Integrating formative assessment strategies and tools at the beginning of the school year is a way to learn about each incoming student’s competency levels. This information enables you to adjust your instruction so you can help students build or rebuild skills, if needed, and track student learning progress throughout the year. It also helps set expectations for students early on that they will be involved in setting their learning goals and monitoring their progress over the course of the year.
Here’s an overview of what formative assessments are and some tips on integrating them into your back-to-school and full-year planning.
What are formative assessments?
Formative assessment is an ongoing process embedded in the teaching and learning cycle that enables you to collect evidence on what students know and can do. It leverages a variety of strategies designed to monitor learning in real-time and adjust as needed, such as class discussions to observe student thinking and student goal setting and progress reflection. The tools used can take the form of exit tickets, student work samples or even short, informal quizzes. (This is compared to summative assessments, which are higher stakes and measure learning at the end of a period of time or study, such as a learning unit or the school year. We’ll dig into these differences later on in this article.)
Formative assessment assignments (also referred to as formative assessments) are typically short and designed to provide feedback relative to a specific standard or set of standards. The results bring students closer to their learning journey by showing them where they need to improve while giving you insight into where they need additional support.
The results of formative assessments can also be used to personalize student learning and pick the best learning supports from a library of options. You can use the information to inform and adjust what and how you teach to better meet the learning needs of individual students, groups of students and the whole class throughout the school year.
What’s the difference between formative, summative and interim assessments?
A comprehensive assessment strategy that supports healthy student learning incorporates a variety of assessment types, including formative, interim and summative.
Formative assessments are strategies and tools used as part of the ongoing teaching and learning process. Educators can use them when the school year starts to gauge student competencies and plan instruction, including using supports such as scaffolding. Because they are continuous, they nurture a growth mindset by encouraging students to reflect on personal strengths and areas for improvement without comparisons to others.
Summative assessments are high-stakes evaluations typically given at the end of a unit or the end of the year to measure student learning based on a broad set of standards. These results may inform school or district improvement plans, professional development or curricular needs. For students, these assessments may be used to meet state-level grade advancement or graduation requirements.
Interim assessments fit between summative and formative assessments. They are given periodically throughout a unit or the school year to track student progress toward an end-of-unit outcome or year-end goal. This information helps educators determine if students need intervention, such as tutoring or small-group instruction, to meet the required standards at the end of a unit or school year.
3 tips for using formative assessments this fall
The declining test scores and widening learning gaps making national news headlines are good indicators that students entering your classrooms this fall may not have mastered previous learning. If not addressed effectively, this situation can slow down learning progress for an individual student and the whole class.
Getting into a routine of conducting formative assessments within the first few days of school tees off the ongoing use of those strategies and tools as a way to collect real-time data to guide personalized instruction throughout the year.
Here are three steps for getting started:
- Identify the specific learning objectives you want to formatively assess.
- Determine what a student needs to do to indicate they have mastered the concept. Consider if strategies, such as interacting with students during a whole-class lesson, will provide that evidence or if you need a short assignment to verify mastery.
- Give comprehensive feedback to students that shares what needs to be corrected and helps them see how mastering this learning objective connects to future learning goals.
Consistent data collection is key to making the most of formative assessments in the classroom. By implementing formative assessments early in the school year and then deploying them throughout the year to track learning progress, you can help ensure you know what type of instruction and support your students need to close learning gaps and get ahead.
Personalized learning and adaptive learning environments are shaping the future of K-12 education. Learn more about Pearson’s formative and interim assessment solutions by visiting the Pearson Assessment for Learning Suite.