When done right, testing is incredibly valuable

We’ve all heard more about the value of accurate, reliable testing in the last four weeks than at any point in our collective lifetimes. The crystal clear message from trusted scientists:

  1. Testing is essential to evaluate and address current conditions.
  2. The only thing worse than not testing is inaccurate testing.
  3. Accurate, ongoing testing is essential as circumstances change.

The same rules of evidence that apply in medicine apply in educational testing. And in Fall 2020 more than ever, educational testing will be critical to help students and teachers address learning gaps. Regardless of your views about the value of end-of-year high stakes tests, the evidence is clear that formative assessments will be the only path to overcoming the achievement gap schools will face in Fall 2020.

Large achievement gaps are likely unavoidable in Fall 2020

remote learning

It’s a safe assumption that through no fault of teachers, administrators or students, a disproportionate number of students will have  bigger learning gaps this Fall than in any other year. Anticipate those gaps will not just apply to content from March-June. Students are at risk for forgetting of most of what they learned in 2019-2020. Learning scientists know this is a likely outcome based on their understanding of how students learn and remember–the interrupted year will result in less repetition and content cycling, fewer direct connections to previously learned content, and less retrieval of prior content. Read this article from NWEA or listen to the Mindprint webinar on the science of memory for a deeper dive.

Realistically, teachers are doing all they can to adapt to remote learning. Teacher coaching can address some of the challenges inherent to remote teaching, but we are asking teachers to do something very different and very hard. Administrators would do best to give teachers clear guidance to prioritize and focus only on the content that matters most. Less is more this Spring. Once teachers have the clear direction they need, administrators have the time they need to actively prepare for 2020-21.

Now more than ever, schools must focus on formative assessment with small differentiated groupings.

Learning sciences has proven a reliable guide for what we should be doing in education. Yet, for a variety of reasons, most of what we know works from the learning sciences is not applied in most K12 classrooms. 2020-21 is an opportunity for administrators to change that and invest in what works. Not just the dollars, but the time. Using evidence-based strategies takes more time and upfront effort than using the shiny new app or off-the-shelf solution. However, this Spring administrators might actually have the time to spend on planning, preparation and training to do things differently Fall 2020. Yes, this could be the silver lining from corona.

With the amount of anticipated student variability in content knowledge when students return to school this Fall, it’s crucial that every student gets what they need and doesn’t spend precious time on what they have already mastered. The obvious solution is to deeply embed formative assessment  into curriculum and instruction. Formative assessment is shown to produce the largest ever reported gains for educational interventions but only when followed by small group, differentiated instruction. Yes, schools use formative assessment already. But how quickly do they take that data, adapt their teaching and differentiate their instruction? 2020-21 is the opportunity to for effective execution.

Formative assessment with differentiated small groupings is scalable and manageable

This change can happen! In order for any effective change to happen at scale it must be manageable and have teacher buy-in. Fortunately, there are multiple sources of how to effectively implement formative assessment. One option is the clear methodology laid out in the The New Art and Science of Classroom Assessment (Marzano, Norford, Ruyle). The book provides an in-depth stepwise guide to apply formative assessment in the classroom that will be manageable for all teachers.  As for teacher buy-in, it’s part of the The New Art and Science of Teaching framework from Dr. Robert Marzano, perhaps the most universally respected education researcher by administrators and teachers. If there’s one voice all teachers might agree on, it might be that of Dr. Marzano.

Yes, it will take work.  But administrators have the time. And what other choice do they have? It is literally the only solution that will address the near universal problem all educators will face this Fall, a problem that is unlikely to discriminate by zip code. And it just happens to be the right long-term solution educators should have been pursuing all along.

The implementation is straight-forward if we prepare

A simple plan for enormous benefit.

  1. April-June: Have teachers prioritize only the most important content and focus, focus, focus. Deliver the most important information in multiple ways, test it, and make sure students know it. Not just the Spring curriculum but review information from Fall and Winter that students must know for the next school year.
  2. First Week of School: Use standards-based assessments to accurately assess what students know and don’t. Use formative cognitive assessment to understand the most efficient and effective way to address those content gaps for each learner.
  3. First Month of School: Group students based on an accurate understanding of what they know and an objective understanding of how they learn best. To be clear schools give formative achievement assessments. This year they must be prepared to use the results to adapt their instruction quickly based on how students learn best. Teachers can anticipate and prepare for this small group differentiation over the summer with proper training and support. It’s not enough to know there are gaps. Teachers must learn how to efficiently respond to the gaps. In other words, what will they do differently when students struggle.
  4. Ongoing Iteration: Assess students with LOW STAKES formative standards-based assessments. Reorganize groups based on mastery and formative cognitive assessment data. Solicit student feedback and adjust instructional approaches as needed. If the goal is on learning, not grades or classifications, students will show growth and improvement without a lot of stress.

Aren’t convinced? Ask the scientists and look at the data.

2020 Formative Assessment Implementation Plan

2020 Formative Assessment Implementation Plan