Formative Assessment vs. Formative Assessments:

Using Data to Inform Instruction

“Connecting students with their own learning data is a game changer for increasing student achievement.”

Using data is one of the major weapons instructional leaders have in improving test scores and increasing student academic achievement. With the use of data, teaching and learning has moved into as much of a science as it is an art. There is a difference in formative assessment and formative assessments. Formative assessment is a “process” and should occur multiple times daily in each class to let the teacher know what a student doesn’t know and what they need help with. Formative assessments are a “product” that gives us data, based on standards-based assessments, to inform instruction for intervention or enrichment.

Formative assess should be differentiated, informal and not graded, and a first line of defense against student misconceptions or deficiencies in student learning. Formative assessment should be an on-going and consistent part of the daily instructional routine. It should be viewed as an opportunity for improvement. One of the goals, every day in every classroom, should be to provide every single student with some type of feedback on performance. This feedback is a great way of building relationships and differentiating to help provide the needed support for each student to be successful.

Formative assessment is a process used during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning. It’s not a test or bank of test items. It’s well-supported by research to be effective when the implemented formative assessment assists students in achieving intended instructional outcomes and student learning. Formative assessment plays a key role in improving student learning and achievement though informing learning practices based on data.

Examples of Formative Assessments

* Observations * Meaningful homework assignments

* Questioning * Conferencing/reviews

* Discussion * Simulations/games

* Journals * Think pair share

* Assignments * Projects

* Four corners * Pop quizzes

* Graphic organizers * Exit/entry slips

* Written questions/exercises * Diagnostic tests

* Visual representations * Kinesthetic assessments

* Individual whiteboards * Peer/self-assessments

Designing, implementing, and utilizing formative assessments properly is a science that helps teachers to be more precise in what their teaching and meeting the individual needs of every student based on data. This process begins with curriculum, creating a scope and sequence for instruction, developing curriculum maps and pacing guides, and then breaking those down into units of instruction all the way to daily lesson plans. Once this curriculum alignment piece is in place, educators design common assessments that are aligned to tested standards and the pacing of instruction.

Teachers develop these common formative assessments in a way that provides information that helps determine what students understand, where there are gaps in comprehension, who needs intervention, and what they need intervention on aligned to standards. Intervention can come in the form of whole group re-teaching of specific concepts or content and/or small-group/individualized intervention to remediate specific content that students need additional support to master. As teachers and administrators develop these common formative assessments, they learn and are more familiar with state standards and how students are assessed on summative assessments. After students take the tests, teachers exam the results of the assessments and do an item analysis.

This allows teachers to look across the entirety of students taught to identify trends, analyze performance of clusters of students, analyze specific test items aligned to specific standards, and examine individual student performance to inform the next steps of instruction to improve and increase student learning. In the next steps, teachers generally work collaboratively o analyze the data and results, which is foundational to instituting improvements and helps teachers determine which instructional strategies are working, which materials are effective, and which students still need help to master the standards.

The final step in the process, and perhaps one of the most powerful, is getting this to the student’s level and making them an active stakeholder in the process. This is support in Hattie’s research on “Visible Learning” that reported an effect size of 1.33 for self-reported grades, whereas the hinge point for making significant positive improvements is 0.40.

Tracking Student Data

The key to data isn’t in merely having tons of data, but in how data is used to inform and adjust instructional practices. Student data is most powerful when it is broken down to a student’s level and they are active stakeholders in the process. The first step is in using formative assessment data is the teacher using the data for re-teaching or analysis, followed by using data to precisely design instructional interventions that are individualized by student, and finally by having a student take ownership of their own data and learning.

The idea that using assessments can help increase student learning and achievement is not new in education, but the science in how they can be utilized is ongoing and evolving to be more precise to help generate greater gains. Teachers and instructional leaders should utilize both the process of formative assessment and the product of formative assessments to inform their instruction and help each student perform toward mastery of content standards that will be assessed on the summative performance evaluation.

“feedback should cause thinking. It should be focused; it should relate to the learning goals that have been shared with the students; and it should be more work for the recipient than the donor. Indeed, the whole purpose of feedback should be to increase the extent to which students are owners of their own learning,” ― Dylan Wiliam, Embedded Formative Assessment