Let’s say you were taking a road trip from Seattle to New York and only had one week to complete it. Once started, you might begin to wonder “Am I heading in the right direction?” “Am I making good time?” “Will I even end up in New York?” To answer those questions, you will need to evaluate your progress.
There are mainly two forms of evaluation – summative and formative.
Summative evaluation occurs at the end, after a task is finished. It helps answer the question of “Did we get where we wanted to go?” In the trip example above, it would be the equivalent of driving without using any navigation tools – no GPS, no map, no road signs. After a week, you would simply get out of the car and ask someone, “Where am I?”
Although a summative evaluation is helpful, it doesn’t always allow for a timely readjusting of plans. It answers the question of whether or not you arrived in New York (and if not, how close you were), but if the answer was “No,” it doesn’t allow for rerouting. Because the evaluation occurred at the end of the week, driving adjustments are no longer possible.
At Lawrence Lower School, we use the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement, Fourth edition (WJ-IV) as a summative evaluation. At the end of the year, each Lower School student takes the WJ-IV. Results are compiled, given to parents, and help answer the question “Where did we end up?” academically. It’s good information, but what if the results are not as positive and significant growth was not made? Since it is given at the end of the year, there is no time to make curriculum adjustments.
That is where Progress Monitoring comes into play. Progress Monitoring is a formative evaluation. Formative evaluation helps answer the questions: “Are we heading in the right direction?” and “Are we going at the right speed?”
It is an ongoing assessment.
Using our earlier analogy, it would be like making the same trip from Seattle to New York – only this time, using a GPS system. You would check the GPS regularly and make sure you’re on the right road and that your “estimated time of arrival” is still on track. The benefit of formative evaluation is that it offers feedback in a timely way that allows modification to the plan and adjustments to the route.
If your GPS indicated you were not on the right road or that your arrival time was off, you could reroute or speed up as necessary. In education terms, this means modifying instruction in a way that more efficiently benefits the student’s learning.
This certainly only captures the “big picture” uses of Progress Monitoring, but hopefully the analogy makes that picture a bit more clear. In my next blog, I’ll explain in greater detail how we use progress monitoring at the Lower School. In addition to the quantitative aspects of Progress Monitoring, there are qualitative aspects as well. It helps to develop a profile of an individual student’s strengths and weaknesses, what academic areas are mastered, which are still more challenging, what error patterns are evident, etc.
So get out your GPS systems, fasten your seatbelts, and let’s enjoy the scenery as we make our long distance academic road trip together.
Bill Musolf joined Lawrence in June 2007 as the Dean of Students at the Lower School campus. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a school psychologist and elementary guidance counselor. Bill received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University, and completed both his master’s and Education Specialist degrees at Michigan State University. He can be contacted at email@example.com.