Formative Assessment in Practice: A Process of Inquiry and Action
reviewed by Randall Davies - June 05, 2015
Title: Formative Assessment in Practice: A Process of Inquiry and Action
Author(s): Margaret Heritage
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 1612505511, Pages: 176, Year: 2013
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For those of you who havent been paying attention, public schools in America are currently experiencing an educational crisis regarding the need for and proper uses of assessment. Some aspects of this assessment predicament are likely exaggeratedother facets of the issue, specifically the need for formative assessmentare real.
In her book, Formative Assessment in Practice: A process of inquiry and action, Margaret Heritage addresses the assessment problem from both a practical and a scholarly perspective. For those interested in the practical aspects of assessment, Heritage provides a comprehensive approach to personalizing student learning using formative assessment. She politely refrains from directly stating that of these two fundamental purposes for assessment, formative evaluation is by far the most important, and that implementing the strategies she presents in this book will improve education more than summative assessments (focused on accountability or certification) ever will. For those interested in gaining a more scholarly understanding of assessment, Heritage explains the theory behind formative assessment (i.e., why it works) and offers compelling reasons why responsible educators ought to employ it, as well as why policy makers ought to support it.
Heritage bases her exploration of assessment theory on a childs rights approach to assessment. She then supplements this with an explanation of basic principles of learning and the role formative assessment ought to play in the teaching and learning process. Heritage explains that assessment has two fundamental purposes: to provide information about student achievement (what Heritage calls a past-to-present focus), and to identify future possibilities and learning opportunities (a present-to-future perspective).
It is the second purposeobtaining and using evidence of learning through formative assessmentthat this book addresses. If I had a complaint about the book on this point, it might be that the author diplomatically avoids pointing out that much of the presumed educational crisis we face today is largely due to the fact that we focus too much on testing for the purpose of describing students past achievement. I would point out (as the author does) that this book is not about tests and testing, rather it provides a set of practices and principles that research has found to be effective for improving the learning of individual students. Heritages goal to personalize learningwhat she describes as fostering a students ability to learn independentlyis accomplished by implementing an approach to education that involves developing a community of practice within the context of the classroom.
A community of practice requires that students and teachers establish a working relationship based on a common desire to learn. Learning progress in such a community is monitored and informed through formative assessments. Students and teachers then interpret and use this evidence to inform future possibilities. It is the actionable information provided by formative assessments that fuels an effective community of practice. Heritage points out that actionable information based on evidence provided through formative assessment may help teachers adjust their instruction, and it should help students adjust their learning efforts and focus.
Throughout her book, Heritage provides examples and practical guidelines for using formative assessment with academic, theory-based underpinnings. She explores these practices and insights from an international perspective. For me personally, Heritages observations about assessment theory and her call to refocus assessment practices are insightful. As she explains in the final chapter of the book, we as a society need to recommit and return to developing a learning culture in schools, moving away from the testing culture that currently prevails in the United States and many other countries. This book would definitely be a valuable resource for educational practitioners and policymakers who wish to improve learning for individual students in schools.