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'Quick and Easy' Formative Assessment Helps Fuel A Thriving New Market

Even as the common core steps up pressure on teachers to help students master new skills, there's no need for them to worry about how they'll gauge whether their students are learning well as they go along. Teachers can learn such formative assessment strategies quickly and easily.

At least that's what the burgeoning common-core market would like you to believe.

Exhibit Number 1 for today: a recent press release issued by Staff Development for Educators. The New Hampshire-based professional development organization is hoping to attract middle and high school teachers to its seminars in May to "alleviate some of the pressure" they are feeling as a result of the standards' new expectations.

In six short hours, for a fee of $209 per person, SDE promises potential seminar participants that they'll be guided through "quick and easy-to-use tools for developing a strong formative assessment plan that informs instruction across all content areas and prepares students for their state's new Common Core assessments—including PARCC and Smarter Balanced."

They'll pick up strategies to help them figure out the right level of instruction for their students, monitor student progress, and measure students' performance against the common standards, the press release says. They'll learn how to develop "a formative assessment plan with a differentiated mindset for each classroom." And they'll learn "tactics for instilling in students a sense of self-regulation, learning ownership, and responsibility."

Is all of this possible in a one-day seminar? I decided to run it by Margaret Heritage, who focuses on formative assessment in her work as assistant director for professional development at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST) at the University of California-Los Angeles.

Heritage greeted the press release with the same disappointed sigh that she's expressed before when she's shared her thoughts about the widespread misconceptions about formative assessment.

"It misses the point of formative assessment," she wrote in an email. "Formative assessment is a process involving teachers AND students that is integrated into everyday teaching and learning."

In other words: This is not at all the kind of stuff that teachers can hope to learn in a quick-hit setting, no matter what the world of marketing and PR would like you to believe.

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