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New Frontiers in Formative Assessment


reviewed by Heidi Legg Burross - August 09, 2013

coverTitle: New Frontiers in Formative Assessment
Author(s): Pendred E. Noyce & Daniel T. Hickey (eds.)
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 1612501176, Pages: 260, Year: 2011
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Assessment is too often a task considered only after instruction, and one that usually only targets lower-level cognitive and performance skills.  New Frontiers in Formative Assessment focuses on ongoing classroom processes, or “assessment for instruction,” (p. 1) as formative assessment should be.  All of the articles or chapters in this book stress the importance and necessity of formative assessment in a system that has become very attentive to summative assessments through standardized tests.  In fact, much of the evidence for the programs presented in this book comes from comparisons with statewide test results.  The book covers mathematics, English language arts, and science formative assessment, both with and without the use of technology.  Considerations for English Language Learners and students with disabilities are touched on in a few of the chapters.  Most articles include a valuable “lessons learned” component that highlights the best of the presented programs and future directions for assessment.


The first section examines methods of formative assessment for mathematics instruction.  With examples of student responses to formative assessment and a full model of how the process can be successfully enacted in the classroom, Foster and Popper’s discussion of the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative (SVMI) reinforces the notion that effective formative assessment includes an informed plan for re-teaching or “reengagement” (p. 21) of the content, which extends beyond the original teaching.  Their comparison to schools that had not implemented the SVMI supports the effectiveness of this interactive program.  They present a compelling and informative argument for this program.  The Celves and Mayrand article continues the examination of elementary mathematics education with very detailed descriptions and examples of the Mathematics Learning Community for teachers.  The article does not present empirical evidence of the program’s success and emphasizes the extensive time commitments and training needed for successful implementation, but has some anecdotal support.  As the editors emphasize in the last chapters, empirical evidence is not always possible, considering the recent creation of some programs and nature of their implementation.


Chapters Three and Four include technological programs for implementing, tracking, and evaluating student performance in a mathematics formative situation.  Ginsberg, Pappas, Lee, and Chiong discuss programs available for a variety of platforms, including desktop and hand-held systems that classify the learners’ level of comprehension.  This allows the teacher to group like-ability students for further instruction.  The authors also do a beautiful job of linking sociocultural theories to the program and student formative learning.  Their diagnostic interviews of students’ problem-solving processes get to the heart of formative assessment.  Unlike the other mathematics programs, the Agile Mind program described by Cook, Seeley, and Chaput is designed for use in secondary classrooms.  Replete with examples at individual and district levels, the program allows teachers flexibility to design their own open- and closed-ended items.


Part two of the book focuses on formative assessment of literacy understanding.  Poppers’ review of the Every Child a Reader and Writer (ECRW) program includes samples of writing for different quality indicators.  The characteristics of what distinguishes high from low quality writing are enlightening, even to the participating teachers in the study.  However, the report lacks strong evidence of the program’s effectiveness.  The Formative Assessments of Student Thinking in Reading (FAST-R) has carefully-designed items allowing for systematic error classifications: “out of place (OOP)” and “out of bounds (OOB)” (p. 112), that speak to the sources of misunderstandings.  These allow teachers to pinpoint methods for correcting student learning and response errors.  The Strategic Reader program described by Cohen, Hall, Vue, and Ganley includes some compelling case studies and relates to universal design for learning and curriculum-based measurement.  The authors present evidence for the program’s effectiveness for students with disabilities, one of the few studies to target this population.


Bailey, Huang, and Escobar’s discussion of science education in the third part of the book specifically includes approaches for working with English Language Learners (ELL) in gaining the language of academic science.  They document the added difficulties that ELL students have in learning academic language and methods for overcoming these.  The integration of language arts and science make up the approach documented in Tilson, Billman, Corrigan, and Barber’s chapter.  Their links to the Common Core standards and examples of general and specific rubrics along with student work are especially helpful.  Like many of the other articles, however, there is little empirical evidence to support the program’s effects.  Science education has two sources of technology reviewed by Damelin and Koile.  The LOOPS and RI-ITEST programs offer very teacher- and student-based methods of designing activities and rubrics for formative assessment in the classroom.  They describe the revision processes that these programs went through, based on feedback from teachers and students, making these programs more user-friendly and accessible.


Horwitz’s engaging chapter on his evolution of education-based technologies offers hard-learned lessons for how technology can be useful in formative assessment.  Although his experiences are with science curricula, the discussion imparts valuable wisdom about what works and what needs to be considered in designing and using technology with students.


This book would be very useful for consideration of school or department-wide implementation of formative assessment programs, but is overall less helpful for individual teachers who wish to use formative assessment in their classroom.  Most of the articles include grade- or school-wide teams of teachers working with mentors or coaches, requiring buy-in on a larger scale.  Another concern with most of these approaches is the amount of time needed to learn and use the programs.  Many use professional development time for introduction and collaboration, but individually assessing each student and evaluating the results adds to instructional loads.  


The editors acknowledge these drawbacks in the final chapters, offering criticisms of both the idea and implementation of formative assessment.  As many authors throughout the book do, the editors reinforce the notion that effective formative assessment requires that teachers understand the data they are gathering and use it to guide their instruction.  “Wider appreciation that educational outcomes differ from the learning process, and that both differ from teaching practices” (p. 208) confirms that alignment among classroom practices is still a difficult and misunderstood concept.


This book lives up to its name, presenting new ideas supported by examples and evidence about directions that formative assessment has taken in the past ten years.  Reading the book made me reconsider some of the assessment practices I implement in order to better benefit my students.  As with any instructional strategies, there is no one-size-fits-all effective classroom method, but this book does provide methods and ideas for improving teaching and learning.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 09, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17207, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 11:00:41 PM

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About the Author
  • Heidi Burross
    University of Arizona
    E-mail Author
    HEIDI LEGG BURROSS, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of practice in the Educational Psychology department at the University of Arizona. Her research interests include teacher preparation programs and assessment of students. Recent publications in Teachers College Record and Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin relate to individual differences in motivation and cancer survivors’ employment opportunities.
 
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