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Why leadership matters: empowering teachers to implement formative assessment

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Purpose ‐ The focus of this research is to understand the role of the district superintendent, the building principal, and the school leadership team of classroom teachers as catalysts for innovation in instruction and classroom assessment. School characteristics and structures designed to specifically support professional learning communities are to be analyzed, and the responsibility teachers take for student learning using formative assessment is evaluated. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The setting for the study is a small, Midwestern high school in the USA. The high school has a staff of 38 teachers, 15 of whom are on the Formative Assessment Building Leadership Team. The high school principal and district superintendent also participated in the study. The study took the form of a qualitative case study. The data sources were transcripts and artifacts from eight months of interviews, and building-wide teacher meetings. Professional development inservices were also analyzed. Findings ‐ The principal served as a catalyst for building teacher knowledge and implementation of formative assessment practices. The success of the change initiative hinged on relationships between teachers and school leaders. Teachers used assessment in the service of student learning. Research limitations/implications ‐ Because this is a case study, the findings themselves are not designed to be generalizable to other contexts. Practical implications ‐ Understanding the role school leadership will play in the implementation of a new State-wide policy initiative for curriculum improvement is critical to uncovering the capacity required for formative assessment to be successfully implemented on a large scale. Social implications ‐ There has been research in the field of educational measurement in the past few years on the use of formative assessments to raise standards of achievement and to lead to higher quality learning. This is an analysis of the complex dynamic between school leaders and teachers in the service of implementing assessment for learning. Originality/value ‐ The implementation of formative assessment on a large scale is a concern not only in the State in this research study, but in schools around the country. An exploration of the leadership capacity needed to originate and sustain this school improvement initiative is novel to the field.
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Keywords: Assessment; Leadership; Learning; Teachers; United States of America

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 4, 2012

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