If you're a district administrator, you understand that both teachers and building leaders need time to develop a comprehensive and multi-faceted understanding of formative assessment practices. They also need time to cultivate their practical understanding and use of formative assessment strategies and tools. When principals and teachers have the opportunity to reflect on the association between teaching and learning, the whole learning community can participate in connecting assessment, data, and instruction—reaching new levels of engagement with the formative assessment process.
Principals in particular must develop and maintain an extensive knowledge base regarding best practices in order to mentor teachers. They also need to spend time with other administrators to stay abreast of current advances in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. The extent to which the principal is knowledgeable about current curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices can have an average effect size of .25 on student academic achievement. (Marzano, R., et al, (2005). School Leadership that Works. ASCD).
We recommend and encourage the use of formative assessment data to drive Professional Learning Community (PLCs) discussions and further professional development goals. PLCs provide an excellent environment for group analysis of distractor rationales, rubrics, and student work samples to maximize the instructional value of formative assessment. By analyzing distractor rationales as a group activity, for example, teachers and building leaders work together to identify the nature of students’ misunderstandings or misconceptions and provide an optimal context for deciding instructional or institutional next steps. Using formative assessment data to inform professional development activities—such as analyzing the frequency of specific student misconceptions and their relationship to gaps in instruction or pacing of the curriculum—results in better understanding of how students learn.
Just as students have strengths and areas to work on, so do teachers and building leaders. Overwhelmingly, the body of knowledge on effective professional development recommends three main components for quality professional development:
- Help teachers expand their content knowledge—especially in the subjects they teach.
- Develop a community of teacher-learners that can, among other things, actively share teaching strategies and plan for classroom integration of these strategies.
- Allow teachers to examine student work and explore how student thinking—both accurate and inaccurate—develops (Desimone & Ueno, 2006; Fishman, Besta, & Talb, 2003; Garet, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001; Ingvarson & Beavis, 2005; Seago, 2004; Sparks, 2000; Stigler & Hiebert, 1999).
Acknowledging and promoting principal and teacher learning has a positive impact and ripple effect across the entire building or district.