I’m a huge fan of Jim Popham, though I have only met him twice and have never had the good fortune of working with him. I have worked with people who know him well, and kept hearing, “Jim Popham this and Jim Popham that…” related to changing the way we asses kids. Dr. Popham is Emeritus Professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and quite possibly the most engaging personality in the field of assessment.
Tonight, I read an article by Dr. Popham (A Process—Not a Test) that is in the April edition of Educational Leadership. I’ll get to that here in a second, but let me digress for a moment and share my tale of meeting Dr. Popham for the first time. Each year for Fathers’ Day, most of us assessment nerds gather in some steaming hot locale for a week of lectures on psychometrics, accessibility, and other assessment nerdery. In 2007, Nashville hosted the event. One afternoon, there was a big shindig on the General Jackson. (That’s a big paddle boat in Nashville, for those who’re unfamiliar.) Well, there I was at the little buffet area, and looked across the hors d’oeuvres and saw a name tag that read, “Jim Popham.” I was trying to get up the nerve to speak when he pointed at the chafing dish between us and asked, “What do you reckon that is?” or something a little less southern… So I said in response, “I’m not sure what it is, I’m having trouble concentrating on the food because Jim Popham is standing across from me.” Apparently this was a good response, because the rest of the time I was at the Large Scale Assessment Conference, Dr. Popham would speak to me when he saw me! (OK… back to the article.)
So ALL of that is to just to tell you that I have a new definition for formative assessment. I hope you’ll adopt it as well. Dr. Popham says, “Formative assessment is not a test. Rather, it is an ongoing process in which teachers use test-elicited evidence to adjust their instruction or students use it to adjust their learning tactics.”
So, those of us who give weekly spelling tests and think they are formative, need to consider the process. If a student fails the spelling test this week, are we adjusting our instruction next week or just moving on to a new list and doing the same type of lessons? Or, are we looking at the types of mistakes made and reteaching, adjusting, and retesting? *This doesn’t just apply to spelling tests, btw.
Are you using teacher-made or classroom level tests/activities to make adjustments to your instruction? Can you adopt Dr. Popham’s definition of formative assessment in your school or classroom? This is not a test. This is a process.
Your friendly assessment nerd, Porter