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Studies Reveal High Levels of Formative Assessment Use by International School Teachers

By Anton Pav

Teachers in international schools use formative assessment teaching strategies more often than do their counterparts in national schools in the United States, according to a recent study that included institutions in West Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. International educators should be proud of this news because formative classroom assessment strategies have been shown to dramatically raise student achievement (Hudesman et al. 2015).
Using the formative assessment strategies articulated by Jan Chappuis in her 2015 book Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning, I surveyed teachers in numerous international schools to determine how frequently they used formative assessment strategies, such as setting clear learning targets in student-friendly language, sharing models of strong and weak work, providing descriptive feedback, or providing students with opportunities to revise work before a final version is graded. Applying statistical analysis, I compared levels of use among teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, but also among subject area teachers, and among male and female teachers. Further, levels of formative assessment use among international school teachers were compared to those of teachers in national systems in the U.S.
As a whole, results indicate that international school teachers use research-tested best practices quite frequently. Seventy-five percent of international school teachers use these strategies more than 70 percent of the time (Pav 2018).
This result is especially noteworthy when compared to other groups of teachers, such as those working in the U.S. One significant study in an Illinois school district, for example, reported that “on average, only one-third of teachers employ formative assessment strategies on a consistent basis” (Hauser 2015). Another study focusing on Wyoming teachers found that there was “not a widespread mention of these formative assessment strategies incorporated into practice” (Gates 2015). Similar results are reported consistently in many studies of school districts across the country (Sharkey & Murnane 2003; Stiggins & Chappuis 2005; Frey 2009).
These findings naturally raise the question as to why international teachers exhibit such high levels of use when it comes to these strategies. Kim Rayl, Director of Teaching and Learning at the American International School of Lagos, Nigeria, suggests that “Working outside of the constraints of high-stakes state and national testing, international teachers are able to align their assessment practices with current research and best practices without fear of unjust reprisal. There tends to be a ‘try it and see’ approach to implementing new initiatives and teachers are encouraged to be innovative in their practice.”
Rayl added, “These practices emphasize assessment as a vehicle of regular feedback and coaching, designed to provide timely and actionable feedback with the purpose of helping students to make improvements, as well as provide teachers with feedback to make instructional adjustments. Involving students in assessment tends to flatten traditional hierarchies, as the role of the teacher evolves to become that of facilitator and coach. This democratization of the classroom is in line with most international schools’ core values.
“Conversely, stateside teachers are constrained by district and state mandates that may stymie their ability to work outside the box. Additionally, student, parent, and colleague expectations about what ‘good assessment’ looks like can also serve as systemic constraints, limiting the implementation of research-based practices in favor of the status quo.”
Other conclusions of note include:
• Science teachers use these formative assessment strategies more often than do language, math, social studies, and arts teachers.
• Middle school teachers use these strategies more frequently than either elementary or high school teachers.
• Finally, this study revealed that female teachers use these achievement-enhancing strategies 10 percent more frequently than do male teachers.
What does all this mean? First, international school teachers are on the cutting edge of best classroom practices when compared to teachers in places such as the U.S. Second, female teachers in international schools have a definite edge over male teachers in adopting classroom practices that help boost student achievement.
In sum, we could say that if a school is seeking to identify a faculty member to lead an in-house professional development session on how to implement best classroom formative assessment practices, the ideal person for the job would be a female middle-years science teacher working at an international school!
Anton Pav is currently IBDP Coordinator and DP English teacher at AIS Lagos.
Frey, C. A. (2009). Teachers’ understanding and use of formative assessment strategies: A multiple embedded case study in K-12 urban ring schools of a mid -size city in rhode island. (Dissertation.) Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database.
Gates, A. (2008). Wyoming teachers’ knowledge and use of formative assessment. (Dissertation.) Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database.
Hauser, D. L. (2015). Formative assessment strategies: Levels of use by high school english and mathematics teachers. (Dissertation.) Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database.
Pav, A., (2018). Differences in teacher use of Chappuis’ formative assessment strategies in K-12 American international schools by subject area, school level, and teacher gender. (Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database.
Sharkey, N. S., and Murnane, R. J.. 2003. “Learning from student assessment results: A necessary, if difficult, response to NCLB.” Educational Leadership 61 (3): 77–81.
Stiggins, R., & Chappuis, J. (2005). Using student-involved classroom assessment to close achievement gaps. Theory Into Practice, 44(1), 11.

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