In a recent position statement, The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has defined Formative Assessment as an “Inquiry Stance”. This is defined as a process during which teachers are continually asking questions regarding what learners presently know, and what they are ready to learn. This views assessment as intertwined with learning, and practicing accountability with an ethic of care, rather than one of consequences. It also requires offering students agency as co-inquirers, providing them a variety of ways to demonstrate understanding, as well as supporting them in reflecting upon their own learning.
This statement acknowledges the widening equity gap resulting from the pandemic, and most importantly it offers an understanding of the formative assessment process as an authentic teaching and learning tool available to both teachers and students. It is a marked and welcome departure from the 2013 statement which focused on a distinction between commercial products and those assessments designed by teachers.
What are some key and significant changes?
An Inquiry Stance Formative Assessment is more than a tool, or a short quiz or an experience that a teacher uses to collect data on the academic progress of students. An Inquiry Stance Formative Assessment is an ongoing inquiry that seeks to understand the complex and sometimes “tricky” connections between instruction and assessment.
The process of formative assessment is organic and takes place within the classroom environment, and it is does not feel separate from instruction. In this context, students can experience the process as part of their own learning process, encouraging them to assume greater responsibility and nurturing their intrinsic motivation as learners.
Demonstrate Understanding & Reflect on Learning aligns with responsive teaching. Teachers provide immediate and useful feedback to the students and encourage reflection on their accomplishments, big or small. The focus is not on numbers, data or scores, but on providing insight and offer immediate next steps. Thus, teachers emphasize the progress of the students and build their habits of reflection toward short and long-term goals, eliminating deficit thinking and directing the instruction in positive ways.
Accountability with an Ethic of Care rather than one of consequences. The NCTE statement emphasizes that “central to assessment work is an attention to the diverse cultural, linguistic, and social resources children develop in their racial and ethnic communities. That is, formative assessment should expand rather than narrow teachers’ understanding of language and literacy capacities and include rather than exclude culturally sustaining language practices” (p.4).
This statement views multilingual /multicultural learners not as students in ‘need’, but as students with linguistic and cultural resources that should be tap into as part of the formative assessment inquiry process.
This latest statement published during the covid-19 pandemic offers formative assessment as a practice that can support all students in an inclusive and equitable manner accelerating students learning and well-being. The NCTE position statement clearly indicates that formative assessment as an inquiry stance is” a lever for equity as well as learning” (p.2).
Resource: NCTE (2020) Expanding Formative Assessment for Equity and Agency