Reflections on the NWEA Fusion Conference
I attended the NWEA Fusion Conference in Portland, Oregon this past week, and the first observation I can make is that summer in Portland is quite pleasant, especially when we were experiencing 100+ degree temperatures at home in Austin.
Once the novelty of great weather wore off, I was treated to some of the best conference sessions I’ve seen in a long time. You can find the slides for most of them here. Of special note for me were Dylan Wiliam’s surprising and controversial keynote, Sue Beers’ insights on 21st century teaching and learning, and Dr. Becky Blink’s lively and far ranging discussion focusing on the importance of differentiated instruction.
But as this was a conference primarily focused on assessment I want to share the tenor of the conversation there regarding assessment and also discuss some positive developments. The atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive. Participants were well aware of the need to use assessment data, or evidence of learning, to shape what happens in the classroom. Much of the public’s attention to data involves summative data—scores on high-stakes state assessments. Essentially this data tells students how they did – in the past tense. The emphasis throughout NWEA Fusion was on formative assessment, which tells students how they are doing. Teachers then use this data to find out if each student is showing evidence of growth and to predict where the students will be at the end of the year. This emphasis on formative assessment is embedded in the U. S. Department of Education’s ESEA Flexibility waiver process. 24 states have now been approved for the waivers.
Used this way, assessment becomes less of a “got ya” and more a way of helping students grow and achieve. NWEA had long been a leader in computer-adaptive assessment, but at Fusion some of the sessions also helped teachers work on less formal assessments that anyone can implement in their classroom, such as group discussions, think/pair/share, and many others.
Always, the goal is to give feedback to the student as quickly as possible. These ideas helped contribute to the feeling that, despite all the difficulties that face educators, we now have many tools to help students. And we can help them.
Educators: Please share your formative assessment techniques below.
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