Chapter Three

How to Implement Formative Assessments and Standards-Based Grading? 

In this chapter, we will go over what to consider when moving to a formative assessment and standards-based grading model. It’s important to also include the right stakeholders during this change management project. 

Align Curriculum to Learning Goals and Standards

Ensuring your curricula across subjects cater to the learning goals established is necessary to remove any hurdles in your move to standards-based grading. Keeping the process of curriculum development open and transparent is also crucial. Teachers who understand the curriculum of the subject they teach can offer more refined and flexible instruction to their students. The potential for student success increases when teachers are aware of the expectations of them and those of their students. For this guide, we will only skim the surface of curriculum development. We do have more in-depth guides on curriculum development and the associated professional learning if you are interested in learning more.

Components of Effective Curriculum Development

  • Student Needs: Your students may have a wide variety of learning styles or excel in some areas more than others. Keeping the students top-of-mind while developing a subject’s curriculum will maximize their potential for success.
  • Teacher Contribution: Teachers spend the most time with students and can speak to how they engage with particular lesson styles. Involving a teacher team early on in the curriculum development process is a sure way to have a refined end product.
  • Experience: Reviewing and analyzing what has worked well in the past for students, and what has not worked so well, is critical. There may not be a methodical approach to this, but using your past experiences, teacher input, and tracking student performance are a few ideas. The past will inform how to build a solid foundation for the future.
  • Learning Philosophies: Does your school have strong values for developing lifelong learners, cultivating a sense of community, or perhaps promoting critical thinking? Include these values in each step of your learning goal identification and curriculum development.

Offer Relevant Professional Development

Professional development is not something to shy away from when it comes to shifting the style of assessment in your school. From the curriculum development process to in-class lesson plan delivery, having everyone on the same page with the same goals in mind will require hands-on training. If you have not spearheaded any professional development initiatives in your school, be sure to read our guide How to Create Professional Learning Communities to get started.

The goal of formative assessment is continual growth and learning for students, but this also applies to educators. Engaging in professional development on the regular will provide ways teachers can demonstrate the skills they are teaching to students. Most importantly, it will help them develop the most effective learning goals, curriculum, and daily lesson plans to serve students best.

The goal of formative assessment is continual growth and learning for students.

Sample of Key Questions for Professional Development

  • What is the most effective way to leverage an in-depth curriculum?
    • Embed learning goals into daily lesson plans
    • Continually update curriculum to maintain effectiveness
    • Provide clearly identified options for differentiated learning
  • What is the purpose of a grade?
    • Provide relevant and actionable information to students on their learning
    • Highlight the effectiveness of instructional and assessment practices
  • What are effective assessment tools and methods to determine a student’s progress towards mastery?
    • Evidence-based assessments
    • Written work samples
    • Oral samples

Creating lifelong learning habits in students requires constant work and attention.

Learning goals, aligned curricula, and professional development are not the only three components of implementing formative assessment in your school. However, they are foundational to cultivating the culture to support a true formative assessment system. They cannot operate effectively independent from the others. Just as creating lifelong learning habits in students requires constant work and attention, so do these three components. 
 

Who is Involved in the process?

There are many stakeholders in a student’s education – students, parents, teachers, administrators, and any support staff, including the technical team. While the well-being of the student is always at the epicenter of every decision, it is important to remember to balance the needs of all stakeholders so each party can best support the student’s learning journey.

Key Stakeholders to Consider

  • Students: The foundation of any decision, students are first and foremost the stakeholders to keep in mind. If a change in strategy does not maintain students as the primary benefactor it is likely not a wise shift.
  • Administrators: Policy and purchasing decision-makers are invaluable sponsors for introducing new assessment strategies. This group of stakeholders often has the budget and hiring influence to be able to perpetuate pedagogy within a district. With this in mind, top-level buy-in is essential to the longevity of any strategy.
  • Teachers: Being the parties with daily “front row access” to students, working with teachers to understand, accept, and implement a standards-based grading strategy is paramount.
  • Parents: Instructors spend a majority of the day with students, so it is important to build rapport with parents and help them understand the benefits of your new assessment strategy. Since you will not have the same frequency and duration of contact with parents as other stakeholders, clear communication is essential.
  • Technical Support: Updating, or replacing, an existing grading system to support standards-based grading will require the efforts of a technology team in your school. Keeping this team’s project manager informed of any pedagogical shifts that need technology support will ensure a smooth transition. Whether it is searching for a new tool to purchase or making updates to your existing solution, having a technical assistance sponsor is critical to keeping operations moving in the right direction.

All stakeholders should know what formative assessment is, why the shift is taking place, how success is measured, and what they can expect out of the process.

Keeping Key Stakeholders Engaged

Regardless of your school’s existing communication structure, engaging in early communication with all stakeholders is a crucial step when transitioning to formative assessment. Here are a few traits your engagement strategy should embody for all stakeholders. The message may need to be tailored for each party to convey the benefits or expectations of them, but the central message that learning is an ongoing process measured through assessment should be apparent.

  • Informative: All stakeholders should know what formative assessment is, why the shift is taking place, how success is measured, and what they can expect out of the process.
  • Consistent: Establishing clear and concise communication at regular intervals will assist to alleviate any discomfort during a transition.
  • Transparent: Who is the key contact for the initiative? Are all the main successes, or any roadblocks, being openly and honestly brought forward to stakeholders? 

 

Chapter Four Assessment Resources

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