To Fret or Refocus: That is the Question!

To Fret or Refocus: That is the Question!

Ruth Sutton, one of AAC’s long-time assessment friends posed the following question at the Fall 2015 AAC Leadership Day.

How do you hang onto your sanity and your confidence and your resilience and your health when things around you seem to be changing, and not always rationally?

Ruth continued:

In that environment of external change – about which we can do not much – you’ve got some choices. You can either fret about things you can’t control, or you can begin to refocus on the things that never go away.

To say that things are challenging right now, both in the world as a whole as well as in the world of education, would be an understatement. And we have a choice. We can either fret or refocus.

Whether we are teachers or leaders, there is power in refocusing our efforts on improving our understanding and our practice in the area of formative assessment. But with all of the possible areas where we could focus our attention, why choose formative assessment?

Rick Stiggins, another long-time assessment friend of AAC, provided some sobering advice. After recapping the research base in the field of formative assessment, Rick warned that these impressive results were not available if one or two teachers did it some of the time. He emphasized that there needs to be a commitment within a school and a district to these principles of formative assessment.

Formative assessment is not an initiative. It’s not a quiz without a grade, or a bin equal to zero in a digital marks program. When done well, formative assessment is the way we do our work so that we ensure all students are learning. Dylan Wiliam calls assessment the “bridge between teaching and learning.” He continues to remind us that effective formative assessment happens “minute-by-minute” and “day-by-day.” It’s something that never goes away.

In the 1998 publication Inside the Black Box, Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam boldly asked four key questions in regard to formative assessment.

  • Is there evidence that improving formative assessment raises standards?
  • Is there evidence of room for improvement?
  • Is there evidence of how to improve formative assessment?
  • Are we serious about raising standards?

What might our responses be to those same questions today?

Regardless of what transpires in the education sector – new curriculum or not; more large-scale testing or not – no one can ever take away the power that comes to students and teachers when they engage in true formative assessment. No one.

We’ve come a long way on this journey, and while sincerely honouring all the amazing things that are happening in classrooms all across our province, we likely can agree that we’re not quite ‘there’ yet!

So while we continue in a time of uncertainty, let’s consider Ruth’s advice. Let’s refocus on things that matter. The principles of classroom formative assessment make a difference for students.

Stay tuned… AAC is with you on this journey!

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