Formative Assessment

Assessing student progress during learning to adjust and improve instruction.

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The Importance of Formative Assessment

Assessment is formative when:

  • Evidence is gathered about student achievement or understanding.
  • The information allows the instructor or learner to alter future instructional steps.
  • It is done to improve learning outcomes (Black & Wiliam, 2009).

It is the use of the assessment that makes it formative. If evidence of student achievement is not used to adapt instruction or to give feedback to students to improve their learning, it is summative. Formative assessments are a natural part of the scaffolding process, and provide the following benefits:

Instructor Benefits

  • Helps recognize student strengths and knowledge or skill gaps to determine level of scaffolding needed.
  • Used to adapt instruction and reflect on instructional practices.
  • Allows for opportunities to give feedback and guide learning.

Student Benefits

  • Determines level of understanding or skill development.
  • Identifies areas to review and study.
  • Promotes self-regulating strategies.
  • Allows for opportunities to receive feedback and guidance.

Therefore, use formative assessments to:

  • Check for understanding.
  • Gauge progress toward learning outcomes.
  • Provide students with support and guidance.
  • Pace instruction and adjust as needed.

Previous studies, and large meta-analyses that gather the findings from these studies have shown large effects on student learning gains, equivalent of 1 to 2 letter grades, when teachers use formative assessment (Black & Wiliam, 1998; 2006; Hattie, 2008). It should be noted that there are challenges to the accuracy of research on formative assessment, with the most notable criticisms being vague and often circular definitions of what constitutes formative assessment, poor research design of many studies, and no agreed upon methods or terminology for formative assessment (Dunn & Mulvenon, 2009; Kingston & Nash, 2011). These are issues related to how people have studied formative assessment and not formative assessment itself.

Using Formative Assessment in Your Course

Examples of Formative Assessment

The following examples of assessment can be used formatively to assess student achievement and alter teaching and learning throughout your course.

  • Homework
  • Graphic organizers
  • Exit slips
  • Journal entries
  • Summaries
  • Observations
  • Reflections
  • Performance tasks
  • Minute papers
  • Worksheets
  • Peer assessments
  • Group assignments
  • Diagrams
  • Discussions
  • Rubrics
  • Comprehension questions
  • Concept maps
  • Video responses
  • Checklists
  • Oral responses

Activities, assignments and assessments can all be utilized as formative approaches if they are used to give instructors and students feedback to alter teaching and learning. For feedback to your students to be effective it must be timely, relevant and caring.

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

Classroom Assessment Techniques (Angelo and Cross, 1993) are formative assessments that are meant to be quick and flexible formative assessments. The following sites have compiled a variety of examples:

15 CATs suitable for use with large, lecture-style classes.

CATs to assess learners’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, self-awareness and reactions to instruction; List organized by level of Bloom’s taxonomy that the set of CATs target.

1-page chart with selected CATs examples – names, descriptions, amount of time (prep & in-class) required for each.

Next Steps

When you are done choosing or creating formative assessments continue:

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