The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development has teamed up with the defense contractor and technology company Northrop Grumman and the Fairfax County, Va., school district to build an online tool for schools to conduct formative assessments.
Formative assessments—which are administered throughout a school year to help teachers modify and improve instruction based on results—are attracting an increasing amount of interest among school districts and educators. (“Chiefs to Focus on Formative Assessments,” July 12, 2006.)
The new formative-assessment tool, called Aspire, is different from other formative-assessment products because of its professional-development component, its makers say.
“Other products seem to forget that instruction is the biggest piece of student learning,” said Ann Cunningham-Morris, the director of professional development for the Alexandria, Va.-based ASCD. “That’s where I think we’re meeting a need that hasn’t already been met. We’re supporting a practice that impacts real student learning.”
According to the ASCD, administrators in the 164,000-student Fairfax County, Va., schools were frustrated with their current formative-assessment package, and enlisted the aid of Northrop Grumman to develop new online-assessment material.
A major need for the district was a tool that tied professional development into the program. Ms. Cunningham-Morris said the ASCD “provided a bridge” between the Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman’s technology platform and the county district’s assessment needs.
Aspire includes typical test-generation software and banks of questions while allowing educators to create their own questions. It displays data in different forms and at the student, school, or district level. After teachers view their students’ performance, they can access professional-development tools that address the specific skills they need to emphasize.
“Assessment should be the beginning of a conversation [about student learning], not the end of it,” Ms. Cunningham-Morris said.
Aspire is in the pilot stage in Fairfax County.
Scott Marion, the associate director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, based in Dover, N.H., cautions, meanwhile, against overuse of the term “formative assessment.”
While he is unfamiliar with Aspire, he said that the term has become something of a buzzword for any company selling assessment-related tools.
Sometimes, he said, the focus of those tools is not in the right areas.
“You hear schools saying, ‘We need to figure out how to improve our test scores,’ ” he said. “You don’t hear, ‘We need to improve student learning.’ ”
A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2007 edition of Education Week as ASCD, District, Company Team Up on Assessments