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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.

References

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: http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kbla9810.htm.)

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 http://pareonline.net/getvn.asp?v=8&n=9

The Value of Formative Assessment | FairTest. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2009, from http://www.fairtest.org/value-formative-assessment-pdf

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.

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