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Formative Assessment, Standards Based Instruction,

Standards-Based Formative Assessment Design

In theory, it is simple: Create an assessment that measures students' performance of one or more standards. 

Following up on his popular post, A Checklist for Implementing Standards-based Grading, Nathan Schleicher returns to share more learning from his path toward mastery of formative assessment.

In theory, it is simple: Create an assessment that measures students' performance of one or more standards. After all, your course has standards. If your course doesn't follow the Common Core, look to the state, or national association standards. One thing is certain. Someone, somewhere, in some way has prescribed what your students should know and be able to do. If you are sincerely having trouble with this, check out Kendall and Marzano's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education 1.

It's simple to apply standards to current practice. This has been done since state standards became mandatory many years ago. However, just finding standards that apply to this or that question on a test is not standards-based assessment. This is referencing the standards to current practice and does nothing to reform assessment design. Once the standards are off the shelf, they have to be "unwrapped." Unwrapping the standards means articulating all of the knowledge and skills that students must learn in order to achieve the standard.

When designing standards-based assessment, teachers must assess each of those sub-standards, commonly called "I can" statements. Then, when a teacher analyzes data from the assessment, he or she can make a practical decision about how to reteach. If you want a clear example of what it means to really unwrap a standard, Align Assess Achieve has done a great job with the Common Core State Standards and has even published them into handy flipcharts 2! If your school, district, or state wants to undertake the process, I highly recommend Larry Ainsworth's book "Unwrapping" the Standards: A Simple Process to Make Standards Manageable 3. Once the standards have been unwrapped, teachers can begin to design a truly standards-based assessment.

Standards-based assessments can take on many forms. They can be formative: quizzes, exit slips, short writing assignments, interviews, etc. These assessments are usually shorter in length, which means they can be administered in roughly 20 minutes or less. Evaluating the data shouldn't take any longer than 20 minutes either. And rarely will a formative assessment cover more than one or two standards. Standards-based assessments can also be summative: formal essays, presentations, projects, or exams. These summative assessments typically cover three or more standards depending on the unit and the standard. For example, a summative test from a short unit might cover just a few standards, while a formal essay and presentation from a project-based learning unit might cover multiple writing, and reading standards, as well as skills like researching or avoiding plagiarism.

There is no concrete limit to the number of standards an assessment can cover, as long as each standard is clearly articulated and evaluated. Obviously, the more standards that are included in an assessment, the more cumbersome it becomes. The remainder of this article will focus on formative, standards-based assessment. In all formative assessment, the teacher's goal is to determine if students have achieved proficiency of the standard or standards during the instructional process.

Let's start with rubrics, a tool that all teachers are familiar with. All rubrics use some type of proficiency scale where the teacher measures the students' performance of a standard or "I can" statement. In a writing rubric, this might be a 1-5 point rubric where a 1 means the student did not meet any part of the standard and a 5 means the student exceeded expectations. It is critical that each number have a descriptor associated with it. In other words, the various proficiency levels must be articulated. Without this, the document is not really a rubric; the teacher's measurement is subjective and probably normative (comparing student to student rather than student to standard).

Also, if the teacher is dealing with a large standard with numerous "I can" statements, this rubric might have multiple criteria to assess and takes on a grid form. I think it is safe to assume that all teachers have seen a rubric like this before. A thorough rubric, when used to measure student writing or performance, is a standards-based assessment.

The challenge for many is in converting that same philosophy into a quiz or test format. A quiz could be used to determine the student's proficiency toward a standard (just like a performance assessment). This means that in order to evaluate proficiency of a standard, teachers should ask at least four or five questions that address the standard. These questions should be of varying cognitive demand or difficulty as required by the standard (Bloom's levels of taxonomy), and each is typically worth one point. If teachers follow this basic format, a perfect score, 5/5 means the student exceeds expectations. A 4/5 would represent a score, which most teachers would consider proficient. A 3/5 would inform the teacher that the student understands some of the content, but may need a little more practice. Lower scores would reflect the need for reteaching and, as the quiz was formative, retesting. It is critically important that these formative assessments are not included in a student's final grade.

This assessment is designed to measure learning, inform teaching, and give students a chance to practice without reproach. If done properly, formative assessment can actually save teachers time by allowing them to recognize student proficiency earlier in their teaching and move on to new learning more quickly.

Additional Resources & Works Cited

1. Kendall, John S., Robert J. Marzano Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education

2. Align, Assess, Achieve The Common Core - Clarifying Expectations for Teachers and Students

3. Ainsworth, Larry Unwrapping the Standards: A Simple Process to Make Standards Manageable


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