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Formative Assessment in Mathematics Author(s): Margaret E. McIntosh Source: The Clearing House, Vol. 71, No.

2, Forms and Functions of Formative Assessment (Nov. - Dec., 1997), pp. 92-96 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Stable URL: . Accessed: 19/10/2013 05:10
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Formative in Assessment Mathematics


Sam a big fan of usingdefinitions as a starting pointfor I thinking about a topic, so let us look at a definition of
assessment from the National Council of Teachersof Mathematics (1995): "Assessmentis ... the process of gathering evidence abouta student'sknowledge of, ability to use, and disposition toward, mathematicsand of making inferences from that evidence for a variety of purposes"(3). Depending on your age, this definition may describe the experience you had with assessment in mathematicsduring your school career,but for most readers,"testing"was really the only kind of "assessment"we knew. Like clockwork, at the end of every few sections of our math book, there would be a quiz (for a GRADE) and at the end of every chapter,there would be a TEST (for a MAJOR GRADE). Then, no matterwhat grades any of us received, we would go off to the next chapter,where the cycle began again. Thattype of testing (of which there aremany varieties)is known in today's parlance as "summative assessment," defined as "a culminating assessment, which gives information on student's mastery of content" (Association for Supervisionand Curriculum Development 1996, 60). Table 1 summarizes the principal characteristicsof summative assessment. In contrast,the focus of this special issue of The Clearing House is "formativeassessment"(also see table 1). For the purposes of this article, the following definition of formative assessment will be used: "assessment which provides feedback to the teacherfor the purpose of improving instruction"(ASCD 1996, 59). This concept of assessment meshes nicely with the NCTM definition shown above. Formativeassessment-with or without that name-has always been found in the classroom, to an extent that depended on individual teachers' attitudes toward assess-

ment. The teacher who believes, as Grant Wiggins does, that "good teaching is inseparablefrom good assessing," already uses an ongoing cycle of teaching, assessment, assessment of the teaching, reteaching (as necessary), assessment,teaching, and so on. "Assessmentshould serve as the essential link among curriculum, teaching, and learnZielinkski and 1997, 223). ing" (Wilcox Although there can be overlap between some types of formative and summativeassessments, and although there are both informal and formal means to assess students, in this article, I will primarilyoffer suggestions for informal formative assessment for the mathematicsclassroom. The ideas presentedwill fall into threecategories (adaptedfrom Clarkeand Wilson 1996):

TABLE1 Characteristics of Summative and Formative Assessment Summative assessment Time At theconclusion of a learning activity Tomakea decision Formative assesssment

Duringa learning activity To improve Goal learning Return to material Feedback Final judgment Sometimes normaFrame of Alwayscriterion each (evaluating all reference tive (comparing student all students accordagainst the others); someing to the same timescriterion (eval- criteria) eachstudent uating to the according samecriteria)
fromR. Pregent. Source:Adapted 1994.Charting Your Course:
How to Prepare to TeachMore Efficiently.Madison,Wis.: Magna

MargaretE. McIntoshis a professor in the Departmentof and Instruction,College of Education, UniverCurriculum sity of Nevada, Reno and a consulting editorfor The Clearing House. 92

Inc. Publications,

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Vol.71, No. 2

Formative Assessment in Math


1 FIGURE ContentKnowledge Assessing Mathematical Indicate of each word/phrase yourknowledge a 1, 2, 3, 4, or5 infront of it.The belowbywriting the numbers five statements. signify following 1. I'veneverseen the word/phrase. 2. I'veseen the word/phrase, whatit butIdon'tknow means. 3. I know the word/phrase has somethingto do with... I know 4. I think whatit meansin math. in one or severalof its 5. I knowthe word/phrase formathematics. the meaning meanings, including and Equations UsingMeasures continuous angles supplementary acutetriangle opposites line equation of a segment length equations equivalent irrational number ray central cube angleof a circle perfect value absolute angles complementary vertical angles segment right triangle congruent segments vertexof an angle solvingan equation rational number straight angle perfect square angles congruent discrete obtusetriangle scientific notation solution endpoint squareroot realnumber midpoint cube root angle right angle

words they rated as 4s or 5s so you can assess content knowledge. This exercise is not used for a gradebut rather as formativeassessment to give the teacher an idea of students' understandings of the concepts before and after the unit of instruction. A second way of assessing students'content knowledge is the daily quiz sheet (Columba and Dolgos 1993). Each studentreceives a sheet (as shown in figure 2) at the beginning of the week. Then, each day, either as studentsenter class or as the closing activity for the day, four problems from a previous day's lesson or homework are given, and students enter each problem (and solution) in the four spaces for the day. The teacher can check these quickly or have a row gradercheck them. The sheets may be collected each day or at the end of the week, depending on the teacher'splan for using the assessmentinformation. The thirdsuggestion for formativeassessmentof content knowledge is performanceassessment. Entire books have been written on that subject; even though I cannot fully explain it in the context of this article, I would be remiss not to mentionit. Performance assessmentsare assessments "in which students demonstratein a variety of ways their of a topic or topics. These assessments are understanding on criteria"(ASCD 1996, 59). Baron judged predetermined and (1990a, 1990b, 1991) in Marzanoand Kendall (1996) identifieda numberof characteristics of performance tasks. Such tasks

2 FIGURE Sheet Quiz Daily

* The student'smathematicalcontent knowledge * The student's mathematicalprocesses, such as reasoning, communicating,problem solving, and making connections * The student's mathematical disposition, such as attitudes, persistence,confidence, and cooperativeskills

Assessing Mathematical Content Knowledge

If you agree with the notion that words are labels for concepts, then you will want to use the ideas shown in figure 1. I use this exercise as an informal pre- and postassessment.At the beginning of a new unit or chapter(and again at the end), I give studentsa sheet similarto this one, with vocabularytermsfor the unit listed. The first time you use the exercise, it is necessary to go over the five different levels of work knowledge, but students easily understand the idea that there are words they have never heard of and words that they know in several ways-and everything in between. (It is importantto read the words aloud to the class because there are some words that studentsrecognize when they hear them but not when they see them.) Then, have the studentswrite their best understanding of all the

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The ClearingHouse

November/December 1997

* are groundedin real-worldcontexts, * involve sustained work and often take several days of combined in-class and out-of-class time, * deal with big ideas and major concepts within a discipline, * presentnon-routine,open-ended, and loosely structured problems that require students both to define the problem and to constructa strategyfor solving it, * requirestudentsto determinewhat data are needed, collect the data, reportand portraythem, and analyze them to discuss sources of error,and * necessitatethat studentsuse a varietyof skills for acquiring informationand for communicatingtheir strategies, data, and conclusions. (93) Figure 3 is an example of a performancetask from a book that is must reading for anyone interestedin performance assessment, A Teacher's Guide to Performance-Based

Learning and Assessment (Educators 1996), written by teachersfrom a Connecticutschool district.I encourageall readersof this issue to learn as much as they can aboutperformance assessment. It is powerful-and it will change your teaching forever!

Assessing Mathematical Processes

Many of us would love to open up our students'heads so we could see the wheels turning as they solve problems. Because thatis not possible, we have to find ways to get the students to show us what they are doing. With some students, that is fairly simple because they are extremely metacognitivelyaware and don't mind letting others in on their secrets. Other students, though, rarely "think about their thinking"and so, of course, rarely let other people in on how they process (because they aren't even aware of it themselves). The following ideas work with both groups of students (and everyone in between); we just have to be more patient with the latter group. The good news is that once we begin asking adolescentsto reflect on their thinking and problemsolving, it startshappening. Interviewingstudentsis a powerful way to tap into their processing. In the best of situations, teachers would have time to interview students on an individual basis-at length. In reality,we don't have the time to do this, so we need to make time to (a) briefly interview students on an individualbasis and/or (b) interview groups of studentseither briefly or at length. Long and Ben-Hur(1996) found that the following phrases or statementsare helpful when interviewingstudentswho may not be fully forthcomingor expansive in their answers: * I aminterested in yourthinking. * Pleasehelpme understand. and you aretheteacher Suppose I amyourpupil. * I don'tthinkthatthisproblem is easy.Sometimes I get confused... don'tyou? * Sometimes I break whenI havedifficulties witha problem, it downintosmallsteps.Let'sdo thathereandfindout .... is modified.] [Theproblem * I like it whenyou takethetimeto think. * I understand now,but.... (107) Another marvelous idea for assessing students' mathematical processes is shown in figure 4 (adapted from Greenwood 1996). By using this evaluation sheet, we give students an opportunityto think about their processingand to give examples of what it is that they do. The first time I use the sheet, I model what it is I want studentsto do and the specificity of examples I am looking for. Then, I accept nothingless than what I know that they can do. Students are sometimes resistant to this approachbecause it involves a kind of thinkingthat some are not used to, but I persevere,and within a shortperiod of time am able to get the kind of formativeassessmentdata that is helpful to me in my teaching. Regardless of whetherwe are teaching seven-year-olds, seventh graders,or seventeen-year-olds,part of our task is

FIGURE 3 Task:Fast Food Math SampleMathPerformance Background A largenational fastfoodrestaurant hamburger thatread,"Seven an advertisement chainprinted each of allAmericans eat inourrestaurants percent Thereare Thischainhas 9,167 restaurants. day." American citizens. 250,000,000 approximately Task Youare an employee of a consumer advocate group in advertising. Youhavebeen askedto truth studying Do youthink it is probaconsider thisadvertisement. false?Your taskis to use logical blytrueor probably to analyzethe claimthis mathematical procedures of your made and writea summary advertisement opinion. Audience is The audienceforyourstudyandwritten summary the person in charge of the consumeradvocate group. Purpose Thepurpose of youranalysisandwritten is summary to to showthe use of logical mathematical procedures examine claimsmadein advertising. Procedure 1. Review the assessmentlistforfastfoodmath. 2. Rewrite the task inyourownwords. that is clearly 3. Makea list of all the information given. 4. Make a list of what needs to be estimated, assumed,orfoundout. and/or 5. Make those estimates assumptions. thatyou need. 6. Getotherinformation 7. Use yourmath skillsto analyze the advertisement. a summary 8. Write of yourfindings foryourboss at the consumer advocacy group.
#15. 1996. A Teacher'sGuideto Performance-Based Learning and Assessment. Middlebury,Conn.: Pomperaug Regional School District#15. Copyright1996. Reprinted

in Pomperaug SchoolDistrict Source:Educators Regional

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Vol.71, No.2

Formative Assessment in Math


FIGURE 4 Student/Teacher Mathematics Evaluation Sheet WhatI'd What the Use the following code to mark in each criterion. give myself teacherwould yourself give me
A = Always M = Mostof the time O = Occasionally S = Seldom N = Not at all


1. I can give clearandunderstandable of explanations the thought processesIgo whenI am solving through a problem. 2. I can use the materials to showthatthe mathematics I do makessense to me. Iget stuckon a 3. Whenever I can use whatI problem, know to get unstuck. 4. Iam ableto identify errors in answers,inthe use of mathematics materials, and in mythinking. 5. WhenI do a computation, I don'talwaysneed paper and pencil. 6. Whena strategy doesn't one work,Itryanother insteadof giving up. 7. Ican extend,orchange,a problem by askingextra or posingdifferquestions ent conditions. 8. I studyandpractice before tests andquizzes.

to teach them our expectations. If we expect students to reflecton theirthinkingandproblem-solving processes,then we must teachthemto do so. We need to (a) model our own reflections,(b) ask them abouttheirreflections,and (c) give them opportunitiesto reflect on their processes. In other words, we can't give up just because they are resistantto abouttheirmathematical giving us information processing.

Assessing Mathematical Dispositions

Disposition is defined as "one's usual mood; temperaWithteenagers,it is ment, a habitualinclination,tendency." not always easy to determinetheir disposition or temperament regarding anything, including mathematics. Too often, if their reference group has decided that "school is

not cool," then it is mandatorythat they use all their body language and facial expressions (and sometimes words) to indicate their disdain for our beloved subject. We mustn't accept this judgment at face value (no pun intended).The ideas in this section will allow you to determineyour students' mathematicaldispositions (sometimes without their knowing it!). The first idea I want to offer came about almost by a fluke. Another teacher and I were creating an assessment instrumentfor some researchwe were conducting.We had abouthalf a page left on the eight-pageinstrument and didn't want to waste the paper,so we decidedto pose the question in figure 5 (McIntosh and Draper,in preparation).It turnedout to be the best questionof the whole assessment!

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The ClearingHouse

November/December 1997

FIGURE 5 StudentSelf-Rating Scale 20. As a mathstudentinthisclass, I ratemyself on the following scale (putan X on the scale whereyou rateyourself). <-----1 ----2----3 ----4----5-----6-...78----9---10-----> the Nottoo bad, Totally awesome! Probably worstinthe nottoo good. Maybe the best inthe school. class. I ratedmyself thisway because

book, but I still don't get math. True or false? Explain your answer. Students' answers to questions such as these provide insight to the teacheras she or he plans instruction.Ignoring students' dispositions toward mathematicsis done at teachers'-and students '-peril.

We should not think that formative assessment is something that is added on to our already full curriculum.Formative assessment is part of good teaching. There should be a seamlessnessbetween instructionand assessment.The word formative comes from the Latin word meaning "shapeor form." Formativeassessment has as its purpose to shape upcoming instruction.If you use or modify the ideas offered in this article,you will find that your instruction is more targeted and more effective. Then, you can design more ideas of your own-and share them with as many otherteachersas possible.

Consider using this question at the beginning of the year, and then several other times throughoutthe school year, to get a sense of the changes taking place. I have found thatadolescentstudentsarewilling and able to be more truthful when asked to write their thoughts down than when asked to sharethem publicly. For this reason, I use learninglogs as often as possible to learn about students'dispositionstowardmathematics.The term learning log is not one that I originated,but it is one thatfits my philosophy of how writing looks in the mathematicsclassroom. The first part of the term states the purpose of the forwriting:learning.The second partconnotes a particular A that is not meant to be mat, is, runningcommentary. log a polished piece of writing, taken throughdraftafter draft. Commander and Smith (1996) defined the purpose of learning logs as "reflectionson specific cognitive aspects of learning ... [emphasizing]the connection or personal engagementwith academic skills and techniques"(447). In the book WriteStarts: 101 WritingPromptsfor Math (McIntoshand Draper 1997), we offered a variety of ways to use learning logs to assess students' attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes about mathematics. The following are some of the writing promptssuggested: * What does a mathematician look like? * My ability to do math is ... * When I am in math class, I feel ... * Mathematics has good points and bad points. Here's what I mean ... * I study, I pay attention, I take notes, I read my math

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Developing performanceassessments.Facilitator's guide. Alexandria, Va.:ASCD. Clarke, D., and L. Wilson. 1996. Valuing what we see. In Emphasis on Assessment:Readings from NCTM'sSchool-Based Journals, 114-17. Reston, Va.: National Council of Teachersof Mathematics.First published in MathematicsTeacher(Oct. 1994). Columba, L., and K. Dolgos. 1993. Tips for beginners:Daily-quiz sheet. MathematicsTeacher86: 378-79. N. E, and B. D. Smith. 1996. Learninglogs: A tool for cogCommander, nitive monitoring. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 39(6): 446-53. Educatorsin Connecticut'sPomperaugRegional School District 15. 1996. A teachers' guide to performance-based learning and assessment. Reston, Va.:Association for Supervisionand Curriculum Development. Greenwood, J. J. 1996. On the natureof teaching and assessing mathematical power and mathematical thinking.In Emphasis on assessment: Readingsfrom NCTM'sschool-based journals, 106-108. Reston, Va.: National Council of Teachersof Mathematics.First published in Arithmetic Teacher(Nov. 1993). Long, M. J., and M. Ben-Hur. 1996. Informinglearningthroughthe clinical interview. In Emphasis on 'assessment': Readings from NCTM's school-based journals, 106-108. Reston, Va.: National Council of Teachersof Mathematics.First published in ArithmeticTeacher (Feb. 1991). Marzano,R. J., and J. S. Kendall. 1996. A comprehensive guide to designdistricts,schools, and classrooms.Alexandria,Va.: ing standards-based Association for Supervisionand Curriculum Development. McIntosh,M. E., and R. J. Draper.1997. Writestarts: 101 writingprompts for math. Palo Alto, Calif:. Dale Seymour. "There,I finally said it": Middle School Students' Self-Ratings. Manuscriptin preparation. NationalCouncil of Teachersof Mathematics(NCTM). 1995. Assessment standards for school mathematics.Reston, Va.: NCTM. Pregent, R. 1994. Chartingyour course: How to prepare to teach more effectively,Madison,Wis.: MagnaPublications. Wilcox, S. K., and R. S. Zielinski. 1997. Using the assessmentof students' learningto reshapeteaching.MathematicsTeacher90(3): 223-29.

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