Engaging in a Process of Formative Assessment

With everything being said today about assessments, we should fully understand the process and how it impacts learning. But I fear that many educators fail to use formative assessments to their maximum potential. Much of the fault lies in thinking about formative assessment as a kind of test. In fact, many vendors now tout their pre-packaged interim tests or their standardized tests administered every few months as “formative assessments.”

Let’s step back and briefly review the distinction between formative and summative assessments. Summative assessment refers to the assessment of learning and summarizes the performance of students at a particular moment in time. Formative assessment, on the other hand refers to assessment for learning. It is a process used during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement. I have developed this simple diagram that details the difference visually.

The primary objective of formative assessments is not to assign grades, but rather to inform the teacher and the student of what they know or do not know. More important, formative assessments allow teachers to monitor their instruction and make decisions based on immediate student performance. The evidence that is gathered comes from a variety of sources, including traditional tests as well as informal procedures such as students’ own assessment of how well they understand a concept. In fact, I personally believe that student self-evaluation methods are vastly underused as tools to gather formative assessment data.

We must also not forget the value of the teacher in making qualitative instructional decisions. One of the most valuable forms of formative assessment is simply teacher observations of student mastery of content matter. Formative assessment can occur as a teacher is observing students’ work, discussion, debates, etc. and then reacting to what he or she sees. As I pointed out in another post, one veteran teacher observed, “I can see it in their eyes when they’ve learned it.”

In summary, educators must use a variety of tools to inform them about the level of learning of individual students and be ready to make appropriate adjustments.


About mprater

I'm a recently retired school teacher/administrator continuing to help people grow through personal learning. When not blogging, I do consulting work for schools and organizations, make presentations at conferences, and research for publication. At the same time, I have to set aside enough time to enjoy the "good life" of retirement!
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6 Responses to Engaging in a Process of Formative Assessment

  1. Jill Lazzari says:

    Hi, it’s Jill from EDM 310 again and I really enjoyed this topic. I think formative assessments are important for teachers to see where the students are academically. Formative assessments are great for teachers to use, because they can be used for students to practice and can help determine the next steps during the learning process as the instruction approaches the summative assessment of student learning. But, teachers need to make sure their students are involved. If their students are not involved in the assessment process, then the full effectiveness of formative assessment isn’t implemented.

  2. Good Morning!

    My name is Gina Phillips and I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. Once again this week, I have been assigned to comment on a recent post of yours.

    I must admit this post was daunting for me. I did not understand what you were talking about. I thought I had never heard of formative assessment. It wasn’t until the end of your post that I realized that Formative Assessment is the critical evaluation of your students while teaching. Now I understand! I believe that we, as teachers, must pay attention to our students. If we take the time to watch them as we are teaching, then we will literally see them learning. Much like you quoted in your post.

    Thank you so much for taking the time out of your retirement to continue to educate! You are a wealth of knowledge and I appreciate your willingness to share! Please feel free to stop by my blog or our class blog to see what we are up to as future educators!

    Tweet Me: @DixeGirl
    Email: ginaphillips@gmail.com
    My Class Blog: http://phillipsginaedm310.blogspot.com/
    EDM 310 Class Blog: http://edm310.blogspot.com/

    • mprater says:

      Sometimes we make education too complicated, don’t we? Good teachers do what they always have done: Love kids, engage them in learning, inspire them, and monitor their progress toward specific goals, and celebrate when they reach those goals. Sounds like you are going to be one of those teachers. Well, you already are in many respects. Thanks for your comments, and by best wishes are for you and your classmates.

  3. Patricia Radford says:

    Hi, my name is Patricia Radford and I am a Student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. Using tools like the Formative Assessment is great for teachers to use. This way the teacher knows if he/she is moving to fast. This also let’s the teacher know if she needs to focus on a particular subject area more. There is no point in teaching something if a student isn’t learning.

  4. Linda Garscha says:

    Mr. Prater,
    This was a very informative blog with a good approach how to address common challenges in the school environment. The outlined tools make sense and the verification methods to check results are proven to be successful. I’m excited to implement and adapt these tools as a resource of continuous improvement in my own environment.

    Tweet Me: @LindaGarscha
    Email: lgarscha@gmail.com
    My Class Blog: http://garschalindaedm310.blogspot.com/
    EDM 310 Class Blog: http://edm310.blogspot.com/

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