Informative Assessment

Assessments must facilitate individual and group learning, and empower students to gauge their own progress.

Informative assessment guides and facilitates learning. Teachers can use informative assessment to make instructional and curricular changes intended to yield immediate benefits to students. Likewise, students can students can maintain their work as demonstrations of their learning and use reflective and metacognitive practices for continuous and deep learning. A continuous or frequent stream of data can be used to monitor learning with the explicit purpose of ensuring a quality journey and timely arrival at the destination.

To understand informative assessment, consider the student as gamer. She is motivated to play because she gets feedback every few seconds. That feedback entices and enables her to "stay in the game," provided she has learned from prior experiences, monitors the current situation, pays attention to the constant feedback, and reacts quickly enough. "Failure" simply provides her a quick break before she gets back into the game-with renewed effort, new data, and new resolve to achieve new plateaus.

Another example of informative assessment might be the comments a student gets back from a circle of learning where peers critique the storyline and flow of her early version digital story. Here the goal is twofold. First, the student is provided with feedback so she might revisit, review, and improve current work (self-regulation of learning). Second, the intent is to provide information for responsive teaching so the next action by the teacher can be differentiated based on actual student needs and interests. The result is meaningful feedback.

Through informative assessment, students, teams of learners, and teachers can use evidence of current progress to adjust, adapt, or supplement the learning experience. Informative assessment serves as a GPS, helping all to see the current position relative to the destination, while judiciously avoiding judgments.

The type of data collection for informative assessment varies considerably, but might include student journals and self-assessments, peer reviews, teacher observations, student-teacher conferences, interim product analysis (based on rubrics), and others. Informative assessments are conducted during the learning process before any summative evaluation can occur and are typically ongoing and often not recorded.

Summative assessment, on the other hand, may take the form of the grade a student earned on a classroom assignment, a measure of program effectiveness, or a determination about whether or not a school has made adequate yearly progress. These are referred to as assessments of learning. While summative assessments are administered for the purposes mentioned, they can serve dual purposes and be used formatively as well.

As student work becomes more collaborative, technological, and inquiry-based, students are increasingly learning in online, informal, and team settings. As such, feedback is often generated by other participants working in the same virtual learning spaces and through joint development of wikis, blog responses, text messaging, verbal interactions, or video/audio responses. This is also the case when learners produce multimedia products, publish to the Web, and then peers, instructors, co-developers, parents and family, experts, and others provide feedback. This translates into a critical need for self-regulation of learning by students, coupled with clarity of goals.

Research Findings Related to Informative Assessments

According to Dr. Dylan Wiliam of the University of London, research findings from over 4,000 studies indicate that it is informative and not summative assessment that has the most significant impact on student achievement. (37) Wiliam, D. (December 2007/January 2008). Changing classroom practice. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 36-41. The research on informative assessment in learning stresses the key role of meaningful, timely, and continuous feedback on Deep Learning. For the assessment to be meaningful and timely, the student or team must be clear not only about the learning goals, but also on the criteria by which the learning will be measured.

A student's or team's thinking should be made visible through active learning strategies such as discussions, argumentation, papers, journaling, reflections, peer reviews or critiques, quizzes, response systems, and so on. Researchers also stress that such feedback must emphasize understanding of Deep Learning of content and process-not just memorization or procedures. Such feedback is most effective when students are provided the opportunity to use the data to revise their thinking and their work while the unit is still in progress-in other words, self-assess.

Researchers are also finding that opportunities for students to work collaboratively can increase the quality of the feedback. Today such opportunities can be augmented through technology and web tools. Similarly, it is important that the teacher approaches informative assessment with the intent of improvement rather than evaluation. That translates into a mindset where the teacher is continually seeking to rethink and adjust her teaching to meet the needs of learners. Whether the learning goals are self-initiated or established by the school, informative assessment through such feedback and revision cycles is a powerful aspect of learning. The use of effective informative processes in school establishes strong models for the student to use in more informal learning settings.

Summative assessment also plays a role in student learning, for it ultimately acknowledges whether or not the student or team has attained the goal. Doug Reeves recommends designing a "student-centered accountability system." (38) Reeves, D.B. (2004). Accountability for learning: How teachers and school leaders can take charge. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 160. Accessed Jan. 28, 2008 from http://shop.ascd.org/productdisplay.cfm?productid=104004E4. If informative assessments are effective, the summative assessment will be a formal, culminating affirmation of the accomplishments and, in some cases, an opportunity for public performance, publication, or implementation of the student's or team's work.

Two new elements of summative assessment are being reported in the research community. One is the issue of performance assessments augmented by scaffolds. Roy Pea discusses the need to recognize that many of the technology-based scaffolds such as web access to resources, web access to experts, access to productivity tools, and others should be fully accessible to students in summative assessments. (39) Pea, R.D. (2004). The social and technological dimensions of scaffolding and related theoretical concepts for learning, education, and human activity. Scaffolding: A Special Issue of the Journal of the Learning Sciences.

The second issue is the need to recognize a second type of learning beyond what the individual student is expected to attain by herself-that is, learning that is collaborative in nature that cannot be accomplished by a single individual. In this case, the assessment does review the individual's role in the teamwork, but is largely focused on the outcomes from the team effort. According to Kai Hakkarainen and colleagues, this moves beyond the acquisition metaphor for learning to the participation and knowledge creation metaphors. (40) Hakkarainen, K., Palonen, T., Paavola, S., & Lehtinen, E. (2002). Networked expertise: Professional and educational perspectives. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier. Barron, B. (2006). Interest and self-sustained learning as catalysts of development: A learning ecology perspective. Human Development, 49 (4),193-224.