What is the role of formative assessment with regard to grading?

My reflection on #MSchat Question 2:

So yesterday I started writing about my expanded thoughts and ideas of #mschat on Twitter thursday night. The chat focused on grading and some of the issues that teachers are forced to think about (but might not always). It was my original intention to write about all six questions in one post but I soon realized that after writing almost nine hundred words on question one, I would have to rethink my approach. No one on the internet has the attention span to read more than 1000 words at a time (including myself) and that is probably stretching it a bit…

So here we go. The role of formative assessment (and practice) with regard to grading.  This is a subject near and dear to my heart and I have some very strong opinions about it but more importantly I have some sad observations about the reality of teacher using formative assessments AS summative ones.

The problem most likely lies in a misunderstand (or complete lack of understanding) of the difference between summative and formative assessments. I’m not the only person to be saying this. @TomWhitby who is the voice of #edchatRadio and one of the founders/moderators of Twitter’s #edchat on Tuesday nights is one of the more forceful voices who is ringing out this sentiment. He even chimed during the #mschat with the comment:

“@garnet_hillman @blocht574 IMHO insistence of grading formative assessments to justify averages corrupted the assessment process. #mschat”

(I was waiting/hoping he was going to say something and was pretty giddy when he did…

But lets get to the chat itself… The first person to respond to question two was the moderator for the evening Garnet Hillman (@garnet_hillman). She summed up perfectly the role of formative assessment, in my opinion.

It serves two purposes:

  1. to give students feedback regarding where they are in relation to understanding, and
  2. to inform a teacher’s future instruction and practice in regards to the lesson,project, or activity at hand.

Did you notice that NOWHERE in her description is the word grading mentioned? Exactly. This is my issue with many teachers. I have seen quite a few teachers over the years employ checks for understanding, tickets to leave class, etc… as ‘minor’ grades in their grade book. Think about the word formative for a second. To form. When you look up some synonyms for it you get the word developmental. When teachers are assessing a student’s progress developing and forming their understanding, they CAN NOT grade them on it. It’s like giving a two year old a grade on how they use a fork as they are learning how to use it. ugh… but I digress.

Many people in the chat got it, and get it. It was pretty cool to see the different ways that teachers express this concept similarly and yet differently. Things such as; “Giving meaningful qualitative feedback is so much more important than grading” as Mark Granito (@mrgranito) mentioned. I really liked @janamaiuri’s comment that summative assessments are utter fiction (which I agree with but it brings up another important conversation for another day…)

One thing I forgot to mention in the chat was my practice for formative assessment. I feel I need to address it briefly. I institute a class protocol for students to ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ with whatever is being said in class. I wrote two posts about it about a month ago. Essentially they use the sign language gesture for ‘we’re the same’, which can mean ‘I agree’. They use it to indicate if they agree with what I am saying or what another student is saying in class. If students disagree with a statement made in class they are encouraged to stand up and hold their palm up and wait to be recognized to voice their objection. This accomplished two things for me,

  1. I am constantly running a formative assessment of class and
  2. Students are much more engaged because they have to track the conversation. I can quickly gauge the overall understanding of my class by seeing how many students are objecting or agreeing. It’s pretty cool to see in action.

This sentiment came up quite a bit in the chat. Formative assessments should be about ‘temperature taking of a class’. Where are they as a group and as individuals. Ruth McArthur (@mcarthur_r)  was the one who called it temperature taking and I’m going to steal that one 🙂 Some of the others mentioned were

  • Target Practice
  • 3-2-1
  • Ticket to Leave (followed by entrance ticket the next day)

It was @blocht574 who summed the whole part of the conversation best with his comment that a formative assessment should only be used to grade our teaching, not student learning. One interesting final note that came up really got me thinking about WHEN to do a formative assessment. Personally I’m doing formative assessments of my teaching constantly in class in an informal way. But what about formal formative assessments. Google Forms are great for this but I believe it was @smartins3313 who mentioned that they need to be done early enough in the process/ learning progression so that students can do self evaluation. It is too late if it is after the final grade.

So true

But, formative feedback for the teacher that comes from student feedback can be done after the project is over as well as long as there has been some formative assessing done along the way.

This intrigued me and got me thinking about a few things.

  1. When should I conduct formal formative assessments? I’m thinking of asking my students when they think it should be done…
  2. Should I have a consistent formative assessment like I currently do with my class protocols, or, should I mix it up?
  3. I need to reach out to other teachers and help them understand the difference between formative and summative. I need to be part of the solution of getting other teachers away from counting EVERYTHING as a grade in their gradebook.

One thousand words. . .Woot.

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