The ante' is raised. No longer can we teach something - content, concept, or skills - just because we personally believe the students need it or should have it. The latest evaluation and feedback tools ask us to have evidence of how we know that students are ready to learn it, that it's at the appropriate level and that it's even something that we should teach (aligned to the standards).

InTasc Model Core Teaching Standards: Standard #6: Assessment

The teacher understands and uses multiple methods of assessment to engage learners in their own growth, to monitor learner progress, and to guide the teacher’s and learner’s decision making.

(April 2011, InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards)

The Standards guide and local curriculum documents describe the curriculum and pacing of content.  But how as teachers do we really know they're ready for the next step?  Do we know if the students or a student has a gap in pre-requisite knowledge that would make it hard for them to learn the new content or concept? Which strategies should we use?  How fast should we go?  Are they ready to explore the concept more deeply?  Do we base this decision upon recollection and professional judgement or experience?  What tangible evidence does one have to ensure that that decision is correct?

Formative assessment data

What is being asked is that we truly become data driven, that we are supposed to now understand and employ data driven decision making in the classroom.  My teacher colleagues sometimes struggle to get this data and capture the evidence in an efficient manner.  Formative data could and should be used to make decisions about instruction and are the artifacts that we can use to analyze to make those decisions rather than relying on sometimes vague recollections and missing some of the students in our room.  At times teacher colleagues have even misinterpreted the term, formative assessment, thinking that they had to give a paper and pencil test, of which they usually gave a summative test or summative assessment.

In a nutshell, formative assessments are those checks or assessments that inform instruction which provides the information to the teacher to adjust instruction prior to the end, or end of the unit where the summative assessment usually takes place.  Many times this may happen, and should happen, throughout a single lesson.  Another way that I've heard the difference between formative and summative explained is that formative is an assessment for learning and a summative assessment is an assessment of learning.

Formative assessments could be those quick checks, listening to student responses to questions, listening in on student conversations, student performances, student writing, whiteboards and other overt responses. Other strategies might include ticket out the door, bell work, student reflection, 3-2-1, K-W-L, the list goes on.

How do we capture the data?  If it's written student work, its easy, you have the artifacts in hand.  If the checks are student conversation, raised whiteboards, performances and the like it can be challenging.  A strategy to consider is to use a seating chart or use a checklist - like a student roster.  For the essential sub-objectives, tasks/activities, or concepts create a column.  As students do or perform the overt response, make some notation.  One notation strategy is to use a minus, blank, plus system.  The teacher notates a minus for the student who is still struggling at that point or uses a plus for the student who seems to have exceeded the expectation.  For the student who is on track at that check the teacher leaves it blank.  The importance of this is efficiency.  The teacher is only notating the struggling and exceeding students and can quickly capture the formative assessment data.  The teacher call also quickly see in browsing the list who those students are to make quick adjustments during the lesson - such as sub-grouping and changing their strategy in a reteach or using an extension strategy.  The list itself is an artifact that could be used as the teacher reflects on the lesson and plans or makes adjustment for future lesson - especially in regard to learning strategies or pacing for the students.

More information

In this video, Barbara Blackburn speaks to formative assessment that "informs the teacher so the teacher can transform their teaching."

Three Ways Data Can Inform Your Teaching

Formative Assessment Works - Two Research-Based Proof Points Make the Case

Connecting Formative Research to Practice (PDF) -

Learn More About Formative Assessment


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