this approach has transformed how the district teaches students as well as how it assesses them.
ISBE Resources on Balanced Assessment
ISBE has provided school districts with information and training on how to conduct a student assessment inventory like Bensenville, Urbana, and West Aurora did in the pilot project. ISBE also has a page dedicated to balance assessment.
Finally, Dr. Dugan will be presenting at an event hosted by the P-20 Council Data, Assessment, and Accountability Committee in West Aurora on Thursday, April 21 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. Attendance is free, but registration is required. A similar free (registration required) event will be held on Wednesday, April 27 from 3:30pm to 5:30pm at Urbana High School sharing their experience with the Student Assessment Inventory.