Book review: Transformative Assessment in Action: An Inside Look at Applying the Process

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By Ken Draut
Ken.Draut@education.ky.gov

Transformative Assessment in Action book coverTransformative Assessment in Action: An Inside Look at Applying the Process by W. James Popham might be the best testing book I’ve read in 25 years.

Written in 2011, Popham outlines how to apply the process of formative assessment to a classroom. There are no silver bullets in improving education, but this book is worth its weight in gold.

Popham provides a more formal definition of formative assessment in an earlier work, but reminds us formative assessment “is a planned process in which teachers or students use assessment-elicited evidence to improve what they’re doing.” Formative assessment is not a test; it is a planned process resulting in instructional changes that help students learn. Notice one of the key words is “planned.” The formative process is well thought out and systematically collected, and then the data is used by the teacher to make improvements in instruction. The most important thing about formative assessment is “what goes on inside a teacher’s head” as the teacher reviews the data collected from a variety of methods. Instructional ideas and adjustments are keys to making formative assessment one of the most powerful tools.  

The research results of formative assessment, applied in the correct manner, clearly show the positive impact on student learning. Formative assessment works, and as Popham says, “it works big time.” My personal problem with formative assessment has been that I clearly get the power of formative assessment, but I just keep wondering “how do I apply the ideas to classroom?”

My wondering was taken care of, starting in chapter 1. Popham lays out five applications for formative data:

(1) to make an immediate instructional adjustment

(2) to make a near-future instructional adjustment

(3) to make a last-chance instructional adjustment

(4) to make a learning tactic adjustment

(5) to promote a classroom climate shift

Popham devotes a full chapter to each of the applications listed above, but first you’ll be introduced to the foundational idea of learning progressions. Throughout each chapter Popham provides concrete ideas that can be applied in the classroom and offers real-life teacher scenarios on how to use formative data to make instructional changes.

One of my favorite sections of each chapter deals with the types of assessments to use to get useful feedback. For instance, in the chapter on immediate instructional adjustments Popham lists some useful formative assessments:

(1) thumbs-up/thumbs-down

(2) letter card responses

(3) whiteboard and other technology responses

Each chapter provides specifics and specifics is what is needed to make formative assessment useful.

To make it more useful, I can picture a book study that could start in September and conclude in December. Here’s how I’d do it: I would set up the study group to meet every two weeks from September through December. The group would read a chapter, discuss it and then go and apply the learning for a two-week period. Upon reconvening, the group debriefs on efforts to apply the ideas to the classroom and also discusses the next chapter. Continue this model until the book is finished. At the end of the process, not only have teachers read the book, but they have also applied the learning to their classrooms. A more detailed plan is provided at end of this article.

Transformative Assessment in Action: An Inside Look at Applying the Process is a very important book. It has concrete ideas and will lead classroom teachers to a better understanding of the formative process and how it can help with student achievement.

Detailed Outline for Book Study

September 4: Introduction and Chapter 1: Applying the Formative Assessment Process and Chapter 2: Learning Progressions. Group members read prior to the meeting, and at the meeting, discuss assigned chapters.

September 17: Chapter 3: Immediate Instructional Adjustments Based on Assessed Performance. After reading and discussing, then take two weeks to go and apply some of the ideas of chapter 3. In the two-week period, also read chapter 4.

October 1: Discuss the success and concern of applying chapter 3 in the classroom. What lessons were learned; what other experiences are needed? Discuss chapter 4 in general, and then take two weeks to apply some of the ideas in chapter 4. In the two-week period, also read chapter 5.

October 15: Discuss the success and concern of applying chapter 4 in the classroom. What lessons were learned; what other experiences are needed? Discuss chapter 5 in general, and then take two weeks to apply some of the ideas in chapter 5. In the two-week period, also read chapter 6.

November 5: Discuss the success and concern of applying chapter 6 in the classroom. What lessons were learned; what other experiences are needed? Discuss chapter 7 in general, and then take two weeks to apply some of the ideas in chapter 6. In the two-week period, read chapter 8.

November 19: Discuss the success and concern of applying chapter 7 in the classroom. What lessons were learned; what other experiences are needed? Discuss chapter 8 in general, and then take two weeks to apply some of the ideas in chapter 6. No additional reading during this two-week period.

December 3: Discuss the success and concern of applying chapter 8 in the classroom. What lessons were learned; what other experiences are needed?  Assign chapter 9 and the conclusion to be read.

December 14: Discuss chapter 9 and conclusion and wrap up discussion of how the book’s ideas may help with instruction in the future.

Ken Draut is the associate commissioner of the Office of Assessment and Accountability at the Kentucky Department of Education.

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