The Benefits of Formative Assessment in a Time of Accountability

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By Doug McNally, MKEA Regional Coordinator, Berkshire Region

As a long time school principal, I am very sensitive to the difficulty school administrators have connecting the dots among the array of initiatives they are called upon to implement. We have to develop school improvement plans aligned with district plans. We have to align our evaluation practices with new guidelines, including assisting teachers in developing SMART goals that support the school plan and will help them improve student achievement. Principals are called upon to ensure that the curriculum is aligned with current standards and that it is consistently implemented in all classrooms. Furthermore, we know that to effectively implement the strategies required by RETELL, such as tiered instruction and tiered vocabulary development, we need some way to formatively assess students’ proficiency; all this in the time of accountability and high-stakes testing. No wonder that some principals feel a bit overwhelmed by the requirement that they oversee the implementation of an observational assessment tool in the classrooms of their very young kindergarten students.

But in fact, the use of GOLDTM by Teaching Strategies is a vehicle that can enable schools to bring order to all the challenges they face.

Since data is the basis of much of a school improvement plan, and SMART goals must be measurable, the lack of data points for children below grade three has been a challenge. Many of the assessment tools for young children are screenings or diagnostic tools that teachers do not find useful to assess their students’ ongoing progress. Here are a few ways that the implementation of GOLDTM as the Massachusetts Kindergarten Entry Assessment can support administrators’ and teachers ‘ efforts to comply with the myriad of mandates they face:

  • Embed MKEA in your school improvement plan as part of a goal to increase teachers’ use of formative assessment to inform instructional decisions.
  • Help teachers create SMART goals that use GOLDTM benchmarks as measures of student growth.
  • Use the free technical support and training provided by the Collaborative for Educational Services (CES) to help your teachers understand the power of observational formative assessment to improve student learning.
  • As your teachers are trained in RETELL strategies, have the teachers of young children intentionally implement observational formative assessment as their way of assessing the effectiveness of the strategies they learn.
  • As teachers create aligned curriculum units, have them build in observational formative assessment as a way to assess the effectiveness of their curriculum.

Early educators have always observed their children to assess their progress. The use of technology to allow them to document the child’s growth in a way that enables them to make informed decisions about their curriculum and instructional strategies can make assessment as an integral part of teaching young children more effective. Let your teachers know that you know that observing children’s progress is not something new, but rather that making an informed decision about how a child is progressing in the many domains of child development and documenting it is a way to make this best practice more effective, and a way to help children thrive.

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