Benefits of Formative Assessments

Regular assessments are the best way to determine what students currently understand and what needs further clarification. Instead of feeling punitive, assessments should be welcomed by both students and teachers as important indicators of growth. Ultimately, they can be strong measures of student achievement and important guides for teacher performance.

Formative assessments, in particular, should serve as quick, low stakes means to check for understanding. They are typically informal, un-”graded,” and used as a means to identify where content or teaching techniques may need to be modified and adjusted. Formative assessments are done within teaching units and often occur several times during a lesson. They are simply meant to provide feedback that gauges progress, not to assess mastery of content.

Formative assessments are low risk but highly beneficial for both teachers and students. In their book, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, authors Black and Wiliam found their research showed “conclusively that formative assessment does improve learning. The gains in achievement appear to be quite considerable, and as noted earlier, amongst the largest ever reported for educational interventions.” These are some of the most notable benefits of formative assessments.

Formative assessments provide clear goals and objectives.

Formative assessments encourage teachers to clarify their goals and objectives for each and every lesson. Engaging in a dialogue at the start of a lesson allows teachers to state what they need students to learn. Then, as the lesson progresses, teachers can use formative assessments to quickly adjust their lessons or teaching techniques to ensure students stay on track. As a result, teachers can identify points of confusion as they occur, rather than days or weeks into a unit.

Formative assessments elevate student performance.

Because formative assessments are designed to offer feedback about what students need, when used regularly and appropriately, they drive stronger student performance. After reviewing student exit slips (a popular formative assessment), a teacher might realize that very few students understood a specific concept. By reviewing the material again, in a different way, then reassessing, the teacher can better ensure mastery of this concept.

Formative assessments can help increase student motivation.

Formative assessments are essential for measuring student progress towards teacher-specified goals. According to education specialists Kathleen Cauley and James McMillan, “Research has accumulated that shows a positive relationship between formative classroom assessment and student motivation and achievement on both classroom and large-scale assessments.”

Once students understand what they need to know or be able to do, formative assessments allow them to see how close they are to meeting those goals. This can be a powerful motivator in any classroom. By regularly using feedback to inform instruction, teachers can keep students motivated to learn.

Formative assessments can help improve student engagement.

It’s no secret that the more engaged students are with the material, the more they will learn. Engagement can come from a number of sources including personal interest, relevance to “the real world,” and the mode by which material is presented. Formative assessments allow teachers to continually refine each of these factors.

Classroom discussions (formative assessments) allow teachers to get a better sense of which students are naturally interested in a topic and help those who are not make stronger connections to their lives. Through homework assignments, teachers can help students find relevance to the world beyond their classroom, thereby increasing student engagement. In fact, most formative assessments, can improve student engagement by showing students exactly where they can improve.

Formative assessments can help students set learning goals (before it’s too late).

Formative assessments are not meant to be stressful but are meant to inform students about what they are learning and, perhaps more importantly, how they learn. When the pressure of the grades are removed, students have the freedom to “fail.” By making mistakes, students can begin to better understand what they need to be successful.

This may be spending more time reading through multiple choice responses, drafting an outline before writing an essay, or using scratch paper for math equations. Formative assessments allow students to experiment with these tools to find what works best for them.

Formative assessments give teachers and students constant feedback. However, as Nikki Booth writes, “The key component of formative assessment… is not just the collection of information, but that it is actively used and acted upon by the teacher to improve future teaching, and the student to improve future learning.” Knowing why this feedback is essential and how to make the most of it, is the secret to unlocking the power of formative assessments.

Luckily, they are easy to incorporate into every lesson, can be stress free for students and teachers, and provide invaluable insights. Be sure to include them as often as possible.