How formative assessments can improve student success in the 2021-2022 school year

by | Oct 15, 2019


How do you use assessments in the classroom? Many view assessments simply as a means of determining student success after completing a learning unit, but assessments can also be used as tools to help improve student achievement throughout the school year. When used appropriately, assessments can even help inform your instructional practices and goals to improve student learning.

What are formative assessments, and how are they different from traditional assessments?

When you use tests to determine a student’s mastery and understanding of a subject at the end of a learning unit, these are summative assessments. Summative assessments are usually graded assignments.

On the other hand, a formative assessment is used during the learning unit to help students practice new skills and further their understanding on a topic. For example, formative assessments may include:

  • Homework assignments
  • Journaling, summaries, and reflection exercises
  • Visual activities, such as drawings and charts
  • Student presentations

Formative assessments do not need to be graded. Instead, they offer an opportunity to provide feedback and cues to students, and to modify your instructional approach based on student needs.

Why is it important to use formative assessments?

Research has shown evidence of several compelling reasons to use formative assessments in your classroom:

  • When used between and during learning units, formative assessments improve student achievement. In fact, a 1998 study found formative assessments can have an effect size on standardized tests between 0.4 and 0.7. This study also found formative assessments are most impactful for the lowest performing students, helping to close the achievement gap.
  • Teachers report increased student engagement when formative assessments inform their instruction.
  • Teachers also report more job satisfaction when they use formative assessments.

What are the long term benefits of formative assessments for students?

ASCD outlines four steps students should be able to complete independently through the use of formative assessments:

  1. Identify learning objectives and expectations — Students should be able to infer what they need to learn from each unit in the curriculum based on grading rubrics, quizzes in their textbooks, and other available resources.
  2. Complete self assessments — Students should know how to assess their prior knowledge and track their improvements throughout a learning unit.
  3. Set their own learning goals — Based on the previous two steps, students should be able to identify what topics and skills they need to master by the end of a learning unit.
  4. Identify practical steps they can take to meet their goals — Students should know how they can conduct further research and practice skills to improve their work.

Coach students through each of these four steps during each learning unit so they can learn to take ownership of their own educational journey. Although you will lead your class through these steps as a large group during a learning unit, it’s also important for students to individually develop these skills as well so they can become lifelong learners.

What is a formative assessment calendar and why should you create one at the beginning of the school year?

Many teachers love learning about instructional best practices and frameworks, but find it challenging to actually remember to implement these strategies on a daily basis in the midst of their other responsibilities. A formative assessment calendar allows you to plan ahead for the school year to build in flexibility for your lesson plans as you respond to students’ progress and challenges revealed through formative assessments.

Your formative assessment calendar should not be a standalone document; rather, it can be incorporated into your regular curriculum and lesson plans. Schedule time in each of your learning units to complete each of the four steps listed above: Identify learning objectives, Complete formative assessments, Set learning goals, and Identify the steps needed to reach these goals. After each classroom activity, schedule time to check in with students and get an idea of their level of understanding for each new topic and skill.

How can you use formative assessments to differentiate and intervene for students who need additional supports?

As you plan which types of formative assessments to use with each learning unit, it’s also important to plan how you will use these assessments to inform your classroom instruction. Although many experts advise teachers against scoring formative assessments to count toward students’ grades, education expert Judith Dodge recommends privately tracking student progress through each learning unit so you know which students need more practice with various skills.

Formative assessments give you the opportunity to offer cues, clues, and correction to students who need feedback midway through the lesson plan. Once you have identified problem areas for each student, you can offer additional insight from a new perspective, using a new medium, and/or catering to different learning styles. Dodge suggests using a tiered approach when planning activities for each lesson plan so you can meet students at a few different learning levels.

One of the greatest benefits of formative assessments is that teachers can respond quickly when students who need additional support, especially for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), require intervention in their learning journey. In 2017, the Council of Chief State School Officers released a publication recommending formative assessment strategies for working with students with disabilities. Overall, these strategies help teachers provide better feedback more frequently to help students become more autonomous learners.

Do you need further support incorporating formative assessments and other instructional best practices into your curriculum? Schedule a free consultation call with CSAS to learn how we can transform your school and student achievement.