CPRE : Consortium for Policy Research in Education

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Meeting Paper

Testing to Test? Expectations and Supports for Interim Assessment Use

Google “formative assessments” on a single day in July 2006 and you got 578,000 hits; by March 2007, the number was up to 783,000. Interest in such assessments is exploding, and expectations for what formative assessments can do for our students are great. The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 provides the high-stakes backdrop to the growing interest in and expectations for formative assessments. In response to NCLB, districts, schools, and teachers are experimenting with interim measures intended to capture students’ understanding and knowledge so that instructional action can be taken before more summative measures are given.

Although the rhetoric around formative assessment asserts the utility of everything from teacher-made assignments and quizzes to district-mandated benchmark testing for diagnostic and other instructional purposes, few studies have been conducted of how formative assessments are actually used. While there is acknowledgement that such assessments may be effective in improving student achievement and that students benefit from meaningful feedback, we know little about how educators use the data or about the conditions that support their ability to use the data to improve instruction.

The findings presented in this paper are drawn from an NSF-funded exploratory study of elementary school teachers’ use of formative assessments in mathematics. The study also seeks to identify the ways in which policies can support teachers’ uses of formative assessment for instructional improvement. In this paper we focus on expectations for formative assessment use, policy supports for assessment use; and teacher assessment practices, from the perspective of district, school, and teacher respondents in nine schools located in two school districts. Because our presentation is drawn from a preliminary analysis of our district interviews and only our first round of teacher interviews, we must stress that these findings are preliminary.

Publication Date

January 2007