Monday, July 18, 2016

Formative Assessment and the NGSS – Part 2

A new colleague here at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Lauren Zellmer, read through my last blog on formative assessments. Her question was, “What specifically do teachers do with the information once they’ve conducted these formative assessments?” Great question! I decided to write a Part 2 of the formative assessment blog, where I’ll share a few more details for possible instructional next steps based on hypothetical results.

First teacher – Rubric on modeling

In the first example, the teacher collected whole-class and individual information using a modeling practice rubric, as he walked around asking probing questions and jotting down student names across the rubric continuum. After some reflection in pairs, he had a few students share their models in order to highlight key aspects of the practice, which will help build capacity in all students. Depending on students’ level of understanding, further support might include the following:
  • If he found that most students did not fully understand this element of modeling (mostly 1’s and 2’s), he could provide scaffolded modeling instruction in the next part of the lesson requiring modeling. He would prepare a modeling handout which lists possible elements of the model and requires students to note whether to include those aspects and why. Students already proficient would complete models without that scaffold. 
  •  If he found that understanding is fairly varied (largely 2’s and 3’s, with some 1’s and 4’s), the teacher could provide further time for group reflection and sharing. That further reflection would best happen immediately—after a few, selected groups shared elements of their models, the class could get back in pairs to improve their models based on those ideas. And, next time modeling occurs in a lesson, the teacher could repeat a similar in-depth process, like the first time, to continue to provide significant support. 
  •  If he found that most students proficiently performed this aspect of the practice (largely 3’s, with some 2’s and 4’s), he could make a note of which students are still struggling. The next time modeling happens, instead of moving around the class generally to assess where students are at, he could narrowly focus his support and questioning on those students. He might provide them some in-depth small group help, with scaffolds provided. He could also pair them with proficient students where he knows they won’t just be given answers, but meaningfully supported in their learning.
Second teacher – Testable questions
In the second example, the teacher had students write questions about biodiversity while on a nature walk, thus collecting whole-class and individual information on whether students could write testable questions. The next day, with the whole class, she shared useful “yellows,” where students’ questions needed more work, and “greens,” where students’ questions were testable. She also made some notes in a file as to where the class seemed to be overall with this skill. Depending on students’ level of understanding, further support might include the following:
  • If she found that most students could not write a testable question (lots of “yellow”), she should do more than read through notable yellows and greens. After that review, students could receive more practice in a guided, whole class discussion, evaluating a series of questions, noting whether or not they’re testable, and fixing them to make them testable. Then, she could ask students in small groups to collaboratively revise their questions to make them testable. These groups would include a student who did proficiently demonstrate this skill where possible. 
  • If she found that about half could write testable questions and half could not, I would again suggest she have students rewrite their questions in small groups. For students still struggling after a round-two attempt, she could support them in a small group with an activity like that noted above (evaluating examples together). The remainder of the students might begin some independent research or brainstorming on the design of the investigation to answer their questions. 
  • If most could write testable questions, she might provide individual help to students still struggling with their questions after the discussion of the greens and yellows. Those students could use the reviewed questions as models to revise their own, with the teacher ensuring they can explain why their original ideas were not testable.
Formative assessment is “assessment for learning”. Teachers need specific ideas as to what strategies they’re going to implement depending on the results of the formative assessment. They also need some way to record progress, not only relying on “gut feelings” and memory (my brain and gut, at least, aren’t that reliable). Having some class assessment notes on a page or a rubric can be a quick means to do so.  Finally, coming together with peers to discuss the data and possible strategies is critical to moving forward as a science department (and community).


  1. Very helpful information, Kevin. Would you post or link me to a few examples of testable (green) and not-quite-testable (yellow) biodiversity questions? Thanks

    1. Thanks, Tyson, for your question. Here are a few ideas of questions that students in a HS (or maybe MS) classroom could test related to biodiversity in their school grounds: 1) Which non-native plant species do we have on our school grounds? And, what patterns do we notice about the diversity of insects in an area with many non-native plants vs. a many native plants? 2) If we grow native plants in an area, do we notice a change in the animals observed in that area? 3) If you live in a more arid environment and can turn off the sprinklers… which plant systems do we observe supporting native plantings better survival in drought conditions than non-native plantings, and how do they work? 4) How does the biodiversity of our school grounds compare to a nearby natural area?

      --Here are a few ideas for questions that would need more work: 1) How do skunks affect the biodiversity of our school grounds? 2) Will biodiversity on our school grounds lead to more sustainability? 3) What is the scale of biodiversity on our school grounds necessary for a sustainable ecosystem? 4) Does biodiversity improve asthma symptoms?
      Other ideas or reactions to these questions?