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Formative Assessment, Sound Assessment, Sound Design, Summative Assessment,

Two Thumbs Up for Sound Assessments

What if your students don't understand what you're asking? Here's an example I ran into & how to avoid similar problems.

image: Children with their thumbs up.

A Lesson in Unclear Directions

When I was first teaching, statewide proficiency tests were used each spring, and I attended an in-service about preparing students for the writing portion of said tests. The presenter was the supervisor at one of the grading centers and shared a story about a past writing prompt which asked students to describe their favorite season. When he arrived at the center one day, there was an unusually large amount of answer documents in the bin reserved for questionable responses.

… could this large group of students be held accountable for the slight misinterpretation of season vs. seasoning?

As he perused the essays that had been brought to his attention, he did not find colorful depictions of winter, spring, summer, or fall. Instead, students had created spicy tales of why pepper, garlic, or oregano was their favorite seasoning. Without the ability to ask for clarification and no further description in the prompt, could this large group of students be held accountable for the slight misinterpretation of season vs. seasoning? Luckily, those students with palatable responses were simply graded on their writing skills as opposed to their semantic interpretations. This anecdote on unclear directions has stuck with me over the course of my career and guided my verbiage and directional clarification when creating assessments for my students.

Painting a Clear Picture

While this path may require more pit stops and detours for some…

As we develop assessments, it’s important that we paint a clear picture of expectations for our students and ensure that they are on the right track for mastering the learning targets and standards being presented. Our past blog entry, Effective Grading: What’s Making the Grade for Your Students?1, detailed how to report assessment information, and now we are taking a look at the assessments that measure the learning. Always keeping the big picture in mind, we can begin to create the formative assessments that will lead students down the path of mastery. While this path may require more pit stops and detours for some, the activities and learning opportunities we develop need to clearly align to the standards and scaffold in a logical progression to build conceptual understanding. We need to monitor student progress by using frequent checkpoints and providing timely feedback.

Checkpoint Ideas

Creating a So What? journal entry or a Top Ten List about the topics of the day would be entertaining and thought provoking activities for any subject.

Eduptopia has compiled a wonderful list of formative assessment ideas with Dipsticks: Efficient Ways to Check for Understanding2. I think #5 and #47 would be great checkpoints to make sure students are grasping the key concepts. Creating a So What? journal entry or a Top Ten List about the topics of the day would be entertaining and thought provoking activities for any subject. While many formative assessments may take the form of written activities, some of the quickest checkpoints can be a show of hands, thumbs up/down, or flipping a green, yellow, or red card on the desk to show the level of understanding while working. Formative assessments drive our instructional focus and ensure that our students can cross the summative finish line with a mastery win!

Power Steering with Verbs

… it’s important to clarify the verbiage of the standards and build formative activities that follow a logical progression…

One great rule to follow is to place the verbs in the driver’s seat on the path to mastery and sounds assessment design. There’s a big difference between identify, explain, and analyze. If your end goal for a summative assessment is to have students analyze an author’s use of figurative language in his/her writing, the formative activities leading to this point need to consist of more than just identifying figurative language techniques. This is where scaffolding activities comes into play. Students must be able to identify a simile and explain its meaning before they can be asked to analyze an author’s reasoning for choosing to include it. When aligning assessments to the standards, it’s important to clarify the verbiage of the standards and build formative activities that follow a logical progression to reach the level of mastery indicated.

Alignment is the Answer

Providing rubrics with clear criterion is a great way to ensure that the learning goals
are aligned …

Whether students are working with formative or summative assessments, our overall objectives for a unit of study must align to the standards. The formative assessments and activities we present to meet these objectives need to scaffold the levels of understanding of our students. Some students may meet the learning objectives and others may move beyond them. With summative assessments of sound design, we can create valid and reliable tools for students to demonstrate their levels of mastery. Providing rubrics with clear criterion is a great way to ensure that the learning goals are aligned to the standards and no misinterpretation will occur during the grading process. Edudemic shares a collection of six online rubric makers3 that will help you get started.

Building a Solid Foundation for a Clear Learning Path

Formative assessments that measure understanding as students work through a logical progression of concept components are the foundation of learning. Summative assessments with clear expectations and standards’ alignment indicate the mastery level achieved on this learning path. Students must be given multiple opportunities to work with learning targets and standards, and designing sound assessments gets two thumbs up toward making that happen!

If you enjoyed the thoughts and ideas shared here, check out the products and trainings Align, Assess, Achieve has to offer.

Additional Resources & Works Cited

1. Effective Grading: What’s Making the Grade for Your Students?

2. Dipsticks: Efficient Ways to Check for Understanding

3. Edudemic Rubric Maker


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