How can teachers use assessment to guide instruction?
Page 1: Formative Assessment
Whether we are conscious of it or not, mathematics is key to many of our most common daily activities and routines. When we shop, cook meals, balance our finances, or conduct home repairs, we are using mathematics. Further, a growing number of jobs in STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) require proficiency in math and science. If they are to be college- and career-ready, today’s students must begin to develop essential math skills and understand mathematic concepts at an early age. Educators can help them to do so by implementing high-quality mathematics instruction.
Although perhaps not immediately intuitive, assessment is an integral part of this instruction. In general, assessment is the process of gathering information through methods both formal and informal to measure student performance. Used effectively, classroom assessment informs the ways in which educators approach and deliver instruction. Though some educators are concerned that assessments will take time away from instructional activities, in fact the opposite is the case. Classroom assessment can help educators plan instruction that more efficiently and effectively targets specific student needs, subsequently improving learning outcomes. The table below outlines the three most common types of assessment.
Often referred to as pre-assessment, it can be used by educators before instruction to:
This ongoing evaluation of student learning during instruction can be used to:
This evaluation administered after instruction is used to:
* This is not to be confused with diagnostic assessment implemented after instruction with struggling learners or students with disabilities to understand why these students are not making adequate progress in certain skills and to subsequently inform the educator’s instruction.
Did You Know?
Federal laws, such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), encourage the use of formative assessment to improve student outcomes and to narrow learning gaps.
Each of the assessments described above serves an important, albeit a very different, function in the instructional process. Read on to learn more.
Diagnostic assessments allow educators to collect information about a student’s strengths or weaknesses in a content or skill area prior to instruction. Educators can then use this information to more effectively plan instruction, making sure to address misunderstandings and to focus on skills or content the students have not mastered while avoiding covering topics with which they have already gained proficiency.
Formative assessments, which occur during instruction, allow educators to determine whether students are learning as the material is being taught. This deliberate process of assessing as learning is occurring allows educators to adjust instruction as needed to meet the learning needs of their students. More specifically, formative assessments:
- Provide useful information about a student’s progress toward certain learning objectives, understanding of the skills or content being taught, and any misconceptions
- Allow educators to make informed decisions about when to review or reteach content or skills or to adapt instruction
- Help identify students who are consistently struggling
Formative assessment has been proven effective through many years of research and practical application.
- Seminal research and subsequent reviews of research indicate that students whose teachers use formative assessment perform better on a variety of achievement indicators (including mathematics) than their peers whose teachers did not use formative assessment.
(Black & Wiliam, 1998; Kingston & Nash, 2011; Hanover Research, 2014; Klute et al., 2017)
- Formative assessment has been shown to improve the learning outcomes of students with disabilities, struggling students, and English language learners.
(Madison-Harris & Muoneke, 2012)
- Feedback to teachers via formative assessment had a significant impact on students’ academic performance in mathematics.
(Gersten et al., 2009)
- Formative assessment is effective in promoting student learning when:
- Students monitor their own progress through self-assessment tools (e.g., rubrics)
- Educators provide written feedback in a consistent manner
- Educators adjust instruction based on assessment results
(Lee et al., 2020)
Summative assessments, which are usually one-time evaluations, allow educators to evaluate whether students have learned previously taught content or skills. On one end of the spectrum are common classroom assessments typically used for grading purposes (e.g., chapter tests, unit tests, research papers). At the other end of the spectrum are year-end achievement tests, which are given once a year, near the end of the school year. Although the results are usually not available for many weeks or months following administration, they provide an indication of a student’s overall progress for the year. As is typically the case for any type of summative assessment, educators do not have enough remaining time to implement instructional changes to remediate skills if they find that students did not perform well.
As you learned in the Challenge, Ms. Wu is interested in using assessments—like she did in reading—to inform her instruction in mathematics and to help identify students who need additional support. This module will focus on formative assessment, something that will help Ms. Wu to accomplish her goal.