College & Workforce Readiness

Reading Roundup: Formative Assessment, Content vs. Skills

By Catherine Gewertz — February 25, 2011 2 min read
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It’s been an interesting week for the ongoing debate about skills and content. Take, for instance, the first in a series of guest posts on the Common Core group’s blog by an anonymous teacher at a New Tech High School, where project-based learning is king. She writes that content is being sacrificed in the worship of skills. And definitely take a look at the intense debate she provokes in the comments section of the blog. Wow.

Without warning, I stumbled into a content-versus-skills debate myself this week when I attended a meeting of the American Federation of Teachers’ common-standards-implementation committee. (In case you missed them, here are my blog post and story about this.) The union is worried about the effect of racing from standards to assessments without curriculum. There’s an interesting exchange taking shape in the comments section of my blog post, too, so take a look at that: Sandra Stotsky, who helped shape Massachusetts’ standards and raised content objections to the common standards when she was a state board member there, asks provocative questions about private groups developing curriculum for the standards. What do you think of the points being raised here?

A commentary by UCLA professor emeritus W. James Popham on formative assessment drew a ton of traffic on our website this week. He draws important distinctions between summative, formative and interim assessments, emphasizes that formative assessment is a process, and makes the whole shebang more interesting by connecting it all to hyphens and surfing (you gotta read it to get it). If you’re intrigued by the roiling conversation about formative assessment in the field now, you might also want to read a critical look at it by ETS researcher Randy Bennett, which appears in the current issue of the journal Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice. Here’s the abstract. My story and blog posts about a recent paper on formative assessment by Margaret Heritage of CRESST waded into that territory as well. The blog posts (here, here and here) captured a lively exchange between Heritage and a reader.

In the college-readiness arena, a new report questioned the value of classes designed to prepare high school students for the two big college-entrance exams, the ACT and the SAT.

And on a final, lighter note, a bill in the South Dakota legislature to ban adoption of national history standards died this week, mostly because lawmakers were reluctant to bar something that doesn’t yet exist, local press reports tell us. (See my earlier blog post on this bill.)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.