Sunday, July 15, 2012

PLC Assessment - Surfing This Summer!


Writing as I travel this summer talking about high leverage teacher and administrator assessment behaviors and actions that really matter in the pursuit of improved student achievement goals. Since June, I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of great educators in St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Denver, San Antonio; this week in Louisville and Baltimore; and next week in Los Angeles and Orlando. And at every stop, we are engaged in deep work and reflective discussions about highly effective assessment processes at the teacher collaborative team level. 

In a PLC culture, it is expected that all aspects of formative and summative assessment are decided in collaboration with others at the grade or course team level - within well-defined boundaries monitored by the on site teachers and leaders.  As you develop your “Teachable Point of View  (TPOV) about Assessment as a collaborative team in a PLC  - Assessment becomes understood as a major inequity creator if left unattended. Widely variant levels of rigor, assessment instruments (like quizzes and tests), and assessment as a meaningful form of student feedback will result  - if assessment is not a focused coherent and intentional activity of your collaborative team.


The pictures at the right show several summer participants working to develop their Assessment TPOV together. 

As you think about the current assessment practices and processes used by teachers on your teams, what is it like? And how would you know with any certainty if it is of high quality and represents a process that will significantly impact student achievement?

The Popham Principle (TPOV)

James Popham (2011) states the case for a formative assessment process that gathers evidence in a variety of ways moving from “traditional written tests to a wide range of informal assessment procedures” (p. 36). Popham goes on to say, “Recent reviews of more than four thousand research investigations highlight that when the (formative assessment) process is well-implemented in the classroom, it can essentially double the speed of student learning producing large gains in students’ achievement; at the same time, it is sufficiently robust so different teachers can use it in diverse ways and still get great results with their students.”

In this new paradigm, you understand that school mathematics “assessments” are no longer driven by and limited to the traditional summative function or purpose of unit or chapter tests and quizzes: Assigning grades, scores, and rankings.  There now becomes an expectation that your collaborative team will use the assessment instruments and the information from them, to make improvements and adjustments to your instruction for student learning. Essentially, any traditional school assessment instrument used for a grading purpose is only one part of a much bigger multi-step formative process necessary for teacher learning and student learning (Popham, 2008).

It is an important distinction that formative assessment is not a type of unit or benchmark test students take. Formative assessment processes are different than the assessment instruments used as part of the formative process. Popham (2011) provides a distinguishing analogy to describe the difference between summative assessment instruments and formative assessment processes.


He describes the difference between a surfboard and surfing. While a surfboard represents an important tool in surfing, it is only that—a part of the surfing process. The entire process involves the surfer paddling out to an appropriate offshore location, selecting the right wave, choosing the most propitious moment to catch the chosen wave, standing upright on the surfboard, and staying upright while a curling wave rumbles toward shore. The surfboard is a key component of the surfing process, but it is not the entire process. 

High-quality school assessment practices then function to integrate formative assessment processes into your decisive actions about shaping instruction to meet student needs, progress, pacing, and next steps. Similarly, these processes inform your students about their learning progress and direction, enabling them to become actively involved and to make decisions and take ownership of their work.

And this process begins as  you and your collaborative teams find, develop or design great surfboards in advance of each unit of study. And yet,  great surfboards based on what criteria? What basis? I will share how to build and ensure you have great surfboards – aka common and high quality unit-by-unit assessments in my next blog entry from Orlando, Florida. 

Stay tuned!

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