Because we are talking here about formative assessment, that adjective clearly indicates that the assessment is taking place while students are in the process of learning. Formative assessment evaluates a student’s current understanding or ability before, during, and after instruction. But that’s only part of it. The assessor and the assessed then need to do something with the results. If they don’t, this but adds further grist to the mill of popular opinion that as a nation, we are “over-testing and under-assessing” our students.
We Have a Clarity Problem
Some would say that in many U.S. schools today, there is a clarity problem. Others would go so far as to call it a clarity “crisis.” Teachers, and as a result, their students, are not crystal clear about what the learning outcomes are. Consequently, instruction is not as focused as it should be, and student learning is not as intentional as it could be.
Ask students what they’re learning, and most likely they will tell you what they’re doing. They confuse the context for learning (the means) with the learning itself (the end). The book, the project, the experiment, the activity—these are the means to the end, not the end itself.
Clarity: The Heart of Formative Assessment
In Dr. Popham’s 2011 keynote, he emphasized the vital need for clarity: “Clarity of intent is most important. If teachers know exactly what they want students to know and do, it will impact everything they do when designing instruction and assessment.”
Professor John Hattie’s research (Visible Learning, 2009) has shown teacher clarity to approximate a 0.75 effect size, meaning it has the potential of boosting student learning to the equivalent of nearly two years of growth in one academic school year.
He defines learning Intentions (Visible Learning for Teachers, 2012) as “what it is that we want students to learn, and their clarity is at the heart of formative assessment. Unless teachers are clear about what they want students to learn (and what the outcome of this learning looks like), they are hardly likely to develop good assessment of that learning.”
Components of Clarity
If assessment is to flourish–and not flounder–it cannot be an isolated, summative practice with no further purpose than the assigning of a letter grade to a pop quiz, a test, or an exam at the end of a marking period. Formative assessment, the focus here, must be part of an integrated system that has its foundation in CLARITY, as represented in this diagram: