Formative Assessment Blog

  • Many of you have asked about formative assessments.  Your questions have included: How do I use formative assessment meaningfully? Which should I use? How can formative assessments be both practical and usable?  All great questions.

    Let's start with a wee bit of philosophy.  Formative assessment is part of a loop.  When one part of the loop is missing, the entire process falls apart.

    1. We start by clarifying intended learning.  In short, ask yourself, Do students know what they're expected to know? Can they tell me (or anyone else for that matter) what the big ideas are and why they are learning them?  That can take lots of paths.  It may include a whole-class discussion about the goals of a unit/lesson, they may be posted and referenced throughout a lesson, students may record their goals in a learning notebook.

    SBAC Digital Library

    2. Next, we'll elicit evidenceWhen we Google, formative assessment strategies this is the attribute that generates hits.  But as you'll see, this is only one-quarter of the process.  Much in the same way that we select "best teaching strategies" purposefully, we need to select our formative assessments with equal care.  This is the stage in which we determine how the students show us what they know.  We know it's important to use multiple means to collect evidence in order to determine what our students know and are still learning. 

    3. So we have our evidence, now what?  How do we interpret evidenceOften this is where the cycle falls apart. Teachers and students can both determine where they are in the learning continuum.  Teachers may examine student work independently, they may work in department peer groups to examine evidence.  This step may also happen through one-on-one teacher/student discussions or students may revisit their learning notebooks recording not just a score, but also how they know what they've learned.  This component may include actionable feedback from the teacher and possibly the student him/herself.

    4. We've gathered the evidence, interpreted what it means, now we have to do something about it! Acting on evidence is the critical next step.  Ultimately, this is the whole point of assessment for learning.  What we know about the student's understanding of the content drives what we do next in the classroom.  We understand that this may not look the same for each student--we scaffold and differentiate based on our students' needs.

    As we search for formative assessments (I've included a couple of links below), ask yourself how you're addressing all four parts of the process.

    Possible resources (This is not an endorsement. In fact, there are some strategies I like much better than others; this is just a short list of possibilities):