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Informing the Practice of Teaching Using Formative and Interim Assessment: A Systems Approach

reviewed by Margaret Macintyre Latta - July 26, 2013

coverTitle: Informing the Practice of Teaching Using Formative and Interim Assessment: A Systems Approach
Author(s): Robert W. Lissitz
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623961114, Pages: 256, Year: 2013
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Current talk of assessment in many educative settings worldwide brings much anxiety to the forefront from students, teachers, administrators, parents, communities, and policy makers.  Assessment, as anxiety producing, is something ‘done’ to students, distinguishing ‘smart’ learners, ‘good’ teaching, ‘quality’ schools, ‘successful’ parenting, ‘prospering’ communities, and ‘effective’ policies. Rather, Robert W. Lissitz brings together a collection of authors into an edited volume, Informing the Practice of Teaching Using Formative and Interim Assessment: A Systems Approach, that confronts the shortcomings of such top down, good/bad, and right/wrong interpretations of assessment applied as a heavy-handed noun. Authors in this volume reorient assessment to be a verb, experienced as an ongoing productive task of teaching and learning for all involved, and drawing across multiple conceptions of assessment that ought to work systematically together to release and maximize learning’s powers and efforts.   

The edited volume is the outgrowth of the Maryland Assessment Research Center for Education Success Conference in October 2011 with participants compelled as Lissitz states in the Introduction, “…to translate assessment into something directly useful other than for accountability and evaluation” (p. vii). Lissitz opens the book confronting accountability’s preoccupation with summative assessments focused primarily on learning’s end products. He identifies how limiting this conception has been, often-disregarding learners’ needs and abilities with summative results unable to enable the needed immediacies of classrooms. Instead, Lissitz articulates his belief in the significance to be found within accountings of learning processes understood to be inseparable from their resulting products.  And, indeed, this becomes the task of the book project. Varied accountings are characterized by key assessment scholars in the field of education throughout all chapters as revealing tales of learners and learning that are generative for all involved.  The specifics of these telling tales and the rich terrain they disclose, call readers’ attention to the importance of interim and formative assessments from within the concrete practices of teaching. Interim assessments provide information on individual student growth and formative assessments enable curricular decision-making for all involved en-route.  Lissitz knows these forms of assessment offer much potential to teachers and their students and the contributing authors in this volume foreground why and how this potential needs to be seen, acted upon, and optimized.

Dylan Wiliam, Gage Kingsbury, and Steven Wise, in Chapter One, “Connecting the dots: Formative, interim, and summative assessment,” unpack how varying interpretations of the mission of education pull in contradictory ways depending on stakeholders’ perspectives that can be unproductive for, and often totally irrelevant to, informing teaching practices. Wiliam, Kingsbury, and Wise remind readers of the importance of placing students at the “heart” of this discussion and the decisions to be made. They seek a balance among assessment tools that “…serves the most important stakeholder well: the student” (p. 4). To do so, they identify key principles that center on enabling students’ learning efforts.  These principles envision a strong assessment system that utilizes the unique characteristics of all tools towards cultivating “assessment-rich” schools (p. 16).  

The necessary reciprocal nature of embedded roles of assessments within the conduct of teachers’ practical actions is examined in Chapters Two, Three, Four, and Five. Lori Nebelsick-Gullett, Cindy Hamen Farrar, Kristen Huff, and Sheryl Packman in Chapter Two, “Design of interim assessment for instructional purpose: A case study using evidence centered design in advanced placement,” chronicle their efforts to invest in teachers’ effectiveness to enhance students’ learning in an Advanced Placement Biology course. The linkages these authors identify as fostering interim assessments to form and inform learning, foreground the important role of teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge, suggesting critical implications for all professional learning. Investing within teachers’ capacities to promote student learning is also chronicled by Joan Chilos Auchter in Chapter Three, “Integrating student standardized and formative assessments with the national board for professional teaching standards’ teacher development process.” Auchter’s description of the Take One! Program demonstrates how an undergirding structure allowing for much teacher practice with student learning greatly facilitates the resources and conditions for larger-scale success. The importance of empowering teachers’ efforts to enhance student learning is further examined by Margaret Heritage in Chapter Four, “Using assessment data in real time: What teachers need to know and be able to do.”  Heritage distinguishes how teachers must concretely practice attending to student thinking to gain the needed visibility and tangibility to act on assessment data as it unfolds in classrooms. And, in Chapter Five, “The instructional influence of interim assessments: Voices from the field,” Lisa M. Abrams and James H. McMillan reveal how teachers’ capacities to see and act on interim assessment data holds significances for negotiating fitting relationships among curriculum, teaching, and assessment.

Considering how assessment practices can systematically act as catalysts for the participatory dynamic integral to learning, is illuminated in Chapters Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, and Ten.  William D. Schafer in Chapter Six, “Sourcing instructionally embedded formative assessments,” evidences how formative assessments must affirm the uncertainties and possibilities at stake within a given teaching situation.  And, Schafer concomitantly evidences how teachers’ authority within these efforts must be strengthened as means to optimize students’ learning. Kimberly O’Malley, Emily Lai, Katie McClarty, and Denny Way, in Chapter Seven, “Marrying formative, periodic, and summative assessments: I do,” envision the dynamic integral to learning as fueled by continually negotiating coherence across multiple assessment practices, thoughtfully seeking information to inform learners and their learning while communicating this information to all stakeholders. The question of what such coherence looks and feels like is Susan M. Brookhart’s pursuit in Chapter Eight, “Comprehensive assessment systems in service of learning: Getting the balance right.”  Brookhart expands the conception of balanced assessment, proposing a model grounded in assessment information for learning that considers interim benchmark assessments through classroom formative assessment strategies alongside large-scale accountability assessments through grading classroom summative assessments. Another formative feedback model is mapped out in Chapter Nine, “Errors in student learning and assessment: The learning errors and formative feedback (LEAFF) model,” by Jacqueline P. Leighton, Man-Wai Chu, and Paolina Seitz. In this model errors are understood as primary vehicles for learning with relevant ongoing feedback communicated among all involved that accounts for the emotional connectedness of all learning. The authors hope that the LEAFF Model is field-tested further to suggest more insights into the formative nature of all learning. Chapter Ten, “Defining systems for learning”, by Paul Nichols and Charles DePascale seeks to encourage the formative nature of all learning, proposing that it is timely to examine how the intersections of curriculum, instruction, and assessment as moving, changing relationships might function as a system that actually accounts for the individual/collective movement of thinking.  It is the authors’ hope that the chapter suggests to all stakeholders that dynamic system modeling is worthwhile for improving student learning across diverse classrooms, schools, and districts.

The edited volume concludes with the position articulated by Rick Stiggins and Steve Chappuis in Chapter Eleven that, “Productive formative assessment always requires local district preparation.” This chapter reiterates some permeating themes throughout the volume. First, Stiggins and Chappuis’s emphasis on the local reiterates a theme extending across all chapters acknowledging the particularities of given students, subject matter, and contexts, as necessary information to begin to address growth in learning. Second, Stiggins and Chappuis’s emphasis on the importance of the classroom teacher and school leader regarding assessment practices within curricular enactment, reiterates a theme extending across all chapters advocating for professional learning for teachers and leaders that enables their capacities to see and act within the conduct of classroom/school practices to further learning. Third, Stiggins and Chappuis’s emphasis on students’ direct involvement with assessment practices concerned with felt impacts and long term consequences on learning, reiterates a theme extending across all chapters that warns of how assessment practices over 60 years have not necessarily been student-centered. Stiggins and Chappuis (along with other authors) point to such disregard as an oversight that has had lived consequences that have described but not narrowed the achievement gap.  Fourth, Stiggins and Chappuis’s emphasis on local school districts taking action that enables them to “drive school quality” (p. 238), reiterates a theme extending across all chapters that assessment must be understood and enacted as a continual accompaniment of learning.  As such, teachers, school leaders and students need to be entrusted with wholly participating in assessment practices.  And, just how a cross section of assessment practices might be systematically incorporated into the particular needs of local contexts to genuinely support learning, is thoughtfully proposed by Stiggins and Chappuis in a series of action steps outlined in this final chapter. The action steps bring the book to a fitting close that not only sums up the collective commitments of all contributing authors to the volume, but also looks forward to directions for assessment that reorients how education is framed. It is a reorientation that confronts the detached, self-interested learning assumptions that frame education stakeholders as invested in assessment practices and policies seeking control and resulting in competition, and instead, orients toward social, co-operative, and interdependent learning assumptions invested in collective responsibilities for learners’ growth and wellbeing.

As a whole, this volume portrays a breadth of assessment practices, concretely interacting and shaping curricular practices, insisting on furthering learners and learning, as holding so much potential to give expression and account for learning in ways that acknowledge the formative nature of what actually is entailed within learning. The catalytic potential this volume suggests through its characterization of formative and interim assessment in education positions all stakeholders to confront what actually is at stake concerning assessment practices and policies, and seeks ways to collectively invest in learners and learning.  I find myself filled with much hope for investing accordingly as I conclude this book.  But, the action steps proposed by Stiggins and Chappuis must be boldly enacted for assessment practices in education to begin to reveal the potential this book in its entirety elicits. The importance of seeing and acting with such potential makes this book a most worthwhile read for all stakeholders in education as a way to initiate the needed enactment.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 26, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17189, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 10:38:33 PM

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About the Author
  • Margaret Latta
    University of British Columbia, Okanagan
    E-mail Author
    MARGARET MACINTYRE LATTA is Professor and Director of Graduate Programs & Research within the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. She is primarily concerned with the aesthetics of all human understanding that calls for rethinking and revaluing what is educationally important. Recent scholarship includes a published book, Curricular Conversations: Play is the (Missing) Thing, in W. Pinar, Studies in Curriculum Theory Series, published in 2013 by Routledge, and a Co-Edited volume (with Susan Wunder), Placing Practitioner Knowledge at the Center of Teacher Education: Rethinking the Policies and Practices of the Education Doctorate, in E. Hamann & R. Hopson (Eds.), Education Policy in Practice: Critical Cultural Studies Series, published in 2012 by Information Age Publishing.
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