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Tools of the Trade: Formative Assessment

by Rita Sorrentino
On Tuesday’s Election Ballot in Pennsylvania, voters had an opportunity to decide on a constitutional change to provide property tax relief. Although the choices were simply a YES or a NO, the issue certainly needs conversation for clarification and details for deliverance. For adults, paying taxes is not high on a to-do list. And for students, test taking is an often-dreaded part of the learning process. Interestingly, both of these unpopular activities have their roots in the Latin, assidere, “to sit beside.” Used originally as a function of an assistant-judge whose task it was “to sit with counsel or office” in the context of taxes and fines, it later evolved as the act of judging value. In the early part of the 20th Century, the American university system and the American military were in favor of using assessment as their evaluation/judgment protocol to deal with large numbers of people for whom they needed a way to sort according to intelligence and ability. During World War I, the Army relied on standardized testing to identify who might be suitable for officer training and who would be best suited for the trenches. The “multiple choice” design was deemed objective, scientific and efficient. Over time, our school systems incorporated this type of exam to measure intelligence, knowledge and reading comprehension. The development of technology propelled the practices of “quickly assessing” what students know, and educators used the data to determine who was above or below the established norm and, subsequently, could sort students according to their tested ability. As both a student-taker and teacher-administrator of standardized testing, I can relate to the flaws, overemphasis, and consequences of using only these types of tests. Understanding is more than a multiple choice, Yes/No or T/F response.  Read more