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Formative Assessment: A Lost Opportunity?

As the assessment consortia lumber toward new test designs, there is lots of talk about what will be included in those new "systems" of assessment. How, for instance, will they respond to the call from the administration for testing systems to produce valuable information that teachers can use day by day, as they go, to guide instruction?

Early representations were that those families of assessments would include interim or benchmark tests, as well as the required summative tests for accountability. There were also more than a few murmurings about formative tests.

So in that light, a new paper out today will interest you. The assistant director of professional development for CRESST, the assessment outfit at UCLA, wrote a paper for the Council of Chief State School Officers arguing that the meaning of formative assessment has been distorted, and that the assessment consortia don't seem to get it right, either. It's not a set of tools, Margaret Heritage argues, but a practice deeply embedded in teaching and learning. She sees formative assessment as key to good instruction, and fears that the new testing systems will get it wrong, missing a crucial opportunity to improve the way we gauge what students know, and shape teaching accordingly.

Heritage appeared on a panel discussion today with other folks who reflected on what formative assessment is and what it isn't. They also had one of the assessment consortium leaders there to, er, defend the group's plans. We'll have a story on the paper and the discussion tomorrow at edweek.org, as well as another blog post here, so stay tuned.

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