Formative Assessment Paves the Way!


formativeassess by Jennifer Beasley

When going on any journey in life, it is nice to know your destination. In the classroom, our destination is the goal of our lessons or units of instruction. Common Core State Standards provide a teacher with clear, concise goals that can be used to chart a path of instruction, but as with many journeys, not everyone arrives at the destination in the same way or at the same time. We need signposts along the path to help us when we lose our way. Formative assessments are the way a classroom teacher can check to make sure everyone arrives at the destination of learning.

Signpost #1: Pre-assessments

Our students arrive in our classrooms from a variety of academic and cultural backgrounds. Each student has a unique way that they approach problems, produce work, or even collaborate. We need to go beyond the labels of gifted, ELL (English language learners), and special education and really find out where each child is with each Common Core standard. Effective educators adopt the philosophy that assessment is a part of an instructional cycle, where information is used to provide feedback on the effectiveness of instruction and to plan the next stage of instruction. Pre-assessment is one type of formative assessment that gives the teacher a glimpse into where each child is prior to taking the journey of learning.

Signpost #2: Ongoing Assessments

As the learning journey begins, it is easy for students (and teachers!) to lose their way. Ongoing assessments can be used to check to see where each student is as she moves toward the learning goals. Assessments do not have to be a lengthy drawn-out test or quiz. Some assessments can be low prep and easily incorporated in our daily routines. An easy assessment to use is an “exit card.” Just as the class wraps up the lesson for the day, a teacher could have them do a “3-2-1 card.” This type of exit card allows students to give the teacher feedback by answering: 3 things they learned from that day’s lesson, 2 questions they still have, and 1 thing they would like to learn more about. These cards could be collected at the end of the lesson and used to assess where the students are with the learning goals.

Signpost #3: Summative Assessments

Finally, as students reach the end of the learning journey, teachers can use a summative assessment to see if everyone arrived at the final destination. Summative assessments come in many forms, such as unit tests, lab notes, portfolios, and performance assessments, and can help teachers check for student understanding based on the goals set out at the beginning of the learning cycle.

As we keep moving toward the goals that the standards provide, we must not forget to check to see if our students remain with us on this journey. Formative assessments can provide the signposts we all need to arrive at our destination of learning.

Jennifer Beasley is currently part of the ASCD Faculty where she collaborates with schools on differentiation and common core. She has more than 25 years experience in education as an elementary school teacher, gifted facilitator and university professor.  She is currently an Assistant Professor in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Arkansas.