# Helping Students Understand Assessment

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## Necessary Components of Formative Assessment

- Formative assessment began with offering students a clear picture of learning targets.
- Students received feedback on their work that helped them understand where they were with respect to the desired learning target.
- Students engaged in self-assessment.
- Formative assessment provided an understanding of specific steps that students could take to improve.

Sadler (1989) had previously reported similar findings. In describing the role of formative assessment in developing expertise, he identified three conditions required for students to improve: The student comes to hold a concept of quality roughly similar to that held by the teacher, is able to monitor continuously the quality of what is being produced during the act of production itself, and has a repertoire of alternative moves or strategies from which to draw at any given point. (p. 121)

## Where Am I Going?

- Read and write fractions with halves, thirds, fourths, and tenths.
- Read and write mixed numbers (whole numbers plus fractions).
- Change fractions written as tenths into decimals.

*Strategy 2: Use examples of strong and weak work*. To know where they are going, students must know what excellent performance looks like. Ask students to evaluate anonymous work samples for quality and then to discuss and defend their judgments, using the language of the scoring guide in the case of performance assessments. Such an exercise will help students develop skill in accurate self-assessment.

- Distribute to students a student-friendly version of the scoring guide you will use to evaluate their final products.
- Choose one aspect of quality (one trait) to focus on.
- Show an overhead transparency of a strong anonymous sample, but don't let students know it's a strong example. Have students work independently to score it for the one trait using the student-friendly scoring guide. You may ask students to underline the statements in the scoring guide that they believe describe the work they're examining.
- After students have settled on a score independently, have them share their scores in small groups, using the language of the scoring guide to explain their reasoning.
- Ask the class to vote and tally their scores on an overhead transparency. Then ask for volunteers to share their scores and the rationale behind them. Listen for, and encourage, use of the language of the scoring guide.
- Repeat this process with a weak anonymous sample, focusing on the same trait. Do this several times, alternating between strong and weak papers, until students are able to distinguish between strong and weak work and independently give rationales reflecting the concepts in the scoring guide (Stiggins et al., 2004).

## Where Am I Now?

*M*at the top. When we asked her what the

*M*meant she had learned, she looked at us as though we were trying to trick her and replied, “Math?” When we asked her what that meant she needed to work on, she frowned and ventured, “Math?”

*Strategy 3: Offer regular descriptive feedback*. Black and Wiliam (1998) recommend that to improve formative assessment, teachers should reduce

*evaluative*feedback—such as “

*B*+. Good work!” or “You didn't put enough effort into this”—and increase

*descriptive*feedback, such as “You maintained eye contact with your audience throughout your whole presentation” or “Your problem-solving strategy for dividing all the people into equal groups worked well right up to the end, but you need to figure out what to do with the remaining people.”

- After students have practiced using a scoring guide with anonymous work and they understand the meaning of the phrases in the scoring guide, highlight phrases that describe strengths and weaknesses of their work. If you are working with a multitrait scoring guide, limit feedback to one or two traits at a time.
- Have students
*traffic light*their work (Atkin et al., 2001), marking it with a green, yellow, or red dot to indicate the level of help they need. Allow students with green and yellow dots to provide descriptive feedback to one another, while you provide feedback for students with red dots.

*Strategy 4: Teach students to self-assess and set goals*. In giving students descriptive feedback, you have modeled the kind of thinking you want them to do as self-assessors. As a next step, turn that task over to students and guide them in practicing self-assessment and goal setting. You may find it useful to have students identify the strengths and weaknesses of their work before you offer your own feedback. Have them complete a form like the one in Figure 1 and staple it to their work when they turn it in. Respond with your feedback, either on the form or orally.

**Figure 1. Student Self-Assessment Form**

#### Figure 1. Student Self-Assessment Form

**My Strengths and Areas to Improve**

Trait(s): ______________________________________________

Name: __________________________________________________

Name of Paper: _________________________________________

Date: __________________________________________________

**My Opinion**

My strengths are _______________________________________

________________________________________________________

What I think I need to work on is ______________________

________________________________________________________

**My Teacher's or Classmate's Opinion**

Strengths include ______________________________________

________________________________________________________

Work on ________________________________________________

________________________________________________________

**My Plan**

What I will do now is __________________________________

________________________________________________________

Next time I'll ask for feedback from ______________

________________________________________________________

*Source:* From *Classroom Assessment* for *Student Learning: Doing It Right—Using It Well*, by R. J. Stiggins, J. Arter, J. Chappuis, and S. Chappuis, 2004, Portland, OR: Assessment Training Institute. Reprinted with permission.

## How Can I Close the Gap?

*Strategy 5: Design lessons to focus on one aspect of quality at a time*. This strategy breaks learning into more manageable chunks for students. For example, suppose that students are learning to design and conduct scientific investigations, and one part of the scoring guide describes the qualities of a good hypothesis. If students are having trouble formulating hypotheses, they can refer to that portion of the scoring guide as they differentiate between strong and weak examples of hypotheses, practice drafting hypotheses, give one another descriptive feedback on their drafts, and assess their own drafts' strengths and weaknesses.

*Strategy 6: Teach students focused revision*. Let students practice revising their work before being held accountable by a final grade. You might begin with one of the anonymous, weak work samples that your students have evaluated (see

*Strategy 2*). Focusing on just the single aspect of quality that they evaluated, ask students to work in pairs to either revise the sample or create a revision plan describing what the anonymous student needs to do to improve the work. Then ask students to apply the same process to their own work, either revising it to make it better or submitting a revision plan. For example, after assessing their draft hypotheses in science, students could use the scoring guide to write out what they need to do to improve their hypotheses.

*Strategy 7: Engage students in self-reflection and let them document and share their learning*. We know the power of self-reflection to deepen learning for adults. It also works for students. One of the strongest motivators is the opportunity to look back and see progress.

## Students at the Center

##### References

Atkin, J. M., Black, P., & Coffey, J. (2001). *Classroom assessment and the National Science Education Standards*. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Bangert-Downs, R. L., Kulik, C-L. C., Kulik, J. A., & Morgan, M. T. (1991). The instructional effect of feedback in test-like events. *Review of Education Research, 61*(2), 213–238.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. *Phi Delta Kappan, 80*(2), 139–148.

Bloom, B. (1984). The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring. *Educational Leadership, 41*(8), 4–17.

Brown, A. L. (1994). The advancement of learning. *Educational Researcher, 23*(8), 4–12.

Marzano, R. (2005). *What works in schools* (PowerPoint presentation). Available: www.marzanoandassociates.com/pdf/ShortVersion.pdf

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

Stiggins, R. J., Arter, J., Chappuis, J., & Chappuis, S. (2004). *Classroom assessment* for *student learning: Doing it right—using it well*. Portland, OR: Assessment Training Institute.