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Formative Assessment PDF Print E-mail

Formative assessment is a self-reflective, bidirectional process between teacher and student to enhance, recognise and respond to the learning.  With formative assessment, feedback from learning activities is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet the learner's needs.  Formative assessment is, put plainly, assessment of student progress.  Teachers can do this by observing students as they:

  • Respond to questions
  • Ask questions
  • Interact with other students during activities, etc.

As opposed to a summative assessments designed to make judgments about student performance and produce grades, the role of a formative assessment is to improve learning. As opposed to benchmark tests that are used to predict student performance on other tests (most often state assessments), formative assessments are intimately connected to instruction.

More after the jump...

Formative assessments are:

  • For Learning – The purpose of formative assessment is to enhance learning not to allocate grades. Summative assessments are designed to allocate grades. The goal of formative assessment is to improve; summative assessment to prove.
  • Embedded in Instruction - Formative assessments are considered a part of instruction and the instructional sequence. What students are taught is reflected in what they are assessed.

So why do we see so little good formative assessment?  Why do we see so much summative assessments?  I believe that there is truly a lack of good understanding about formative assessments and an unwillingness to embrace change.  But change must come. There are many key benefits of formative assessment, if we would embrace them.

  • Non-threatening Results - Formative assessments are scored but generally not graded. Students are encouraged to raise questions about the assessment and the material covered and are not penalized for making mistakes.
  • Direct and Immediate Feedback- Results of formative assessments are produced “on the spot;” teachers and students get them immediately. Teachers get a view of both individual and class performances while students learn how well they have done.  Student response systems, discussions, and simulations fit perfectly here.
  • Structured Information - Teachers can judge success and plan improvements based on the formative results. Students can see progress and experience success. Both teachers and students learn from the assessment results.  That is a key feature that is missing from our most common assessments: teachers rarely learn or make adjustments based on the assessments.
  • Ways to Improve - the data from the assessments provide a basis for the teacher to re-visit topics in the unit if necessary. Individual student responses provide a basis for giving students additional experiences in areas where they performed less well.  This directly guides and shapes differentiated instruction in the classroom - another often misunderstood concept.
Strangely enough, some of the most frequent practitioners of formative assessment are also the ones least likely to be taken seriously as academics.  Art, music, sports, shop class, and other elective courses often use formative assessmet on a regular basis, providing feedback and guidance to the students every day.  Imagine a sports team with only summative assessment (Friday night game) and no feedback during the week!  Art classrooms provide students with constant feedback and correction on their work, and good art teachers continuously adjust their instruction based on that assessment.  When will the mainstream courses get on the bus?