The Role of Formative Assessments

Shemmicca Moore
Shemmicca Moore
Director of Secondary Instruction; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Gardner-Webb University
A notebook with the lettering, “formative assessments” sits on a teachers desk.

What are Formative Assessments?

Knowing where students are academically is the foundation for effective teaching and learning. Observers can readily ascertain that effective classroom instruction is on the horizon when an ongoing measuring stick for student academic success is present. Hence, the importance of formative assessments. Having formative assessments embedded throughout instruction prevents teachers from teaching in the dark with regards to student readiness.

Why Are Formative Assessments So Important?

When used effectively, they answer the question: “Are my students getting it?” They are powerful tools when planning next steps in the teaching learning cycle. In fact, the cycle is broken when formative assessments are not present. Fore, it is unrealistic to believe that teachers have a grasp on students’ mastery of learning targets without their presence.

Formative assessments are foundational in terms of planning lessons that hit the mark for student mastery. In fact, one could say that they are the stoplight for progressing through a learning target. Student failure of the formative assessment coincides with the red light in that it means stop and regroup with new teaching strategies. Borderline passing mirrors the yellow light. It says proceed with caution because based on the results it is not clear if the students fully understood the material. Mastering the assessment is like getting to the green light and knowing that it is safe to proceed as student mastery is clear.

It is too common for teachers to get to the end of a unit and discover that their students have not mastered the content. The students’ lack of mastery is usually justified by statements such as, “I taught it, but they didn’t get it.” I believe that occurrences such as this indicate instruction that is not saturated with formative assessments. By the end of a unit, as a result of administering formative assessments, the process of remediating and enriching should have occurred in such a manner that teachers know students’ success rate prior to the results being revealed.

Likewise, formative assessments are just as instrumental to administrators. End-of-year state-mandated assessments should not be the only tool used to determine teacher effectiveness. Administrators must use ongoing conversations surrounding formative assessment data to determine a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. The level of support that administrators provide to teachers should be birthed from those conversations. This in the moment support provides teachers with tools needed to pivot to ensure student success.

Ways to Incorporate Formative Assessments

I have found that planning must occur to guarantee that formative assessments are a part of the teaching learning cycle. Planning ways to check for understanding before teaching the lesson increases the potential for success. I have found the following formative assessments examples and methods to be effective in terms of incorporating formative assessments.

Exit Ticket

Exit tickets are short quick checks that students submit as they exit a class or close out a content. Typically, exit tickets are comprised of a few questions that allows the teachers to determine if the students grasped the material. They can be used in several ways.

Exit tickets can be used to differentiate student learning needs. Being able to provide differentiated instruction is the best way to close learning gaps and meet students where they are. Exit tickets help to facilitate this by providing information on students’ areas of strengths and weaknesses. Teachers take this information and group students accordingly. Instruction is then tailored to meet the needs of each group.

Exit tickets also force students to think about what they have learned on any given day. It requires them to analyze the information and regurgitate it to show their level of understanding. Since well-crafted exit tickets require the students to do the thinking, it is more likely that they are doing the learning.

Stop Jot Share

“Stop, Jot, Share” is a formative assessment strategy that I have found successful when requiring students to stop and think before they speak. This strategy is simply an extension of the familiar stop and jot. It requires students to share out with a partner after they have written their responses. This allows teachers to assess students’ understanding through verbal and written replies. It also provides the students an opportunity to hear the thought process of their peers. This gives them a chance to process the material through a lens other than their teachers’. The students will be doing the bulk of the work and learning since this approach requires them to write and talk about the concepts.

Gaining insight into each students’ thought process on the presented content is a strength of this strategy. Teachers are able to ascertain if students can verbally respond to the material, even if they struggled through the written portion. Thus, providing opportunities to tap into students’ learning styles reveal the best way to present material. Based on students’ responses from “stop jot share”, teachers are equipped with data that will allow them to formulate a plan for proceeding with instruction.

Thinking Chart

Thinking charts are another way that pushes students to process the learning. I believe that they are one of the most underutilized formative assessment strategies. They require students to use higher order thinking skills to formulate their responses. Analysis, synthesizing, drawing conclusions, and making predictions are often required when completing thinking charts. All of the skills mentioned above aid students in making sense of their learning. The students’ responses on the charts allow teachers to quickly identify deficits and strengths in the learners’ attainment of the material. Furthermore, their responses can be used to determine the lesson structure in terms of time spent on the various parts of each unit.

Quickly reviewing students’ responses provides teachers with information on the depth of students’ understanding. As with the previously shared strategies, teachers are given an opportunity to identify content that may need revisiting and those that may need enriching. With this information a plan for results driven instruction can be developed. Personalized instruction that meets the needs of every student can occur because the teacher has in-the-moment data that drives teaching and learning.

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