The Fight for Formative Assessment

Standardized state tests are an example of summative assessment.  The information gathered about student mastery is not intended to increase student learning for students that took the test. Instead, the data is gathered so that overall teacher impact can be measured.

There is limited value in performing summative assessments at the classroom level.  If a teacher knows that a student is struggling to master essential topics, then the teacher should provide more opportunities for learning.  Summative assessment at the classroom level feels like a teacher saying “I know that you don’t know this, but I’m not going to help you learn it.”

Data enables teachers to provide meaningful intervention or enrichment for their students.  As teachers identify students who are failing to master essential skills, they should adjust their instruction to meet student needs.  Interventions are actions taken by the teacher and student to support students who failed to meet learning goals.  Adjustments should also be considered for students who are learning at an accelerated pace.  Identifying these students through assessments allows a teacher to provide enriching instructional experiences so they can maximize their opportunity to learn.

The more information received through formative assessment; the more targeted additional supports can be.  There is value in knowing what your students know.  Formative assessments at the classroom level feels like the teacher saying, “I know that you don’t know this, so let me help you learn it!”

Action-oriented feedback is the primary difference between formative assessment and summative assessment.  Every assessment that does not lead to actions that increase learning for the student assessed is operating as a summative assessment – providing a missed opportunity or intervention or enrichment.  Teachers who prioritize the measurement of learning over the measurement of achievement will design assessments with “next steps” in mind for students of all performance levels.

As you design assessment, consider the next steps that your students will take:

“What happens if they haven’t mastered the essential skills and content?”

“What happens if they have mastered the essential skills and content?”

Building a Formative Assessment Plan

"Where am I going?"

Identify your Learning Goal


What content do they need to know?

Which skills do they need to develop?

How am I developing their self-efficacy?

"How am I going?"

Assess Student Learning


What does mastery look like?

Which assessment method would gather the highest quality data?

Am I assessing for multiple depths of knowledge?

"Where to next?"

Take action using data


What will I do for students that fail to achieve the learning goal?

What will I do for students that successfully achieve the learning goal?
Hattie, John. (2008). Visible Learning. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

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