Making Every Assessment a Formative Experience

If you've spent much time on this Network you are well aware that we promote the use of formative assessment - or Assessment FOR Learning.  Formative assessments are often compared/contrasted with summative assessments.  Typically, educators use the term "formative assessment" to refer to smaller checks for understanding and use the term "summative assessment" to refer to more larger assessments such as traditional unit tests.  But to differentiate between the two can be misleading IF THE ULTIMATE GOAL IS FOR STUDENTS TO LEARN RATHER THAN FOR THE TEACHER TO BE ABLE TO DETERMINE A GRADE.

As educators make their lesson/assessment plans, they should keep this simple truth in mind: WE CARE MORE ABOUT LEARNING THAN WE DO GRADING.  If this is true, then how can we allow some assessments to help students learn while other assessments help us determine a grade?  If we care more about learning than we do grading, then shouldn't ALL assessments help students learn.  ALL assessments should have a formative purpose, right?

Last week I entered the classroom of Mark Ingerson, a 9th grade Modern World History teacher at Salem High School, to conduct a quick walk-through.  What I saw was a great example of how all assessments, even those that traditionally would be considered summative in nature, can have great formative benefit if the teacher is intentionally focused more on learning than grading.

Mark's students were taking a test in his classroom on the unit he had just finished.  The test was designed by him in Quia, and the students took it on their Chromebooks.  Mark had tagged all the questions on this unit test based on the standards they represented.  Therefore, as students finished Mark received more than just a grade; he received an instant report of how well each individual student had mastered each specific standard.

As the students finished and submitted their tests, they immediately (as if they had been trained to do this....) came up to Mr. Ingerson's desk where he, one-at-a-time, gave each of them a post-it note on which he had listed their weakest standard ON THE TEST THEY HAD JUST TAKEN.  After receiving the post-it note, the students went back to their desks to IMMEDIATELY use Quia to practice the standards they had just scored low on.

It definitely takes some work to create the infrastructure needed to provide this sort of instant feedback, and it's true that the Quia format would not work as well for all classes as it does for Mark's.  But there's no denying the simple beauty of what is occurring here:

  • The students are receiving instant and standards-based feedback.
  • The teacher is able to differentiate and personalize the relearning experience for each student.
  • The traditional summative assessment is truly a formative experience.

Let's remember the truth we believe:
Learning is more important than grading. 

So here's the question for you:
How can you ensure that assessments in your classroom, rather than just help you determine a grade, actually help students learn?

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  • I like hearing how another teacher made it easy and meaningful at the same time. Students always appreciate real time feedback. I think implementing this into my assessments will help develop that intrinsic desire to learn and do well. Of course as an English teacher not everything can be instant feedback- ie essays and short answer questions. But, it is incredibly important to provide timely feedback.

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