Rick Stiggins Would be Our Director of Assessment . . .

Scriven, M. (1967). The methodology of evaluation. In R. W. Tyler, R. M. Gagné & M. Scriven (Eds.), Perspectives of curriculum evaluation (Vol. 1, pp. 39-83). Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.

Stiggins, R., Arter, J., Chappuis, J., & Chappuis, S. (2011). Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing It right-using it well. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Stiggins, R. (2005). From formative assessment to assessment FOR learning: A path to success in standards-based schools. Phi Delta Kappan. 87(3), 324-328.

So why would the perfect school pay the surely ridiculous fee Rick Stiggins would charge to work for us full-time? Because assessment is far more important now than it ever has been. We should be assessing kids more frequently now than ever before. I’m even willing to use the bad word for it: TESTING ! Sure, we should be testing students more now than ever before. But we should be doing so in a way that provides students frequent clear feedback about how they are progressing towards learning targets that are completely transparent. We should then make this information the focus of our daily instruction, so that students are constantly using the feedback from these assessments to help themselves move towards high expectations.

This kind of assessment is what was originally labeled “formative” by Michael Scriven in 1967 (Scriven, 1967). It is different than “summative” assessment, which is used to judge how a student is doing for some evaluative purpose such as a grade, and is most likely what springs to mind when you think of taking a traditional test. Formative assessment is what we need to be doing more of today. I warned you that this blog would sometimes be self-indulgent, so please allow me to go on a brief self-indulgent rant as to why:

Forty years ago, infrequent summative assessment fit the bill for a United States economy that still had an abundance of career options for high school graduates who never attended any college or vocational training after 12th grade. This economy of 40 years ago even had a good number of career options for students who didn’t graduate high school! There were still good union manufacturing jobs that could provide a comfortable middle class lifestyle, without requiring any kind of coursework after high school.

Very few of these career paths exist in 2011. Our high school graduates need to be college-ready, whether or not they plan to enroll, because any good job they take is going to require college level skills and additional high skill training. Meanwhile, the two most populous nations on the earth have greatly accelerated their educational attainment percentages, while a globalized economy is giving their workers access to jobs that were formally reserved for applicants who lived in the United States.

This current reality dictates that schools in the United States get out of the business of using infrequent summative assessments to sort kids, and into the work of using frequent formative assessments to help move as close to “all” kids as possible to high levels of academic achievement. It is no longer acceptable to be OK with a bell curve distribution of grades, that leads to a bell curve distribution of graduates, that enter a bell curve distribution of career paths – Oh wait, there is no bell curve distribution of career paths!

Now I understand that there is no getting away from the sorting business in the short term. Most colleges still request GPA and class rank. As a result, most parents demand that we sort students, as not doing so would make it more difficult for their child to distinguish themselves as exceptional when competing for scholarships and admission to selective schools. Still, we must commit ourselves to helping all students reach a reasonable set of outcomes that will prepare them for success in today’s world, while still allowing for competition among the students who exceed these core competencies.

OK, enough with the rant on our current reality and back to why formative assessment is so important to meeting the needs of our current reality.

Formative assessment, done well, provides frequent information to teachers about how the students in their class are doing in relation to clear learning targets identified for the course. Formative assessment done extremely well provides frequent constructive feedback to students to help them remain positive and resilient in the face of high expectations. In short, the best formative assessment is used by students and parents as well as teachers.

But allow me to let the man himself explain it to you:

It starts by providing students with a clear, student-friendly vision of the achievement target to be mastered, including models of strong and weak work. These examples reveal to learners where we want them to end up. Then the teacher provides learners with continuous access to descriptive feedback, which consists not merely of grades or scores but also of focused guidance specific to the learning target. Thus a foundation is laid for students to learn to self-assess and set goals. In this way, assessment FOR learning keeps students posted on where they are in relation to where they want be. By teaching students how to improve the quality of their work one dimension at a time and teaching them to monitor their own improvement over time, assessment FOR learning helps them close the gap between where they are now and where we want them to be. (Stiggins, 2005, p.328)
In a perfect school, Rick Stiggins would be our Director of Assessment because he would relentlessly challenge us to consider how much feedback we are providing to our students about how they are progressing towards our high expectations and how often we are availing them of this feedback. He would make high standards more accessible to a broader array of students by demanding that we provide clear learning targets for students to move towards with consistent indicators of progress. He would not allow us to have vague definitions of what success looks like, a few infrequent evaluations of who reached it, and a grim acceptance of bell curve outcomes. He would force us to adapt our assessment practices to our current reality.
Next On In A Perfect School . . .               Milton Chen Would Head Our Office of Innovation & Improvement . . .