How Dynamic Formative Assessment Can Improve Student Learning

What is a Formative Assessment?

formative assessment
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What is a Formative Assessment?

A formative assessment can be defined as a variety of mini-assessments that allow a teacher to adjust instruction on a frequent basis. These continuous assessments allow teachers to use a variety of instructional strategies to help students reach instructional goals. A formative assessment is quick and easy to administrator and provides both the teacher and student with quick data that ultimately drives instruction and learning.

Formative assessments focus on an individual skill or a subset of skills within a curriculum instead of the entire curriculum. These assessments are intended to measure progress towards a specific goal. They also provide students with a deeper understanding of skills they have mastered as well as skills they struggle with.

There are many different types of formative assessments that can be used in any classroom. Some of the more popular ones include direct questioning, learning/response logs, graphic organizers, think pair share, and four corners. Every situation is unique. Teachers have to create and utilize the types of formative assessments that will be the most beneficial for their students and learning activities.

The Benefits of Ongoing Formative Assessment

Teachers who utilize regular, ongoing formative assessment in their classroom find that student engagement and learning increases.

  Teachers are able to use the data generated from formative assessment to drive instructional changes for both whole group and individual instruction.  Students find value in formative assessments in that they always know where they stand and are increasingly aware of their own strengths and weaknesses.

  Formative assessments are easy to create, easy to take, easy to score, and easy to use the results. In addition, they only require a limited amount of time to complete.  Formative assessments aid in setting individualized goals for students and monitoring progress on a daily basis. 

The Best Type of Formative Assessment?

One of the most advantageous components of formative assessment is that there is no single style of formative assessment.  Instead, there are hundreds of different types of available formative assessments. Each teacher can develop a deep repertoire of potential formative assessments. Furthermore, teachers can adapt and change a formative assessment to fit the needs of their students. This is important as variance helps keep students engaged and ensures that the teacher can match the proper assessment of the concepts being learned. Having options also helps ensure that students will most likely see several assessment types throughout the year that naturally aligns to their individual preferences or strengths as well as their weaknesses.  The best type of formative assessment is engaging, aligns with student strengths, and identifies areas in which additional instruction or assistance is needed.

Formative Assessments vs. Summative Assessments

Teachers who only utilize summative assessments to evaluate student learning is doing their students a disservice.  A summative assessment is designed to evaluate learning over an extended period of time.  A formative assessment gauges learning on a regular and often daily basis. Students are given immediate feedback that allows them to correct the mistakes they are making. A summative assessment limits this because of the longer time frame. Many teachers use a summative assessment to wrap up a unit and rarely revisit those concepts even when students do not perform well. 

Summative assessments offer value, but in conjunction or in partnership with formative assessments. Formative assessments should build to an eventual summative assessment. Progressing this way ensures that teachers are able to assess parts to the whole.

  It is a more natural progression than simply throwing up a summative assessment at the end of a two-week unit.

Wrapping It Up

Formative assessments are a proven educational tools offering value a lot of value for teachers and students.  Teachers can develop and use formative assessments to guide future instruction, develop individual learning goals for students, and obtain valuable information about the quality of the lessons being presented to students.  Students benefit because they receive immediate, ongoing feedback that can help them know where they stand academically at any given point.  In conclusion, formative assessments should be a regular component of any classroom assessment routine.