The Ongoing Assessment Project (OGAP)
Research suggests that teachers’ skill with formative assessment is a key factor for improving student learning in mathematics (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Wiliam, 2007). In their extensive review of the literature on formative assessment, Black and Wiliam (1998) found substantial evidence linking formative assessment with higher student achievement, with typical effect sizes ranging from an impressive 0.4 to 0.7. Across these studies, formative assessment was shown to be particularly beneficial for low-performing students, which suggests that increasing teachers’ capacity for formative assessment has promise for closing the achievement gap.
Though clearly critical for improving student learning, formative assessment is challenging work. Numerous studies have concluded that teachers struggle to use assessment information to inform their own instructional practice (Heritage, Kim, Vendlinkski & Herman, 2009; Datnow, Park, & Wohlstetter, 2007; Kerr et al., 2006; Young, 2006). Central to effective formative assessment are the processes of eliciting evidence of student learning and providing feedback to students (Heritage, 2008). Despite the importance of effectively interpreting evidence in student work, research suggests that few teachers actually have the capacity to do so.
The Ongoing Assessment Project (OGAP) emerged from the work of the Vermont Institutes, founded in the 1992 with the mission of providing research-based professional development to Vermont educators. OGAP is a professional development intervention that trains teachers to use single or multiple math items of high cognitive demand to gather information on student thinking and then analyze that information using frameworks based on research on student thinking in mathematics (Bell, Greer, Grimison et Mangan, 1989; Harel, Behr, Post, & Lesh, 1994; Kouba, 1989; Kouba & Franklin, 1995). This analysis is then intended to guide instruction (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Popham, 2006). OGAP is currently being implemented in elementary schools and middle schools in grades 3-8 in several sites in three core mathematical ideas: (1) multiplicative reasoning; (2) fractions; and (3) proportionality.
The OGAP formative assessment system is based on the belief that teachers make more effective instructional decisions resulting in improved student learning when they: (a) are knowledgeable about how students develop understanding of specific mathematics concepts and about preconceptions and misconceptions that interfere with learning these concepts; (b) have tools and strategies that allow them to systematically monitor their students’ understanding prior to and during instruction; and (c) receive professional development focused on that knowledge, those tools, and those strategies. Four principles about effective instruction and assessment underlie OGAP’s design:
- Build on students’ pre-existing knowledge. Ignoring students’ initial thinking risks students developing understandings that do not match what the teacher intended (NRC, 2001b).
- Teach (and assess) for understanding. Because teaching for understanding “improves retention, promotes fluency, and facilitates learning related materials” (NRC, 2001b), OGAP items and tools are designed to elicit conceptual understanding.
- Use formative assessment intentionally and systematically. Research has shown that learning gains from systematically implementing formative assessment strategies into instruction are larger than gains found for most other educational interventions (NRC, 2001a).
- Build assessments based on the mathematics education research. A key recommendation from Knowing What Students Know (NRC, 2001a) is that assessments should be built on research on how students learn specific mathematics concepts.
These principles are seamlessly integrated into the tools, processes, support materials, and professional development that comprise the OGAP formative assessment system. For each content area (e.g., fractions, multiplicative reasoning), the OGAP formative assessment system includes:
- Item banks and pre-assessments designed to elicit students’ developing understandings, common errors, and preconceptions or misconceptions that may support or interfere with learning new concepts or solving related problems;
- Frameworks that synthesize the problem structures, problem situations, and typical learning trajectories for specific mathematics topics to help teachers analyze evidence in student work and make instructional decisions;
- Strategies and routines for gathering evidence in student responses prior to and during instruction and for informing instructional decisions;
- Materials to communicate research that provide teachers access to the research base on student thinking and help them use it to analyze student work, to maximize the use of activities in curriculum materials, and to make instructional decisions; and
- Professional development that focuses on specific mathematics topics, develops teachers’ knowledge of mathematics and the related research base on student thinking, and provides training in the use of OGAP materials and strategies.
OGAP is both a product and a process: professional development focuses on research about how children learn mathematics, providing a rationale for the design of the item bank and frameworks. It also shows teachers how to use those tools, and models routines that allow them to use them well.