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K-3 think tank recommends formative assessments in early grades

Recommendations resulting from the work of 22 educators, parents and education experts tasked with proposing a plan to improve early elementary school learning and instruction through more efficient and effective use of student-centered assessments was revealed today at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy.

One of the top goals recommended by the group was to equip teachers with better tools to observe student strengths and support learning right from the start of kindergarten.

In order to accomplish this, teachers will need to engage in a formative assessment process that identifies strengths and areas for growth for each student, beginning in kindergarten. Click here to read the plan for developing this process, which includes a pilot program aimed at developing assessment goals and systems that educators can use.

State Superintendent June Atkinson said at the briefing, “Traditional testing is not appropriate for our youngest students,” Atkinson said, “At the same time, we want teachers to gather key information about how their youngest students are learning so that they can meet students’ needs.”

Formal assessments currently begin in the third grade. Because some students begin to exhibit developmental delays prior to that time, these formative assessments are intended to catch learning problems earlier. They are not intended for accountability purposes, such as teacher or school evaluation.

One attendee who said she used to be a teacher with 40 kids, qualifying that experience as “loosely managed chaos,” raised the issue of how to reconcile this individualized assessment approach with the lack of resources teachers are dealing with now thanks to recent cuts made by the General Assembly.

“I hope that North Carolina is in a very temporary state in terms of having fewer resources for our teachers,” said Atkinson. “It’s critical to the economic development of our state and to maintaining high graduation rates.”

“We just need our policymakers to spend a day with a kindergarten teacher,” said Atkinson.

Asked how he envisions technology will play a role in capturing the outcomes of these formative assessments, the group’s co-chair, John Pruette, director of the NC Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Early Learning, said “technology is definitely part of the plan here. We’ll be working with vendors to help us create a way to help teachers think about data they are collecting.”

Amplify, the company that recently provided hundreds of faulty tablet computers to Guilford County Schools as part of a Race to the Top grant program, is also in the business of promoting formative assessments in early grades, ostensibly to be the providers of the technology support that the initiative would demand.

Pruette says they haven’t identified a vendor yet to play a role in the formative assessment initiative. “We have no preconceived ideas about a vendor.”

The work of the group is funded by a Race to the Top grant and the Center for Family and Child Policy at Duke University, in addition to the $18 million set aside for early formative assessments by the General Assembly.

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