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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Consortium for Policy Research in Education

Center on Continuous Instructional Improvement

Past Project: 2006-2012

Four Ideas Central to Instructional Improvement

Learning Progressions
The Center evaluated the idea that education standards, curricula, and formative and summative assessment would be more effective if they were all rooted in coherent and well-specified conceptions of how students’ knowledge and skills in particular subjects should develop over the school years. We called these conceptions “learning progressions,” but the concept has had other labels—“trajectories” and so on. The concept included specification at the level of growth at the day to day instructional level and at the level of the “big ideas and landmarks” in the subject as students acquire them over the school years.

Formative Assessment
Formative assessment involves a range of processes used by educators (along with their students) to gather evidence during instruction of whether progress is being made toward instructional goals and using that evidence to inform modifications of teachers’ and students’ efforts. Some would limit this definition to day to day or short term units of instruction, others would include the formative use of information about progress gathered at longer intervals. In any case, the Center thought it is likely that educators would be best able to use such processes if they were tied to clear conceptions of learning progressions.

Adaptive Instruction
Adaptive instruction refers to the idea that it is the teachers’ and the schools’ responsibility to modify instruction as necessary to address students’ particular needs and difficulties rather than simply delivering the content and letting the chips fall where they may. This adaptation would be supported by formative assessment processes rooted in coherent conceptions of students’ progress and likely problems.

Knowledge Management in Support of Continuous Improvement 
As educators engage in formative assessment to track their students’ progress and adapt their teaching, and their students reflect on their learning and adapt their efforts in response to feedback, it is crucial to develop ways of capturing which responses to particular problems and needs actually are helpful and effective, and there should be mechanisms—for instance through information systems, professional development and other support—through which what is learned about effective responses is continually fed back to improve subsequent instruction.