Following a statewide analysis of assessment practices in 2014, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) identified that the definition and practices related to formative assessment in Arizona were focused primarily on accountability rather than on formative assessment as a process that strengthens learning. Subsequently, ADE leaders adopted formative assessment as a core strategy to strengthen approaches to classroom assessment.
In 2014, ADE began efforts to scale formative assessment through both policy changes and professional learning. Over time, as ADE leaders learned from educators about the impact of formative assessment on learning and equity, the state has moved from its original goal of improving approaches to classroom assessment to a deepened focus on formative assessment as an instructional process. Current work is focused on integrating formative assessment within state-level educational policy and on using formative assessment to support departmental initiatives and learning.
Creating a shared definition of formative assessment as a process and developing a deep knowledge of how to apply formative assessment in the classroom requires focused attention at each level of the educational system. ADE leaders had been working with the state’s educational community to address multiple equity-focused initiatives, and sought to integrate formative assessment practices in order to create policy changes in support of formative assessment.
At the same time, the state offered a range of “pilot” (i.e., free) professional learning resources to support classroom implementation, and WestEd launched three separate formative assessment courses with over 2,000 educators, reaching over 250 schools in Arizona between 2015 and 2018.
During that time, WestEd supported the state in hosting statewide meetings for educators to share formative assessment practice, hosting six statewide formative assessment summits that reached 650 educators.
Ultimately, formative assessment has been integrated into policies related to curriculum, instruction, assessment, training, and support of key models and practices, including support for charter schools, English Learners, and Arizona’s instructional framework.
What we did
WestEd has supported formative assessment implementation with the ADE through the Comprehensive Center Network since 2014. Initial work focused on revising Arizona’s assessment framework to include formative assessment practice. By 2015, the state had developed a multipronged approach to state-level implementation that included policy revision, building leadership capacity to support new assessment practices, and brokering professional learning to schools and districts across the ate. Formative assessment is now reflected and aligned within state frameworks that support English Learners, assessment, and instruction.
Arizona’s dissemination efforts included recruiting school and district leaders to engage in professional learning from a range of vendors. From 2015 through 2018, over 2,000 Arizona educators participated in WestEd-led professional learning, including year-long online and blended courses such as Formative Assessment Insights (piloted in 2015/16), Formative Assessment Video Study (piloted 2016/17), and Student Agency in Learning (piloted 2017/18).
From 2015 through 2020, WestEd’s Formative Insights Team led annual convenings to spread and disseminate best practices. These convenings were attended by 650 educators. The format was designed to feature Arizona students, teachers, and educational leaders engaged in exploring emerging knowledge and practice, and approaches to strengthen agency, learning culture, identity, and equity.
To further analyze the positive reported impact of teacher and student learning during pilot initiatives, the Regional Educational Lab West (REL West) at WestEd conducted a study to explore the relationship between formative assessment and students’ use of self-regulated learning strategies. The study results point to the value of formative assessment in increasing students’ use of self-regulation strategies to guide learning.
To deepen understanding of the relationship of formative assessment, learner agency, and equity, WestEd is currently supporting a partnership between the ADE and Sunnyside Unified School District (USD). In the 2020/21 school year, ADE staff have participated in learning experiences with Sunnyside educators, conducted virtual classroom visits, and engaged in dialogue with Sunnyside students, teachers, and leaders. These integrated feedback loops, which are designed to share learning across all levels of the educational system, have resulted in the development of a cross-agency team that is focused on increasing coherence across formative assessment practices across ADE teams.
The work has involved many people from WestEd over many years, as thought partners, co-presenters, evaluators, digital learning designers, content experts, and more. The work has been funded by the Comprehensive Center Network, REL West, and a wide range of foundation partners — the Hewlett and Gates Foundations in particular. In addition, the National Equity Project has provided feedback on our work and has improved how we approach our equity focus and integrate key equity practices within our district work.
- ADE has created a through-line to support formative assessment implementation at each level of the educational system, with integrated models for feedback at each level so that emerging and developing practice has continued to inform state-level policy and guidance.
- Capacity has been established such that ADE staff lead formative assessment within their departments and integrate formative assessment professional learning through state-level departmental initiatives (e.g., through professional learning in early childhood education and charter school initiatives).
- Formative assessment integration and policy work has continued despite staff and leadership changes.
- Formative assessment policy is integrated within key statewide frameworks and guidance.
- The state is addressing necessary conditions of scale through a range of integrated models of support that take place through departmental initiatives. These conditions are sustainability (developing new statewide policy), spread (providing professional learning), shift in ownership (exploring ways to build leadership capacity), and depth of practice.
What we learned
Within an educational system, there are effective approaches to involve all interested parties in understanding and implementing formative assessment and creating the conditions for sustained change. Even in a pandemic we have established ways for learning to take shape, and be shared, throughout the educational system — a system in which students and teachers have had a significant impact on the state’s commitment to breaking down barriers to implementing formative assessment and supporting teacher and leader learning in order to guide new ways for teachers and students to engage in evidence.