Common Formative Assessments

Common Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are important for every teacher, in every class, in every grade. They are the best measure for how students are doing during a lesson and provide some of the most informative feedback for teachers.

Formative assessments are intended as low-stakes checks for understanding. They should not be graded or given to assess students’ mastery of content. Instead, they are meant to assess where students are and how instruction may need to be adjusted to complete a unit successfully.

Effective formative assessments need to be ongoing throughout a unit of study because, as Edutopia notes, “a single data point—no matter how well designed the quiz, presentation, or problem behind it—isn’t enough information to help us plan the next step in our instruction.” Frequent formative assessments also allow the teacher to account for different learning tasks by providing different avenues to measure progress toward meeting end-of-unit goals.

In addition to traditional formative assessments, teachers and students can also benefit greatly from common formative assessments.

What are Common Formative Assessments?

Common formative assessments use all the benefits of formative assessments but are designed to be used across a team of teachers to help assess how students measure across common standards of learning. TeamTom, a leader in educational support for teachers writes, “common formative assessment takes all the goodness of regular formative assessment and kicks it up a notch by making it a team effort that provides transparent evidence of student learning and informs team members’ individual and collective practices.”

Common formative assessments can help teachers provide consistency in how students are evaluated and establish a set of standards for student achievement across a certain grade. Teachers can then use these informal check-ins as evidence to identify which students need further scaffolding and which need further enrichment.

Unlike common summative assessments which provide useful data about what their students learned, common formative assessments help teachers better understand how students learn. That’s what makes common formative assessments so valuable. They offer real time information about how students process information and lessons, both individually and in relation to other students.

What are the Benefits of Common Formative Assessments?

Common formative assessments are a great way for teachers to work collaboratively to help all students. They help establish clear learning goals for both teachers and students within a certain grade level and/or subject. These common formative assessments should be easy to administer and not require tedious grading. Aside from creating consistency between teachers or schools (in some cases), common formative assessments are also highly beneficial.

They promote differentiated learning.

Although common formative assessments are standardized across a group of teachers, they allow for more successful differentiation. Formative assessments are ungraded and not meant to penalize struggling students. Rather, they help teachers identify which students need a different path to reach the end goal before it’s too late.

The West Virginia State Department of Education notes that common formative assessments “foster consistent expectations and priorities within a grade level, course, and department regarding standards, instruction, and assessment… Most importantly, common formative assessment results enable educators to diagnose student learning needs accurately in time to make instructional modifications.”

By focusing on what students are understanding as it is being taught, teachers can give the most appropriate materials and differentiated support to all students. They can also get a better look at how students compare to general overall standards.

They help new and veteran teachers.

Because common formative assessments are written and discussed among a group of teachers, it is a rewarding exercise for teachers. Veteran teachers can share their experience in developing successful formative strategies while beginning teachers can offer new ideas for growth. Together, they can implement ideas and strategies that reach all their students.

They help teachers refine course and curriculum materials.

Because common formative assessments are created cooperatively – often against state and national standards – they allow teachers to recognize particularly tricky concepts within the curriculum. When teachers remain confined to their own classrooms, it can be difficult to see if it is the material, the instruction, or something within the student that is causing confusion.

What are Some Best Practices When Creating Common Formative Assessments?

Creating common formative assessments should be fun and meaningful. But every teacher has their preferences about which types of assessments they like best and which ones they are most comfortable using. Sometimes these preferences don’t align with other teachers.

Instead of getting caught up in whether to use exit tickets or a class discussion, stay focused on your unit goals. Start by asking your team of teachers what you want students to know. According to NWEA, clarifying learning is critical for both teachers and students. “Before instruction starts, clarify what students are learning and let them know how to gauge if they’re successful. Research shows this makes a difference in their learning; having clear targets provides the direction students need in order to set a course.”

Create benchmarks based on your district, state, and national standards. Use these standards as a guide to know when students have reached their goal. If formative assessments are like a temperature gauge, these benchmarks are the ideal temperature.

What are Some Problems with Common Formative Assessments?

Common formative assessments are not always welcomed by teachers. With increasing class sizes, curriculum content, and parent and administrative demands, planning these kinds of assessments can feel like a waste of time.

However, using common formative assessments can actually be more efficient than simply using individual measures. Kim Bailey, a former director of professional development and instructional support in Capistrano, California, writes, “When teams see that their students’ learning has improved because of their efforts, including the interventions that came about because of their information, they experience this efficacy.”

Many teachers also feel like common formative assessments will require too much data tracking. But tracking this data doesn’t have to be overly complex. Often a one-to-five rating scale or simple tally of those who “got it” is enough. An assessment solution like GradeCam Gradient can also make compiling, comparing, and sharing data with PLC partners both fast and easy. 

Common formative assessments are an excellent way to promote greater consistency across classes and schools. They require a bit of planning but are easy to administer and can reveal important information about where students need additional support. Teachers and schools should be investing energy into this important practice.