What is a formative assessment?

The "assessment" portion of "formative assessment" would lead you to believe that a formative assessment is a test, but that isn't necessarily the case—a formative assessment can be a test, but doesn't have to be one.

"Formative assessment" is a broad term; it can be applied to any task the student performs during the learning process from which the teacher derives data about how well her students are absorbing the lessons being taught. The teacher then uses what she's learned from the assessment to modify her lessons to better meet her students where they are in the learning process.

"Learning process" is key here—formative assessments are more concerned with making sure students are learning than grading their performance. The objective is to offer your students feedback they can use to improve.

What's the difference between formative and summative assessments?

Summative assessments are given at the end of the learning process, and their purpose is to see how much information the students have retained. These are typical end-of-unit tests and are often graded, unlike formative assessments.

What should a formative assessment look like?

Formative assessments can take many forms. Here are a few examples:

  • You might ask students to write down everything they know about a subject prior to the start of a lesson. Armed with this information, you would then modify the lesson so that you can correct misconceptions and not rehash old material.
  • You could give students a short test halfway through a unit to see how they're progressing.
  • You could ask students to have a class discussion about the material, guiding them with questions when necessary and correcting misconceptions.
  • You could ask students to perform peer evaluations, having them analyze one another's work and point out strengths and weaknesses.
  • You could ask students to evaluate their own work, requiring them to take an honest look at their performance.

In short, there are many, many ways to administer formative assessments.

Questions? Get in touch!

If you'd like to talk to one of our curriculum specialists, give us a call at 800-932-4593 and one of our friendly Customer Service reps will connect you. Or you can email us—put "formative assessments" in the subject line and we'll get back to you soon.

Formative assessment: Any assignment designed to give the teacher information about students' proficiency with or knowledge of the subject matter being taught. Teachers then use this information to guide their teaching.