A TAX PROFESSOR'S GUIDE TO FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT.

Author:Field, Heather M.
 
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  1. INTRODUCTION 366 II. BACKGROUND ON NEW ABA STANDARD 314 & FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT 373 A. ABA Standard 314 & Related Changes to the ABA Standards 374 B. Formative Assessment 376 1. Helping Students Improve Learning & Build Metacognition 377 a. Improving Learning 377 b. Building Metacognition 379 2. Helping the Professor Adapt Instruction to Improve 383 Student Learning III. SOME WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT 384 A. You Already Do Some Formative Assessment 385 B. Additional Formative Assessment Efforts Can Help You 386 Achieve Your Teaching Goals C. Formative Assessment Efforts Will Matter for Your Students 386 D. You Do Not Have to Transform Your Course Overnight 389 E. There Is No One "Right" Way 390 F. There Are Many Places to Start When Integrating Formative 392 Assessment IV. (RELATIVELY) EASY FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT TECHNIQUES FOR TAX 393 CLASSES A. Multiple Choice Questions 394 1. Using MC Questions: Starting from the Problem Method 394 2. Additional Uses for In-Class Multiple Choice Questions 397 a. Checking Understanding of Material Taught in Class 397 b. Preparing Students to Continue Learning Material 398 Started in the Previous Class Session c. Gauging Student Recall of Fundamental Concepts 399 Taught Earlier Before Starting a New Unit That Builds on Those Concepts 3. Tips for Using MC Questions for Formative Assessment 400 a. Be Clear About What You Aim to Assess 400 b. Draft MC Text Carefully 401 c. Write Plausible Distractors 401 d. Offer an "I Don't Know" Choice 402 e. Use an Anonymous Voting Mechanism 403 f. If Students Are Confused, Have Them Talk to Each 405 Other & Then Revote g. Explain Why Answers Are Right or Wrong 406 h. Emphasize the Formative Goal of the MC Questions 406 i. Consider Displaying the MC Question Before Class 406 Starts j. Include MC Questions on the Exam 407 k. Collaborate & Reuse Questions to Minimize the Burden 407 B. Other Objective Questions 408 1. True/False 409 2. Multiple Select 409 3. Rank Ordering 411 C. Minute Papers 412 D. Vocabulary/Concept Lists 417 V. FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT TECHNIQUES THAT ARE MORE TIME- & 419 WORK-INTENSIVE (WITH WAYS TO REDUCE THE BURDEN) A. In-Class Exercises 420 1. The Wide Range of In-Class Formative Exercises 420 2. Providing Formative Feedback with In-Class Exercises 423 a. In General 423 b. Adding Metacognitive Components 423 B. Extra (Out of Class) Problems 427 1. Formative Uses for Extra Problems 427 2. Strategies for Providing Feedback 428 a. Self-Assessment Using Model Answers 429 b. Assessment by Computer 430 c. In-Class Review 431 d. Individualized Feedback on Written Work 432 C. Writing Assignments 432 1. Using Writing Assignments for Formative Assessment 433 2. Strategies for Providing Feedback 435 a. Professor-Provided Feedback 436 b. Feedback from Teaching Assistants & the Students 437 Themselves (Using Rubrics & Other Resources) c. Getting Students to Use the Feedback 440 D. Midterms 442 VI. CONCLUSION 443 APPENDIX A 444 I. INTRODUCTION

    Law professors across the country have been asked to integrate more formative assessment into their courses. With the changes to the ABA Standards, (1) use of formative assessment is now required at all accredited law schools. (2) Some professors have been using formative assessment techniques in their classrooms for years, and thus may welcome this change. Other professors, who may be integrating formative assessment into their classrooms merely because they have been told to do so, may have concerns about this shift: Concerns that more formative assessment steals precious classroom minutes from coverage of necessary substantive and skills instruction. Concerns that professors are already juggling many demands and that integrating more formative assessment into courses requires a significant amount of work and time, thereby reducing the time available for research, service, and other pressing responsibilities. Concerns that the undertaking has little or no value and is primarily about complying with burdensome and perfunctory administrative requirements. And concerns about whether, even if there is real value that comes from formative assessment, the benefits justify the effort. Professors also continue to have questions about exactly what formative assessment entails, about how to integrate it into their classrooms effectively, about whether what they are doing actually counts as formative assessment, and about whether their current efforts are enough. These are all reasonable and legitimately held worries about the implications of trying to comply with the ABA Standards regarding formative assessment. (3)

    For tax professors, there is good news and bad news about the ABA's formative assessment requirement. The good news is that tax professors may have a head start on formative assessment as compared to professors in some other disciplines because many tax law classes rely on the problem method, at least to some extent. As explained in more detail below, the problem method itself provides some formative assessment and provides a good foundation for the integration of more, and more effective, formative assessment into the tax classroom. But the bad news is that, even for tax professors, thoughtful, effective, and efficient use of formative assessment is not necessarily easy.

    There are, however, strategies that tax professors can use, with relatively little additional time and effort, to make their current formative assessment practices more effective and to add additional formative assessment that increases student learning and complies with the ABA Standards. (4) And there are strategies through which tax professors can integrate even more extensive formative assessment if they are willing to invest more time and energy. Further, there are ways to do all of these things in a manner that is as efficient as possible, that advances student learning as much as possible, and that enables the professor to achieve her goals for the class as effectively as possible. Thus, this Article's goal is to help tax professors integrate formative assessment into their classrooms in a way that responds to the concerns and questions mentioned above. (5)

    To be clear, I do not have all of the answers about formative assessment for tax classes or otherwise. There is extensive literature, both in legal education (6) and education more generally, (7) about formative assessment, and this Article could not possibly rehash all of it. However, this Article seeks to make the key insights of that literature accessible and actionable for professors teaching tax, so that they can integrate formative assessment into their classrooms effectively without having to become legal pedagogy scholars in addition to being tax law scholars. (8) To do so, I build on the lessons from the literature, and I draw on more than a dozen years of experience teaching a variety of tax law classes and using formative assessment techniques therein. (9) By focusing on the specific context of tax law classes, this Article identifies techniques and tips that are likely to be particularly useful for students' learning in tax courses. (10) And by using examples from federal income tax ("FIT"), corporate tax, and partnership tax courses, I hope to show tax professors examples of concrete things they can do for formative assessment, thereby making it easier for tax professors to figure out which approach(es) to formative assessment is (are) most likely to work for them in their classes and making those formative assessment techniques a little bit easier to use. At the very least, I hope that this Article gives tax professors a crash course on formative assessment. (11)

    There are, of course, formative assessment techniques and strategies for making those techniques effective beyond those discussed in this Article, and readers of this Article may have implemented additional techniques in their classrooms. Thus, I hope that others will use their creativity and experiences to build on what they do in their own classrooms, on what I have done herein, and on what others have done elsewhere.

    This Article proceeds as follows. Part II briefly summarizes the changes to the ABA Standards regarding assessment of student learning and explains the concept of formative assessment. In particular, Part II explains that formative assessment is more than just the provision of feedback; it involves feedback loops for both the student and professor, where action is taken in response to feedback provided. This Part also explains the concepts of metacognition and self-regulated learning, contributions to which are important goals of formative assessment. Part III provides a few words of encouragement for tax professors grappling with the challenge of integrating formative assessment into their classrooms, including suggestions about how to approach this effort and how to make this effort useful for advancing whatever the professor's goals are for her course. Part IV discusses how professors can build from the problem method, if they already use that approach, and how professors can, more generally, use multiple choice questions to provide effective formative feedback. Then, this Part discusses the use of other objective questions (e.g., true/false and multiple select questions), minute papers, and vocabulary/concepts lists, all of which are additional strategies for formative assessment that require relatively little of the professor's time and effort, whether before, in, or after class. Part V describes techniques for more extensive formative assessment, including in-class exercises, additional review problems for students, writing assignments, and midterms. These techniques often require additional time and effort, but this Part also provides some guidance about how to mitigate these additional burdens. Part VI concludes.

    Readers who are familiar with the recent changes to the ABA Standards and the goals of formative assessment may wish to skip Part II and go directly...

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