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Formative Assessment - An Example of How Burecrats and Academics Screw Up Our Kids

Updated on October 10, 2013

Formative and Summative Assessments

The new school year is upon us and two new terms were thrown at me. Formative assessment and summative assessment. Everywhere I read about what my kid was learning there were these two terms. At first it was kind of impressive sounding so I did not bother to think too much about it. I mean, those are high sounding words so it must be something special.

I was thinking that they were doing some kind of special assessment on my kid to help them learn better and diagnose any issues. Maybe there was some creative method for figuring out how well my kid was learning.

About a month into the school year we had an issue with how my kid was being taught. The rule of divisibility for 8 was being taught incorrectly. I worked with the teacher and that got fixed. Next I found the definition of divisibility was being taught incompletely. The kids were being told numbers ending in 00 were not to be applied to the rules for divisibility by 4. They were going to teach that part of the rule later on. I have to say I had a hard time reconciling that kind of approach. The teacher even agreed with me that of course they are divisible by 4 if you have a calculator but that they were being taught with the common core standards and they were learning the 'basic' rules of divisibility.

So why the side rant? I was reassured that my child would not have 00 numbers as part of the summative assessment, though it was being used for the formative instruction and assessments.

Well me being a good parent had to investigate further...what in the name of higher education were these formative and summative assessments? After a bit of digging I was told that the formative assessment was used during the formative coursework to determine whether a child is picking up a concept and that the summative assessment is used to show if the child understands the concept at the end of the formative instruction. There are different methods for obtaining that information but the main way is to take a good old fashion question and answer.

Let me translate....They give them quizzes (formative assessments) to find out if they are learning the material in class (formative instruction) and in homework (now called coursework). Then at the end they give them a test (Summative Assessment) to see what they learned.

Now the academic might come back and say well we use other tools to do formative and summative assessments. For instance we may ask the child to write a paper on a topic to evaluate if they understand the concept. That's called a term paper.

In summary some high minded person created a term with 20 letters (Summative Assessment) that has the same meaning as a term with 4 letters (test). Same goes for the (formative Assessment) which is a quiz. Makes you wonder how much they got for that grant or who earned a PHD for coming up with those terms.


Why Change the Words? Here's a Theory.

I'm not sure the reason for this change of terms. I do know that making things more complicated seems to be the playground of bureaucrats, lawyers and academics. Great men like Lincoln who's Gettysburg address was less than 300 words or Jesus who simplified the whole bible with two commandments, were masters of simplification.

Lincoln's Gettysburg address was a great expression of humility in recognizing the sacrifices made on behalf of the country by those who had died for their cause. Its elegance was its simplicity and brevity. It was so short the photographer did not have time to take a picture of the speech...but there again is what makes this speech so distinguished, memorable and brilliant. It conveyed a large idea with as short and simple speech and did so with dignity and humility.

Now taking the concept of simplification to a new level, that leads us to Jesus. Jesus summarized the entire concept of the bible, the commandments and everything that was being taught with 2 simple commands,that I'll paraphrase here, 'Love the Lord with all your heart.' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' In less than 25 or so words he summarized the entire bible. Even if you don't believe in God, the second one is so simple and elegant it is brilliant and there can be no argument even from those who don't believe in God, that if everyone followed the second of these commandments we would live in a much better world.

With the backdrop of the elegance of how to uncomplicate large ideas, the bigger issue here, regarding our schools and those who decide such things as what is to be taught, is 'Why are they changing the terms but still doing the same old things?' Asking questions and getting answers from students to see if they have learned what they were supposed to is the same activity but now it has to have a different name? How's that work?

Back to the question of why cloak it in long fancy terms? The only thing I can think of is that they are trying to make it difficult for people to understand what is going on in schools. That's just a theory and I'm not terribly pleased with it but I know for a fact it is happening all over.

Screwing up Our Kids.

If the theory is correct, that this idea is to make it more difficult for the parent to understand what is being taught...then what is happening is parents can't participate in their kids education. It puts distance between the kid and the parent. Taken as a whole, this can't be good for society. No school is going to be as concerned about a kid as their parent. At the end of the day or school year, the teacher and the administrators go home to their own families. The kid comes home to the parents. If the child is being fed nonsense the parent needs to know.

Not Limited to Schools

On a more broad scale, I see this as an evolving trend in many areas of our lives. It goes in parallel with the ever expanding bureaucracy. One theory might be that these bureaucrats seem to have not enough productive work so they seek to complicate things so as to cloak their uselessness in their proscriptions and policies that they produce for us regular folks to follow and litter these policies with superior sounding words so as to complicate the simple and keep the regular folks from asking too many questions....but I suppose that may be a tiny bit sarcastic and perhaps is a topic for another hub or series of hubs.

So my question to you the reader....Do you have other examples of how things are being twisted around and made to be overly complicated in our schools? Share them and perhaps we can uncover other things to watch out for in our schools.

Policy on Comments

I realize politics can get a little fiesty sometimes. So I have a couple rules about comments;

  • First, please let's not descend to a bunch of name calling. I will discard posts full of name calling or long rants that are off topic.
  • Second, if you have examples please do share.
  • Third, if you just have an opinion, please do share. If it is long, consider writing a full hub on it. We'd be happy to link to you if it fits the subject.
  • Finally If I do miss your post and don't comment, let me say right now, thanks for sharing.


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