Archive for October, 2009

Formative Assessment and Benchmark Testing

October 18, 2009 2 comments

pic 1As I continue to meet with teachers regarding results of benchmark testing, I am reminded that sometimes we just need to take time to reflect on why we do what we do. As a school and a district, we are challenged to decrease the achievement gap between white students and students of color by 25%.  Research shows that high quality formative assessment does have a powerful impact on student learning. Black and Wiliam (1998) report that studies of formative assessment show an effect size on standardized tests of between 0.4 and 0.7, an effect larger than most known educational interventions.  Effect size is a measure of the impact of an intervention or strategy on student outcomes.




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Data from formative assessment/benchmark tests provide us with a better understanding of gaps between learning goals and students’ current knowledge.  The feedback you provide to students following a formative assessment/benchmark test helps them become aware of their specific learning gaps.  The clear and specific feedback you provide guides students through actions necessary to achieve the learning goal (Ramaprasad, 1983; Sadler, 1989).

The most helpful type of feedback on tests and homework provides specific comments about errors and specific suggestions for improvement (Bangert-Drowns, Kulick, & Morgan, 1991; Elawar & Corno, 1985).  When we encourage students to focus their attention thoughtfully on the task rather than on simply getting the right answer, we move them toward mastery learning, not just performance on a particular assessment on a specific date.




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Specific feedback is particularly helpful to lower achieving students because it emphasizes that students can improve as a result of effort. Formative assessment helps support the expectation that all students can learn at high levels and counteracts the cycle in which students attribute their poor performance to lack of ability (Ames, 1992; Vispoel & Austin, 1995). When students become discouraged, they are unwilling to invest in further learning; formative assessment coupled with specific feedback provides a second chance for students to relearn and master previously taught concepts.





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Admittedly, feedback generally originates from a teacher. However, some of you are allowing students to play an important role in the formative assessment process through self-evaluation. Two experimental research studies have shown that students who understand the learning objectives and assessment criteria and have opportunities to reflect on their work demonstrate greater improvement than those who do not (Fontana & Fernandes, 1994; Frederikson & White, 1997). Furthermore, students with learning disabilities who are taught to use self-monitoring strategies related to their understanding of reading and writing tasks also show performance gains (McCurdy & Shapiro, 1992; Sawyer, Graham, & Harris, 1992).




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During our last session on The Power of Formative Assessment, I found it interesting that our students struggle with self-assessment, as evidenced by the posting regarding using Stoplight strategy. When students indicated that they positively knew the answer to a specific question and coded it green only to discover that they were wrong, we must reevaluate why students harbor these misconceptions.  This posting tells us that we must teach our students how to self-assess and guide them through that process as a procedure promote mastery learning.

As we continue to learn about formative assessment, whether through our benchmarks or our daily assessments, our goal is to make necessary adjustments in our instructional practices to improve student achievement.


Ames, C. (1992). Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84 (3): 261-271.

Bangert-Drowns, R.L., Kulick, J.A., and Morgan, M.T. (1991). The instructional effect of feedback in test-like events. Review of Educational Research, 61 (2): 213-238.

Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998b). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80 (2): 139-148. (Available online:

Elawar, M.C., and Corno, L. (1985). A factorial experiment in teachers’ written feedback on student homework: Changing teacher behaviour a little rather than a lot. Journal of Educational Psychology, 77 (2): 162-173.

Fontana, D., and Fernandes, M. (1994). Improvements in mathematics performance as a consequence of self-assessment in Portuguese primary school pupils. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 64 (3): 407-417.

Frederiksen, J.R., and White, B.J. (1997). Reflective assessment of students’ research within an inquiry-based middle school science curriculum. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

McCurdy, B.L., and Shapiro, E.S. (1992). A comparison of teacher monitoring, peer monitoring, and self-monitoring with curriculum-based measurement in reading among students with learning disabilities. Journal of Special Education, 26 (2): 162-180.

Ramaprasad, A. (1983). On the definition of feedback. Behavioral Science, 28 (1): 4-13.

Sadler, D.R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18 (2): 119-144.

The concept of formative assessment. Boston, Carol. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2009, from

The Value of Formative Assessment | FairTest. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2009, from

Vispoel, W.P., and Austin, J.R. (1995). Success and failure in junior high school: A critical incident approach to understanding students’ attributional beliefs. American Educational Research Journal, 32 (2): 377-412.


Pacing and Summarization

October 4, 2009 6 comments

hispanic girlAs you continue to explore ways in which you can help students process and retain content, it is important to examine your professional practice in terms of pacing. As you know, pacing involves the speed with which you move through chunks of information. If you are lecturing for more than fifteen minutes at a time before asking the students to summarize, the brain reaches its saturation point, and mastery learning does not occur. We must ask our students to summarize en route to mastery.



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As a professional, you determine when to use summarization strategies — at the beginning, the middle, or the end of a lesson. Whether a student is asked to read a passage from a text, watch a video clip, participate in a debate, create artwork, or participate in a review game, summarization techniques will enable you to help students improve both their comprehension and retention of lesson concepts.



 3-2-1 is an example of a summarization strategy that you can use to adjust your pacing.   This technique is versatile and relatively quick. You can use it for any situation in oral, artistic, or written forms. For the written version, ask your students to write the numerals 3, 2, and 1 down the left side of a half sheet of paper. Then post or announce prompts for each number, asking the students to write three of something, two of something, and one of something.

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For example, you might ask students to write:

3 — things that they learned from the lesson

2 — areas that they are still confused

1 — way they might apply what they learned to another area

The specific prompts will vary with the lesson content and your instructional goals, but you may want to think about making the “one item” task more challenging than the “three item” task.

More Examples:

mona lisa3: Identify three characteristics of Renaissance art that are different from those of art in the Middle Ages.


2: List two important scientific debates that occurred during the Renaissance.


1: Provide one good reason that “rebirth” is an appropriate term to describe the Renaissance.









math question

3: List three applications of slope, y-intercept knowledge in the professional world.

2: Identify two skills that someone must have to determine slope and y-intercept from a set of points on a plane.

1: If (x¹, y1¹) are the coordinates of a point W in a plane, and (x², and y²) are the coordinates of a different point Y, then the slope of WY is what?




beakers3: Identify at least three differences between acids and bases.

2: List two uses of acids and two uses of bases.

1: State one reason knowledge of acids and bases is important to citizens in our community.



The 3, 2, 1 strategy can also be expressed artistically or verbally. For those versions, follow the same sequence but change the medium by which students express themselves. Consider allowing your students to choose their mode of expression to summarize lesson content.

If you have used this strategy or made modifications to this strategy, please feel free to share your experiences. 


Check out this link for more summarizing strategies.




Wormeli, R. (2004). Summarization In Any Subject: 50 Techniques To Improve Student Learning. Alexandria, VA: Association For Supervision & Curriculum Development.