Formative Assessment—A Process, Not a Test
By W. James Popham Excerpt
from Edweek.org article Feb 22, 2011
I love hyphens. Always have. Always will. If used properly, hyphens make
things easier to read. This is because hyphenated words let readers know there’s something still coming in a phrase
that’s being read, so the reader should hold off a bit before deciding on the meaning of what’s being read at
For an illustration, ask yourself which of these two sentences is more easily understood:
teachers were dismayed with the test takers’ indifference.
(2) The teachers were dismayed with the test-takers’
Upon reading the first sentence, many readers will initially conclude that the teachers were dismayed
with the test itself rather than with the nonchalant attitude of students taking the test. In the second sentence, however,
the hyphen between “test” and “takers’” makes it apparent the teachers’ dismay was directed
toward students’ indifference, not toward the test.
Currently, the absence of a hyphen can seriously muck up the
meaning of an instructional approach that’s capable of benefiting thousands of students. I refer to formative assessment
or, more accurately, to the formative-assessment process. My contention is that the absence of a hyphen between “formative”
and “assessment” inclines educators to accept an inaccurate conception of an instructional approach which, when
properly employed, helps boatloads of children. When “formative assessment” is inaccurately thought of as a kind
of test, however, it can turn out to be of little value to students.
For today’s educators to get clear-headed about
what is meant by the formative-assessment process is particularly important. This is because the formative-assessment process,
when used by teachers, leads to substantial gains in students’ learning.