Friday, July 10, 2015

Chapter 4- Designing Quality Common Formative Assessments"

"Great team members hold each other accountable to the high standards and excellence their culture expects and demands." 
-Jon Gordon
Of all the things that make teaching both challenging and worthwhile, assessing students learning may be the most difficult.  The responsibility of monitoring student progress is far from an exact science, but it can be made easier through collaboration and calibration with other educators.  One of the main areas of focus for our PLCs should be designing quality common formative assessments.  It sounds simple enough, but as Venables points out, creating quality formative assessments are not easy.  This is why is it so important that teachers work together to determine what they want students to know and how they will assess if they do.
First, we must remember be clear about the difference between formative and summative assessment. In NISD, we have a collection of Curriculum Based Assessments (CBAs) that are summative in nature. They are given after a unit of learning and generally speaking should give us information about which students did or did not learn the key points within the curriculum.  STAAR tests, EOCs, AP exams, should all be considered forms of summative assessment as well.  They come near the end of the year and are “suppose” to inform us about what students have learned, but they do very little to guide instruction or help students improve.  To truly know how students are progressing, teachers must use various forms of formative assessment (daily, weekly, etc.) to frequently monitor how and what students are learning so they can tailor their instruction to meet both class and individual needs.  Great teachers do this either through experience or second nature, but the power of sharing connected knowledge is developing these types of assessments through collaboration in PLCs. 

In Chapter 4, Venables spends a lot of time addressing the sometimes negative perception of “teaching to the test”.  As he mentions, and I agree, if it is a well-constructed assessment, there should be no problem with teachers instructing to the level of the test.  However, if the assessment or task a student is to be given is at a low-level, it is likely the instruction will match that as well.  This is why it is essential that teachers work together to create the best formative assessments possible which also allows for consistency and calibration within the school.  The word “common” should not be underestimated. Several campuses use protocols or systems such as "State of the Class" each week that is based on a common assignment. Activities such as this allow for identification of needs, both for the whole class and individuals. If  teachers work together to determine the learning target for the lesson and unpack the standard to decide the level of rigor in which that standard will be assessed then the instruction is much more likely to be on point.  It also gives valuable information when using the protocols to assess student work (chapter 3) and student/class data (chapter 5).  Pages 64-66 in the book do a great job of explaining some ways in which PLCs can begin to identify standards to assess.  Another excellent resource for this work is Learning Targets, because it forces teachers to determine what and how a student will meet the learning criteria.  There are numerous protocols and ways to break down standards, the key is to use the PLC to work together so that all members have the same understanding before beginning instruction.
If you are looking for some great PLC resources, I suggest these books.  All have protocols and ideas to help jumpstart even the most experiences of PLC groups!!

Have your students ever done really well on all the formatives leading up to a summative and then “bombed” the test?  The most common reason for that is misalignment between the two.  In an era in which we are trying desperately to have kids “think” and the assessments to be more “authentic” it is imperative that what they experience daily is rigorous and standards-based.  Pages 67-71 do an excellent job of explaining the rationale for standards-based formative assessment, including a chart on page 71 highlighting some of the differences.  However,  to produce the most authentic forms of assessment (and also the most time consuming), Venables offers a section of “Alternative forms of Common Assessment” starting on page 72 that should prove both challenging and essential in an NISD classroom.  PLCs should be discussing ways students show their learning beyond multiple choice tests, but in doing so, they must keep several key components in mind:
·       Alternative forms of assessment should be rigorous and content-rich
·       Alternative forms of assessment should align to the ELO’s (not merely assess other related skills and concepts).
·       Alternative forms of assessments should be evaluated with a standards-based rubric.  Pg. 72
For the purposes of this blog and space, there are too many implications to the statements above, but I hope that all the readers will take time to reflect on the types of projects and rubrics in use by their PLCs or in their own classrooms.  The author points out several common misconceptions in their design that often lead to misalignment or improper assessment of learning (read: the project becomes a waste of time).    The essential question to keep in mind:  Where in what the student did is there evidence of learning?
Finally, there are two other areas addressed by Venables in Chapter 4.  Grading and Intervention.  While grading is a necessary component to our daily jobs, they key takeaway for me is the need for calibration among the PLC members.  We must design quality formatives and then we must grade them consistently in order to make the valid and informative.  The intervention component of common formative assessments is the lifeblood of why we would do formatives at all. If we do not do anything to inform our instruction or assist students in need, the purpose of the formative is lost.  We will explore this subject in greater detail next week as we look at how data can be used in a PLC.

Reflective questions:
- How does your PLC respond to "teaching to the test" comments?
-How often do my students experience a common formative assessment created by my PLC? And what do we do to ensure it is a high-quality assessment?
- What are the pros and cons of using alternative formative assessments on a regular basis?


  1. Chapter 4 Reflections
    Our PLC responds positively to "teaching to the test" comments. We are fortunate to have a rigorous curriculum aligned to what we are required to teach. Whether we are assessing student learning through a formative or summative assessment, as educators we need to know where to take our student learning and how to meet those objectives.

    Alternative formative assessments are fantastic for allowing student choice and expression, and allowing students to show their understanding of the objective in a different learning style compared to a typical assessment. The cons of using this type of formative assessment is the time constraints of the pacing of the curriculum, and meeting the requirements of a rubric regardless of how simplistic they can be.

    I appreciated the emphasis this chapter had on student mastery and how it is reflected. Isn't mastery our main objective? Students get instruction at the same time, but learn along different timelines which is why they should have multiple opportunities to show mastery of an objective. This, combined with using only the student's score which demonstrates mastery seems to be absolutely ideal to student learning. Again, the pacing is such that student mastery might need the interventions of tutorials, small-group instruction, etc. As Venables states, "The better the initial instruction, the fewer the number of students needing intervention."
    Liz Ruelas


  2. Designing quality formative assessments is something we all know we should do within our PLC, but we also are realistic in knowing that it takes a lot of time to do this. We understand that we have to cover A LOT of standards throughout the year, so it begs the question; which standards should be discussed within the PLC. Of course we would want to do every single one, but is that realistic. The standards in Texas do help us make some determinations as to which ones should be focused on within the PLC. Looking at the readiness versus supporting standards is a great place to start when deciding what should be discussed most within PLC when developing assessments and looking at student work. But even the readiness standards could be too daunting and numerous to do within the PLC. The process standards in Math, Science and Social Studies as well as Figure 19 standards in ELA are the standards that push our students the most. These standards take our students from knowing information to doing something with the information they have learned.

    Teachers are typically strong in content, but not always in understanding the degree in which students must do something with the information. Working within PLCs to develop rubrics that are based the learning that must happen and how students will demonstrate the learning will help push the learning to higher levels of rigor. If the students and teachers understand the rubric the products that are produced from the tasks will be high level.

    All types of assessments and tasks must be present within the classroom. Students must be able to create things, do presentations, write, as well as take multiple choice assessments. They all have a place in the learning environment. I believe that our teachers and our curriculum provide multiple opportunities for alternative assessments, but these assessments will not be beneficial without common expectations, rubrics, and discussions of next steps once the assessments are complete.

  3. Designing quality formative assessments that provide data for use to change the course while we are teaching rather than reflecting back on data after the unit is over is very appealing. On our campus we haven't emphasized the need for teachers to develop common formative assessments on a daily/weekly basis while we are in the heat of and can change to course who don't have it yet. We cannot ignore the ongoing data whether it comes in the form of quests, formal formative assessments, questioning, or small group instruction.

  4. Designing quality formative assessments that provide data for use to change the course while we are teaching rather than reflecting back on data after the unit is over is very appealing. On our campus we haven't emphasized the need for teachers to develop common formative assessments on a regular basis during planning and instruction. By doing so, we provide the opportunity for those whose 'grade' is 'not yet.' and can change their trajectory. We cannot ignore the ongoing data whether it comes in the form of quests, formal formative assessments, questioning, or small group instruction.