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Formidable Formative Assessment
Guest Author: Theodore “Ted” C. Kraver, Ph.D.
The recent election pitches on school testing had Common Core against Arizona homebrew assessment. The arguments, being political, were political smack downs not dreary rationalizations. Let’s use dreary to size up the real situation. Standardized student tests are used to determine how well students, teachers, administrators and schools have done in the past. In education parlance they are called summative tests because they sum-up what happened in the past. Higher-ups use them to support statistical judgments on policy, curriculum, educators, schools, and student learning. These adults from parents to politicians make broad comparisons and decisions that have little effect on improving the individual learning of students. If summative assessments don’t work then what assessments do?
There is a complementary type of assessment that focuses just on supporting student learning call formative and is used only by the student and teacher during the learning process. Formative assessments are real time and provide direction of what to do in the future learning minutes. Is supports forming the learning process. Unfortunately legacy book based education does not have the means to deliver effective formative assessment in a 30 student classroom. In fact research studies show one-on-one student teacher classroom interaction averages one minute per day. But the most effective 21st century digital curriculum based education does. Development by the military and university researchers uses a “scaffolding” type of formative assessment. The real time student problem solving actions are assessed by superficial intelligence systems. The digital curriculum then provides the next learning step. It could be a repeat part of the lesson, hints, acceleration to a high level, move on to that next subject or other type of individualized support.
This use of educational technology can be very effective in most STEM (simulations) areas as well as history (dynamic maps), reading (automated dictionaries) and writing (computer assessed essays).
But transformation to digital curriculum requires a systemic change in the classroom. There must be significant investment in broadband computer interfaces for each student, educator education and training, and digital curriculum. Exemplar schools like Wilson District, Vail Empire High, Carpe Diem charter school in Yuma and others have shown this system can produce outstanding results with challenged populations. But our disjointed statewide education system does not provide a pathway for these exemplar schools to influence the transformation of the rest of Arizona’s 2100 schools.
Other industries thrive on technology innovation. What if we had just stuck to summative data systems of yesteryear that counted the planes that took off and landed on time, the passengers flown and miles covered? Instead aviation engineers focused on innovation of the then primitive navigation and flight monitoring formative assessment technology (city names painted on roofs and “steam” gages in the cockpit). Radar systems provided real formative information on weather and positions of other aircraft. GPS assures precise navigation. Warning sensors monitor every aspect of vital aircraft systems
What if our leaders could switch their fussing with ineffective summative data and implement a system transformation based on formative assessment for each teacher-student nexus? As real time decision support rippled through our education system their summative numbers would go through the roof. They could then refocus on other nagging issues like climate change, prisons and immigration.