Using Testing Data Right

By Douglas B. Reeves

One of today’s most popular education trends is the use of “formative” assessment. Unfortunately, much of the assessment occurring in schools is decidedly uninformative. The reason is not a lack of good intention by teachers and school leaders, but a failure to provide the time, leadership, training, and collaboration essential to ensure that the formative assessment is successful.

As a result, two schools can use the identical assessment but have dramatically different results. In the first school, the assessment yields information that guides improved teaching and leadership decisions. In the second, the assessment yields the same information, but constraints on time and attention force teachers and leaders to ignore the information and, thankful that the assessment intrusion has passed, continue current practices.

John Hattie’s groundbreaking research on more than 250 million students confirms that formative assessment has a profoundly positive impact on student achievement. His book, Visible Learning for Teachers, is a landmark in educational research. Still, education leaders and policymakers face a central challenge: Assessment is not “formative” because of the label, but rather because of how teachers and school leaders choose to use it.

Districts are making huge investments in assessments, but the return depends not merely on the quality of the test or dazzling technology, but on the teaching and leadership decisions that accompany it. Maximizing the value of formative assessment requires leaders to shift from observation to insight, from effects to causes, and from impressions to impact.

Subscribers please click here to continue reading. If you are not a subscriber, please click here to purchase this article or to obtain a subscription to ASBJ.