Eduventures Cuts Through The Hype Around Formative Assessment

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“Formative assessment” is undeniably one of the hottest catchphrases in the K-12 education market today. Eduventures estimates that the term’s frequency of appearance in the press increased 800% between 2000 and 2005. But formative assessment is misleading and risks obfuscating an important advance in K-12 classroom instruction, according to Eduventures’ recently released report, Formative Instruction and the Quest for the Killer Application. Formative assessment is best described as a pedagogical concept, akin to the Socratic method, and not as a tradable commodity or service. To underscore the distinction, Eduventures has introduced the term “formative instruction” to refer to the practical application of the concept of formative assessment.

“Formative assessment” is undeniably one of the hottest catchphrases in the K-12 education market today. Eduventures estimates that the term’s frequency of appearance in the press increased 800% between 2000 and 2005. But formative assessment is misleading and risks obfuscating an important advance in K-12 classroom instruction, according to Eduventures’ recently released report, Formative Instruction and the Quest for the Killer Application. Formative assessment is best described as a pedagogical concept, akin to the Socratic method, and not as a tradable commodity or service. To underscore the distinction, Eduventures has introduced the term “formative instruction” to refer to the practical application of the concept of formative assessment.

“The term’s newfound popularity notwithstanding, the concept of formative assessment is as old as teaching itself,” said Tim Wiley, Senior Analyst for Eduventures K-12 Solutions Program. “True formative assessment actually has very little to do with assessment. The real formative work comes after the assessment, through the prescription of customized content, targeted tutoring, and even professional development, components that are all related to the general idea of classroom instruction.”

Eduventures estimates that more than 6 million K-12 students benefited from the use of formative instruction systems in the 2004-05 school year, an increase of approximately 13% from the previous year. And an estimated 15% of K-12 teachers utilize some form of electronic formative assessment system in their classrooms today. The market is weighted toward elementary education and 90% of formative instruction systems target the development of either reading or math skills, per the mandates of No Child Left Behind.

To gain a better understanding of formative instruction and the pursuit of the killer application, Eduventures conducted in-depth interviews with senior district and school administrators that hold curriculum-related roles, including chief academic officers, directors of curriculum, and deputy superintendents for curriculum and instruction. The findings show that considerable impediments exist not only to the development of a true killer application, but also to significant mainstream adoption of comprehensive formative instruction implementations. The top six barriers, according to research participants, were:

  •     Insufficient technology infrastructure
  • User resistance, most often associated with teacher resistance
  • Time constraints of squeezing the use of formative instruction into an instructional agenda that is already full
  • Technical training, which was less about technical training than user-friendly applications
  • Professional development around instruction strategies
  • Lack of clear strategy around integrating formative instruction into the broader set of curricular objectives, mandates, and strategies

“Just as the healthcare community has benefited in recent years from the automation of patient administration, records management, billing calculations, and drug management, K-12 formative instruction can play a significant role in increasing the effectiveness and competitiveness of the entire education system,” continued Wiley. “However, formative instruction providers must not only seamlessly integrate the three phases of formative instruction—assessment, diagnosis, and prescription—they also must overcome the array of challenges that inhibit its widespread adoption, in essence create a killer application for formative instruction.”

Despite the challenges posed to developing the killer application for formative instruction, examples of individual, visionary districts implementing solutions to great effect abound. According to some progressive administrators, there is no question as to whether formative instruction will eventually play a major role in the education of America’s students. The big question, they say, is how soon. As one administrator reflected, “I have no idea how software companies will create the killer application for formative instruction, but if they can do for education what MP3s did for music, we’ll really have something.”

These are just some of the findings from Eduventures’ report, Formative Instruction and the Quest for the Killer Application. The full report, which was designed to provide suppliers with a comprehensive examination of the emerging market for formative instruction systems, is only available to members of the Eduventures K-12 Solutions Program.

About Eduventures, LLC

For more than a decade, Eduventures, LLC has been the most trusted name in the education market for market research, consulting services, and peer networking. Its clients include senior administrators and executives from leading educational institutions and companies serving the K-12, higher education, and corporate learning markets, as well as decision-makers in government agencies and the investment community. For more information, visit http://www.eduventures.com.

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