If you are a home owner, when you hear the word assessment you probably think about property taxes. But if you are involved with education, the word instead implies testing, or measuring what a student has learned in particular subjects. The various state exams, Common Core assessments, and SATs have traditionally been what assessment is all about. Recently, however, the term formative assessment has been gaining attention among educators, and this post looks at how that approach is distinguished from traditional notions of evaluation.
Before we look at the benefits, it’s important to understand the concept. Formative assessment is a process used by teachers during class that provides in-process snapshots of student comprehension, learning needs and academic progress to help adapt the ongoing instructing and coaching. When teachers have real-time feedback about the progress of the individuals in their class, they can adjust lessons and provide individual attention accordingly to improve students’ mastery of subject matter.
Final exams, SATs, state assessments, and the initial Common Core tests are summative assessments, designed to evaluate student learning at the conclusion of an instructional period. Summative assessments are necessary to compare education systems across the country, but they occur too late in the process to help individual students come to grips with the course content. According to the Northwest Evaluation Association, 59 percent of teachers and district admins say they spend too much time preparing for state summative assessments, while 68 percent of district admins say they spend too little time on formative assessments. These findings demonstrate that although traditional summative assessments such as state tests remain a priority for educators, there is an important need for the real-time feedback provided by formative assessments.
In general, formative assessment tools are often not exams at all, and are designed to be invisible to the students. The tools can be fit within the regular classroom student learning experience. They may include interactive questions and discussions, Twitter voting, short practice quizzes, polls, and self-assessments. The results of formative assessments generally do not become a permanent part of the student’s record.
Formative assessments increase student success by:
- Focusing students on learning instead of grades
- Motivating and encouraging students to take responsibility for their own educational growth
- Giving students better and more accurate information on how they can improve
- Reducing learning and achievement gaps among students
In order to fully achieve these benefits, the right technology needs to be in place. Here are a few examples:
- Student Response Systems (SRS) – classroom clickers that allow teachers to poll students and respond to missed concepts immediately. Student mobile devices, as they become more ever-present in the classroom, can also take on this role.
- Google Forms – an online app for creating questionnaires and surveys enabling teachers to pose instant questions to a classroom of students, post summaries of the responses, keep track of the scores, and analyze trends for each student.
- Mathematics Assessment Project (MAP) Classroom Challenges (CCs) – classroom-ready lessons that support formative assessment. The CCs help teachers assess and improve students’ understanding of mathematical concepts and skills and their ability to use the “mathematical practices” described in the Common Core State Standards. Available free of charge.
- Classroom Devices – handheld devices like iPads can be used by teachers to record data as they’re doing over-the-shoulder assessments in class.
- High Density Wi-Fi – in order to support the devices and online systems needed to conduct the assessments, a strong wireless infrastructure needs to be in place to make sure all students and teachers can have access to information in one click with no downtime. Not being able to get online easily and quickly wastes valuable minutes that should be spent teaching and learning.
To make formative assessments successful, it is important to understand the students’ learning objectives and use evidence gathered along the way from the assessments to move that student forward. Each student may learn differently, so putting a process in place to interactively check on progress ultimately provides valuable guidance toward achieving each student’s success.
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