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Summary of Peter Afflerbach on “Formative Assessments and the Common Core: Text Complexity to Task Complexity”

Posted by Elfrieda H. Hiebert on 16 July 2013

When teachers, students, and parents are asked to identify assessments, most are likely to name end-of-year state assessments or college entrance exams. These are examples of summative assessments. Summative assessments describe students’ achievement of proficiencies represented in standards such as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Summative assessments provide information on “the products” of the educational system. Are students able to comprehend grade-appropriate text? Are students able to summarize the content of two texts on the same topic?

Summative assessments have a firm place in the educational system. Students, parents, teachers, and community members need to know about students’ progress toward critical milestones in the learning process. But, as Dr. Peter Afflerbach states in his session in TextProject’s Virtual Institute, it is formative assessments that will determine whether students show growth on assessments that capture the goals of the CCSS. That’s because formative assessments occur within everyday instructional life and are the means whereby teachers get the information on students’ strengths and needs to design and implement appropriate learning experiences. Formative assessments describe the processes or progress along the way to the outcome or product. For example, if a goal for a particular grade is recognition of inferences in texts with increasing complexity, teachers need to be gauging the quality of students’ inferences and also the complexity of texts over the school year. Unless teachers recognize that students are not progressing in understanding inferences in narrative texts, for example, students will not receive the specific feedback that they require to develop more sophisticated ways of interacting with texts. Formative assessment is indistinguishable from good instruction. As teachers question and observe students, they are collecting information on students’ strengths and needs. Setting goals and keeping records loom large in the formative assessment process.

The first wave of work on assessments, within PARCC and Smarter Balanced, has been on summative assessments. But each of the assessment groups is committed to providing school systems with assessments that support teachers in ensuring that their students are on track to mastering CCSS standards. Smarter Balanced, for example, plans to provide a digital library of professional development materials, resources, and tools aligned to the CCSS. PARCC also plans to provide assessments for use by teachers to determine instructional choices that support their students’ mastery of grade-level standards. Professor Afflerbach’s presentation brings to the forefront the critical role of formative assessments in teachers’ creation of the learning experiences required by students to attain the proficiencies represented in the Standards.