Whether it’s due to a misunderstanding of its purpose or the fact that it takes too much prep and classroom time, formative assessment is often lost at the bottom of the instructional toolbox, used only by those truly data-driven teachers who feel that they can’t live without it and find a way to make it work for them.
Traditionally teachers have used clipboards with complex charts, spreadsheets and note-taking systems to keep track of their students’ daily proficiency. A note here, a check mark there—sometimes even plotting scores on a line graph to see a particular student’s trajectory—it’s an arduous, time consuming process worth its weight in gold and often just as difficult to find.
All of this work is hopefully in an attempt to figure out exactly what students know and where they are struggling so that as teachers we can take action. Maybe it’s more targeted personalization of instruction or a differentiated lesson, but the ultimate action must be driven by data and the data must be collected often and within an ongoing system to be truly formative.
So, if the reward of formative assessment is so rich, but the process of formative assessment so backbreaking, how can we alleviate this load to make the teacher’s life a bit easier while simultaneously increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of instruction in our classrooms?
One solution offered by formative assessment guru Dylan William is to change our hyper-focus on “data-driven decision-making” to a focus on “decision-driven data collection.” William is calling into question our nation’s obsession with gathering more and more data without an actual plan of action for how we will use it to change our students’ classroom experience. Instead, William argues, we could be asking ourselves many questions prior to collecting anything, and then take a more targeted approach at gathering only the data we know we will need to take action and make the learning experience more practical for students.
I think this approach is a fantastic solution for answering the time honored teacher question of, “How do I do this with 30 students in my classroom?” but William’s strategy is only part of the solution. In order to further reduce the time suck that formative assessment can be we must also eliminate the clipboards, the spreadsheets, and the paper-based systems that have slowed our progress for years. (See Blog post titled, “Digital Formative Assessment Solutions”)