In administration we far too often focus on ‘what’ instead of focusing on ‘why’ when we communicate with faculty and staff. I had a Twitter-debate this afternoon about the value of Common Formative Assessments (CFAs) and it reminded me of some things administrators take for granted. The root of the debate focused on why would test students, who are all different, with the same assessment. This is an extraordinarily valid argument – especially if the why had never been explained. Below I will do my best to give a Cliff’s notes explanation of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ for CFAs that could be beneficial for administrators and teachers.
• As professionals we must be able to agree on essential content and skills for a particular course of study. Expectations for student learning in a given course of study should common. A student taking Algebra 1 in one room of a high school should have the opportunity to learn the same material as a student in a different classroom within that school.
• Expectations for student learning should be broken into smaller, easier to measure chunks. These may be referred to as standards, benchmarks, essential outcomes, learning targets, etc.
• Once the content is broken into smaller chunks, student’s progress toward those goals should be constantly measured.
• The purpose of the measure is to inform the teacher of students’ progress toward the stated goals. This may lead to remediation or enrichment for individual students or acceleration or re-teaching for an entire classroom.
• Constant assessment and feedback is necessary because all kids are different. We must be common and systematic because our kids are not.
• A progress monitor – CFAs are analogous to a physical, whereas a summative assessment is an autopsy
• CFAs can take on a myriad of forms. They do not need to be as standardized as teachers may fear.
• CFAs are assessments that need to inform future practice to be effective – to do that data must be collected.
• A locally created assessment that purpose is to help teachers – not hinder creativity.