Formative Assessment Insights: An Innovative Online Professional Learning Initiative

This post was written by Margaret Heritage, Senior Scientist, and Robert Montgomery, Digital Learning Strategist, both at WestEd.

WestEd has just launched an exciting and innovative digital professional learning experience through which teachers can learn about or extend their knowledge of formative assessment, and then apply what they’ve learned in their classrooms.

More than 3,000 teachers from seven states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada and Utah) were invited by their state departments of education to register for this six-month online course, Formative Assessment Insights. It is the largest scale-up of formative assessment professional learning ever attempted in the United States.

Already, the course is generating excitement. As one teacher put it:

“Thank you so much! I am a teacher who is close to retirement and all of a sudden I am so excited about teaching again!”

Another veteran teacher talked about the benefits of the course in this way:

“As a 50 some year old teacher I find myself complaining, ‘This generation thinks it’s all about themselves. Entertain me. I want it all and now.’ Well…. this shift in teaching may help me meet this generation on their terms. It SHOULD be all about them. Assessment can be ON DEMAND, immediate, and worthwhile. This class may be just the kick in the pants I need to be successful in reaching this generation of students.”

While formative assessment has always been an important element of good teaching, with the introduction of new college and career ready standards, the need for effective formative assessment in classrooms has never been greater.  If students are going to achieve deep learning and transferable skills, assessment of their progress can’t be left until the end of their learning sequence.  Instead, teachers and students need to understand how students are progressing while they are engaged in learning so that they can stay on track throughout their learning and meet their lesson goals.

The course was designed to support four key design principles:

  • High-quality content
  • Ongoing learning
  • Peer collaboration
  • Job-embedded application

Participating teams of 4-10 teachers were created to build knowledge through shared review and feedback on application of formative assessment, which we know supports more sustained use of practices. The team structures have replaced the role of central facilitation, and allow teachers to take more ownership of their own learning.

The course was created by a cross-program WestEd team of Margaret Heritage, Nancy Gerzon, Marie Mancuso, Bob Montgomery, and former WestEd employee Kurt Larsen. It is one of the most ambitious digital professional learning projects ever launched by WestEd.

The WestEd team will be learning valuable lessons about scaling-up professional learning for formative assessment through this course. Stay tuned to this blog to hear more about what we are learning!

Visit the Formative Assessment Insights website to learn more, or contact Margaret Heritage at WestEd.

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