Formative Assessment  

April 11, 2014
Thoughtful assessment is the theme of the March edition of Educational Leadership. In reading this publication, the article resonating most with me was written by Carol Ann Tomlinson, educational leader and expert in differentiated instruction. In The Bridge Between Today’s Lesson and Tomorrow’s, Tomlinson elaborates on ten principles of formative assessment that can improve both teaching and learning. She challenges educators to reflect on their own assessment practices to determine the best way to glean evidence about student performance, interpret that evidence, and use insights gained to make adjustments to instruction that causes increased student learning. I would like to share Tomlinson’s ten principles with you.

1. Help students understand the role of formative assessment.

It is important to show students that formative assessments help us understand their thinking and helps them make improvements in their work. Immediate perfection should not be the goal, therefore not all assessments will be graded. Once they’ve had time to practice, then it will be time to grade.

2. Begin with clear KUDs. (Know, Understand, Do)

By defining precisely what students need to know, understand, and do, teachers can focus curricular decisions on what matters most for student success. Formative assessment measures can then be designed according to the KUDs which in turn informs planning and instruction.

3. Make room for student differences.

Formative assessment requires the teacher build in some flexibility so that students can show what they know, understand, and can do through various methods.

4. Provide instructive feedback.

Students need useful feedback so they can be clear about the learning targets at which they are aiming, and they understand how their performance on the assessment shows their progress toward them. Feedback needs to be instructional in nature so the student can improve on how or why they missed the mark.

5. Make feedback user-friendly.

Feedback must be specific to the learner’s progress and cause the learner to reflect on how to improve. Good feedback focuses each learner on actions that are challenging but achievable for that.

6. Assess persistently.

Effective teachers continually assess formally and informally with individuals and groups in order to understand academic progress. Teachers walk among their students as they work taking notes, listening for understanding and asking questions to illicit deeper thinking.

7. Engage students with formative assessment.

Formative assessment works best when students are fully engaged in the assessment process. Using rubrics to examine their own work as well as the work of peers helps them practice giving and receiving feedback to benefit their own academic growth.

8. Look for patterns.

Planning and instructing using formative assessment can be done by finding patterns in students’ work and clustering them accordingly. Teachers do not need a lesson plan for each student.

9. Plan instruction around content requirements and student needs.

As Carol Ann Tomlinson states in the article, “There is little point in spending time on formative assessment unless it leads to modification of teaching and learning plans”.

10.  Repeat the process.

In order to maximize each student’s growth, formative assessment must become habitual. Each assessment of learning informs instructional plans. It is a process that never ends.

If we are going to be effective as educators, we must break away from the traditional paradigm that anoints the teacher as giver and grader of tests. We must engage students in a reflective process that enables them to seek and provide feedback, practice using the feedback, and explain their progress toward academic goals. This can only happen if the teacher creates a classroom environment that is feedback-rich, emphasizes growth, is monitored continually, and adapted daily.

-by Kelly Clapp, Professional Development Coordinator