A2L Project

Assessing-to-Learn: Continuous Formative Assessment for Physics Instruction
Group Page: 
Gerace, William J.
US National Science Foundation grant ESI-9730438
Starting date: 

There has been considerable interest in assessment, especially in view of the goals set forth in reform documents, such as the NRC's National Science Education Standards. Generally, those goals call for science learning to focus on conceptual understanding, problem solving, and science as inquiry. Most agree that there is a mismatch between those goals and summative tests used to rank students on those goals. Formative assessment practices provide a better match, but there are barriers to teachers adopting such practices. We argue that a good first step toward helping teachers adopt a program of formative assessment is the development of (simple-to-use) formative assessment activities and an efficient process of collecting formative assessment data.

Assessing-to-Learn (A2L) is a multifaceted project with the purpose of advancing our understanding and practice of formative assessment in the teaching of high school science. The original goal of the A2L project was to develop quality formative assessment materials (i.e., assessment materials that a teacher can use to make decisions about subsequent instruction) for teaching high school physics. Lessons learned during the development and pilot testing of formative assessment activities led us to broaden the scope of the project to address other significant issues (i.e., other than the lack of quality formative assessment materials) affecting the adoption and implementation of formative assessment practices, including the following issues:

  • How can one effectively integrate assessment and instruction to meet the wide variation in teaching practices among high school science teachers?
  • What factors influence a teacher's adoption of particular formative assessment practices?
  • What kinds of support do teachers need to implement a program of formative assessment?
  • How do we enable teachers to become authors of formative assessment activities?
  • What preparation do teachers need to be effective practitioners of formative assessment?
  • What is the effect of formative assessment practices on the classroom dynamic and the way teachers teach?

We have identified eight tangible outcomes for the A2L project (listed on the next page). Seven of the eight outcomes are framed in terms of a product that supports some aspect of formative assessment (i.e., classroom practice, teacher education, development of assessment materials, etc.). The remaining outcome concerns addressing certain research questions related to formative assessment — chosen specifically because we can make a contribution to these questions given the other goals of the project and the available resources.

  1. A set of prototype formative assessment items (aimed at introductory high school physics) for use with a classroom communication system.
  2. Teacher aids containing answers to the assessment items and other useful instructional information.
  3. A design paradigm for formative assessment items.
  4. Strategies for classroom formative assessment.
  5. A guide to formative assessment for practicing teachers who are interested in a practical introduction to formative assessment and for teacher educators who wish to include a component of formative assessment in their teacher education programs.
  6. Design of an on-line course.
  7. A2L web site providing access to all published A2L materials.
  8. Research improving the knowledge base on teacher adoption of classroom formative assessment.

As part of the project, we created a library of formative assessment "items" — multiple-choice questions for use with classroom response system teaching — designed as a vehicle for classroom interaction and learning, rather than for testing what students already know. This library is available to the public on the Assessing-to-Learn project website (A2L.physics.umass.edu or clickercentral.net). This site has a new location as of May, 2012.

The A2L project directly motivated and informed a current large project, Teacher Learning of Technology-Enhanced Formative Assessment.