Formative Assessment: the multi-purpose teaching and learning tool, Part I

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“Teachers and schools assess students in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons—from the broad categories of sorting, ranking, and judging to the more nuanced purposes of determining specific levels of student understanding, restructuring curricula to meet student needs, and differentiating instruction among students.” -NCTE Position Statement on Formative Assessment.

Assessments that help teachers find out what students have learned at the end of a unit, or that compare student growth from this year to last have their place in the diagnostic toolkit a teacher must use to determine where she’s going with the class. But these assessments are like the odometer on a car dashboard. They only give us one indicator of how we’re performing on the road, and when that check engine light comes on, they don’t give us a lot to work with to determine how to fix the problem. Teachers and students need a full dashboard of instruments to guide a learning journey. We need to know where we’re going, where we’ve been, how fast we’re moving, how well we’re performing. Do we need more fuel? Are we changing gears at the right times? A wide range of assessment information lets us know how we’re doing at any given point in time and over a range of times, so we can make adjustments and improve upon the learning process.

Lisa Storm Fink has been the Project Manager for ReadWriteThink at NCTE for over 10 years. After teaching grades K-4 for almost 9 years, she brought her varied experiences (multi-age classrooms, looping, cooperating teacher for preservice teachers, plus a specialization in Remedial Reading) fulltime to the ReadWriteThink site. Lisa feels lucky to have worked on all parts of the ReadWriteThink site: as a writer and reviewer, curriculum developer, and now as Project Manager. She enjoys sharing the site with others during professional development opportunities as well as with her preservice students at the University of Illinois. Lisa also sits on several board and advisory committees. Lisa’s favorite job is as a mom to Kelsey, a high school sophomore active in marching and concert band, JV volleyball, JV softball and Scholastic Bowl; and to Kaitlyn, a 7th grader busy with softball, basketball, volleyball and Student Council.

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