Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Telling the New Story Post 1: Summative vs. Formative Assessment

There's been a very interesting conversation going around the education blogosphere lately (I don't really like the word 'blogosphere', but I don't have a better one at the moment). It revolves around David Warlick's postings about "Telling the New Story" and then a subsequent podcast with six edubloggers discussing the issue.

There are a lot of interesting ideas discussed, so I'm going to break this into several posts to focus on specific issues. This first one relates to assessment.

From a post by David Warlick in response to the podcast:

In a time of rapid change, the measure of success depends more on how adaptive and inventive the learner is — their ability to turn instability into opportunity. In this world, summative testing makes no sense. I continue to maintain that when we can not clearly predict our children’s future, it becomes much less important what they are learning, and much more important how they are learning it, and what they are doing with it.

I'm not sure if I would go as far as David and say that summative assessment makes no sense, but I certainly agree that it has reduced relevance in a time of rapid change. As Ewan McIntosh says in the podcast, "assessment is for learning" - I think we could be doing a much better job of formative assessment and using the results to inform our teaching.

I think if we spent as much time (and money) on formative assessment as we do on CSAP, we would see much more learning on the part of our students. Or, if we used CSAP as more of a formative instead of a summative assessment, I think it would do more good. I know that we have taken some tentative steps to use CSAP results in a formative way, but I fear that the focus has been on using those results to improve those students' next CSAP scores, not necessarily on helping them learn what we truly think they need to learn. (I know that some would argue that CSAP is what they truly need to learn, so therefore working on improving their scores is teaching them what they need to learn. But I think CSAP - for all its good intention - is still missing big chunks of what students need to know and be able to do.)

I think we can't emphasize enough David's point that - in a time of rapid change - we really don't know exactly what (specific) skills our students are going to need in their future. So it's tough to develop a CSAP-like measure that is ultimately relevant for them. Instead we should focus on "how they are learning it and what they are doing with it." We should nurture in them the ability to "learn how to learn" and foster the ability to have conversations with the global community. Those skills are going to serve them very well in a time of rapid change.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the basic premise about how CSAP has been misused and abused. First,we use it to tell us the obvious about failing schools.Secondly, we receive the results so long after the test that we lose any effectiveness of what the test could offer us in terms of student performance. Then we say who are the kids who are holding us back and let's "fix them". That may be good for some of those students who have been long ignored and we are now paying attention to them but the conversation seems to be about raising scores, not about why that student isn't learning. Finally, it is apparent that families are using that as gauge for selecting schools without pursuing the deeper question about how you will engage my child in the learning process.Hopefully the test hasn't done irreparable ham to our thinking and beliefs aout educating children.