I am Paula Egelson from the Southern Regional Education Board. Much of the work I have done over the past 15 years has included formative assessment. Formative assessments focus on assessing students to improve learning and instruction. Below are snapshots of teachers who use formative assessment effectively.
“Lydia” is a Head Start teacher in a large northeastern city who teaches in a four-year-old classroom. Half of Lydia’s students have individual education plans and a majority of her students speak Spanish as a first language.
Lydia assesses her students frequently to learn whether students “get it” and to help guide instruction. The different developmental trajectories of her students means there is much individualized assessment. She uses flashcards to assess number recognition or letter sound pronunciation. Lydia does lots of informal questioning to determine whether students understand concepts. Lydia remarks, “I have to know my students. I need to know how far I can take them.”
“Sutton” teaches a self-contained 5th grade honors class at a rural minority middle school. The science program Sutton uses includes labs. The students do interactive science note-booking. This includes developing focus questions, making predictions, observations, and reflections, vocabulary, and providing evidence collaboratively. In lab groups students are assessed on rubric concerning their engagement. Sutton checks a sample of student notebooks at night to assess understanding and mastery. He then has conferences with students about their notebooks the next day.
For math, Sutton’s students are placed in cooperative groups for instruction. Students must explain how they get their answers and learn different ways to reflect. Math instruction is in the morning; however, students play math games and use the Smartboard in the afternoon to address misconceptions. His students are allowed to redo work and correct mistakes. In addition, students self-assess by learning to read graphs about their own academic progress.
Denise teaches physical science at a minority high school. District policies encouraged Denise to try formative assessment. Denise uses the results of chapter pretests to guide her instruction. Some of Denise’s students have meager science vocabularies and struggle with the math. Denise often asks her students, “What do you think you know?” Once students respond, Denise knows where to start teaching or remediating struggling students. There are also benchmark tests and project rubrics used formatively.
Hot Tip: Formative assessment takes on many forms at all grade levels, and any evaluation of school improvement should include finding ways to capture formative assessment activities.
RAD Resource: See Improving Formative Assessment Practice to Empower Student Learning by E. Carolin Wylie, et al. for many examples of how to incorporate and improve formative assessment activities.
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