By Teachers, For Teachers
A “formative assessment” is a test that is typically given mid-year to measure how student learning has progressed and to guide future instructional decisions for the remainder of the year. It does not represent the cumulative product of learning, but is rather a snapshot of the learning in progress. In most cases, many formative assessments take place intermittently throughout a year.
The opposite of a formative assessment is a “summative assessment” that measures the sum of a student’s learning at the end of a unit or year. Where formative assessments are used to measure progress, summative assessments measure the end point—thereby revealing more about outcomes instead of where to go in the future.
Most effective teachers well-versed in classroom management utilize a combination of these assessments. While summative assessments (like unit tests or final exams) are familiar curricular tools, it is imperative that teachers properly employ formative assessments to most powerfully impact their students’ learning. Here’s how.
As stated above, there’s no single way to assess students. In fact, the more diverse your assessment approaches, the better idea you have of student performance capabilities. Let’s take a look at a few types:
Student Reflections. Simply giving students an opportunity to reflect on their learning can give insight into their capability. This can be done in something like a formal journal, or something informal like an Exit Slip. Students can perform a reflection or summary of recent content by responding to a class activity, assignment, or direct instruction.
Discussion. This can be a very informal process, but just giving students a chance to talk to one another about the content through guided discussion can go a long way in determining how well they understand the material. Whole class, small group, or partner discussions are great ways to gain insight into how they are processing content.
Traditional Homework and Quizzes. Infinite varieties of homework and quizzes exist, but if you utilize some of these, you will have a fairly concrete, measurable product that indicates student learning.
Test-like Preparations. If there is an upcoming summative assessment, then perhaps design quasi-formal formative assessments modeled off of the summative. This will show students exactly what they’re expected to perform on the end of year (or unit) test and help prepare them to do well.
Collaborative Activities. In addition to discussions, having students work with one another to create a concrete product helps students solidify their learning and demonstrate their proficiency.
As you more frequently implement formal and informal formative assessments along the above guidelines, you will be able to better respond to student progress. While we commonly rely on summative assessments to determine what students have learned, the better we can utilize formative assessments along the way will help students perform more proficiently in the long run.
What are different formative assessment strategies you have, and how you use them to guide instruction in your classroom? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.