I clearly remember the excitement I felt in my first workshop about formative assessments. I was thoroughly convinced that by giving quizzes over each (grammatical/vocabulary) learning goal, re-teaching the students who scored less than 80% on these quizzes, and then retesting them on the same material, I would ensure that all of my students would be successful in learning the language. Always willing to reinvent the wheel, I dutifully began setting measurable goals, writing several different formative assessments for each goal, planning remedial activities for the students who scored less than 80% on the quizzes, and developing enrichment activities for the students who had mastered the goal the first time. I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do and my administrators were happy to check the “uses formative assessment to guide instruction” boxes on my annual evaluations.
If only I could contact each one of those students and apologize for putting them through that process! The students who struggled with grammatical accuracy continued to suffer through boring exercises while those that had mastered the verb conjugations, pronoun substitutions, adjective agreement, etc. were able to spend time on the authentic reading and listening activities that I had developed so that they would have something “fun” to do while I worked with their classmates. The problem was that even when the “low achievers” were eventually able to show mastery on the structural learning goals on the objective formative assessments, these skills did not translate to a high level of proficiency on the performance-based summative assessments. To make matters worse, these students never had the opportunity to spend time on the interpretive activities that would have no doubt increased their proficiency in a more meaningful way that the “drill and kill” activities I used for remediation.
It now seems to me that the mistake I made was not in accepting the value of formative assessments, but in failing to consider what the terms “data” and “differentiation” would mean in a proficiency-based classroom. At that point in my understanding, I defined data as a numerical value, leading to my mistaken assumption that my formative assessments needed to have right and wrong answers so I could determine my arbitrary 80% cutoff score. Furthermore, I considered differentiation to refer to dividing students into separate groups based on their score and to give each group entirely different types of assignments. While these understandings may have worked in other subject matters, they did not lead to greater language proficiency!
As my understandings have involved, I have modified my definition of data and differentiation. Rather than a score on a grammar quiz, I will now derive data by completing a rubric on performance-based formative assessments. By providing feedback rather than a score on their work, I hope to encourage my students to focus on their learning and not their grade. Differentiation is inherent in this new framework, as the individualized feedback provides the information the student needs to progress along the proficiency path. Students will be given multiple performance-based formative assessments throughout the unit, and then encouraged to use the feedback they receive to set goals for the summative assessment. As an added benefit of these new grading practices, I am no longer correcting stacks of grammar quizzes or entering multiple columns of scores into my gradebook. Instead, my students will now submit a portfolio showing their achievement on a formative assessment for each proficiency-based learning goal. I will assign a score only on the portfolio, which will be based on both the quality of the performance and the student’s goal-setting.
Click here to see the rubrics I use for formative performance-based assessments: Formative Rubrics
Click here to see the portfolio guide that I use for student goal-setting: Portfolio de Progrès
How do you use formative assessments in your class?