Assessment for Learning
A blog for busy K-16 educators where we share ideas, strategies, and best assessment practices
that move the learning forward.
Cathy Box, PhD
that move the learning forward.
Cathy Box, PhD
By now, if you poke your head out of your classroom at all you've heard the term "formative assessment". It's been one of the buzzwords in education for the last decade, especially after the release of work by Black and Wiliam (Assessment and Classroom Learning, 1998). This article was a game changer in so many ways and implications are summarized in their booklet Inside the Black Box. Black and Wiliam described formative assessment as all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes 'formative' when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet the needs. Unfortunately the term "formative assessment" has been hijacked and distorted in some cases by for-profit organizations who want to sell you formative assessment instruments. Many in education now call it Assessment for Learning. Even the name is telling. It's assessment that moves the learning forward, as opposed to Assessment of Learning that does not. It's a process, not a product. Jan Chappuis, in her book Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning described it as formal and informal processes teachers and students use to gather evidence for the purpose of informing next steps in learning.
I teach an assessment class for pre-service teachers at my University and use her book as our guide to implementing Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies in the classroom. I also use the Seven Strategies when I work with in-service teachers. There are many other approaches to implementing formative assessment or AfL in the classroom - especially the five strategies suggested by Dylan Wiliam himself. You can't go wrong there.
I could cite dozens and dozens of research studies about the effectiveness of formative assessment (yes, I plan to use the terms interchangeably) but I won't do so in this blog. Contact me if you need more information. But the bottom line: research tells us, and I know from my own research projects and personal experiences as a classroom teacher and college professor that IT WORKS in improving the learning. Students achieve more and reach higher levels across the board. It doesn't matter if they are "low achieving" or "high achieving" students. They all reach a new level. But it is especially powerful for students who are not considered the best and the brightest. Why? You may ask.
Assessment for Learning transcends the acquisition of knowledge and empowers students in their own learning. Isn't that what education is about? Nothing is more fulfilling to us as teachers than the realization that we have guided students to take control of their education and helped them become self-directed learners in their own right - regardless of the academic subject, their IQ, their learning style, etc. Assessment for Learning does that - if implemented properly in the classroom.
So that begs the question - what is it and how do I implement it? Here's an overview of the Seven Strategies. In future blogs, we'll go into depth and look at ways to implement seamlessly into the classroom. Hang with me and we'll get there!
Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning
Where am I going?
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998a). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in
Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5(1), 7-75.
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998b). Inside the black box: Raising standards through
classroom assessment. London: nferNelson Publishing Company.
Chappuis, J. (2015). Seven strategies of assessment for learning (2nd ed). Hoboken, N.J.: Pearson Education, Inc.
1/18/2018 06:43:27 pm
Growing up, I never realized the small step my teachers took to formatively assess my progress. I remember my English teacher would ask a daily journal grade, where we reflected on the lesson and talked to him one-on-one twice a semester. While observing, I see more formative assessments each day, in small ways. I recently saw my teacher using formative assessment constantly in her class. She would ask questions about previous lessons, then connect that with the current lesson. She also comments on everything. She knows how each of her students have struggled and grown and by commenting, the good and the bad, it helps the student grow and see where they need to improve.
1/21/2018 04:02:44 pm
Daily journal grades in English class is one of the only formative assessment strategies I can remember actually seeing in school! Which, when you think about it, journals are a reliable strategy to have in any subject. Camp, as for your cooperating teacher, I love that you made a point to say that she know how each of her students learn and she can meet them where they are. Also, that she connects things really well.
1/19/2018 07:23:14 am
When I think about my experiences with formative assessment I think back to my schooling where we had to take standardized "formatives" between standardized state tests to gauge our knowledge throughout the year. I always dreaded them because they only had five questions and missing two questions would get you a failing grade for that formative and send you to reteach. At that time I didn't feel as though those tests accurately showed what I knew about the given topic. I have experienced the distortion of this process first hand. Now in observations, I see that formative assessment is heading in a very positive direction. In my Frenship middle school class, my cooperating teacher and I have sat down to take formative assessment grades and have judged each student on an individual basis, measured by where the student began and where the student is now. Formative assessments and a larger grade than the summative for Frenship which more accurately represents the students knowledge and growth. While it has taken me a while to erase my personal negative connotation with formative assessment, I see know how if it is done with growth and teaching adjustment in mind, it could be very beneficial for students and teachers.
1/20/2018 07:27:39 pm
That is very true, Emily. I always hated the little tests in between the big tests. I wonder if some students still feel this way today. Maybe we need to clarify to our students what we are assessing. Also, we should clarify that we understand that not all assignments, or tests that we take as a formative grade, show us everything they know. We can let them know there will be multiple, different opportunities to show us what they know.
1/22/2018 11:08:50 am
I feel so far most of us have said as students that we had a hard time with formative assessment. I believe that this could come from poor teaching or lack of experience or knowledge as a teacher. I also had a teacher who would only have a couple of questions for a quiz. It was stressful. I also see a positive side of formative assessment in my clinical teaching, and I am excited to learn from this process on how I can meet my students needs.
1/21/2018 03:58:56 pm
I have to admit, I don't have many good experiences regarding formative assessment in my own schooling. Assessment was usually done at the very end of a unit, and if you didn't get a good grasp on the content that was just taught, we just had to move on anyway. I have consequently caught a lot of holes in my education because of this! However, I am glad to say that while observing in schools the past few years, and especially in clinical teaching, I can see that we have taken strides in education to perfect formative assessment. For example, my cooperating teacher and I recently assessed 5th grade students on their musical abilities on the recorder, giving them feedback and rewarding them if they got to move up a level!
1/22/2018 11:02:47 am
I have also had bad experiences with formative assessment as a student. We had to take quizzes to see how we were progressing. The teachers I had always emphasized how the quizzes weren't as important as the tests or exams. This caused me, and I assume other students, to not take them as seriously as the tests. I had one teacher who would only use two questions on her quizzes, meaning if we missed one question then we failed. If teachers would not focus so much on the grading, but on gaining information to help their students, I believe that students would not only grow, but they would also less anxious and worried about the grade and more interested in their own improvement.
1/22/2018 06:02:23 pm
Formative assessment or assume that for learning is not something that i experienced in high school at all. Things like bell ringers and exit tickets were brand new to me once I started at LCU, most of my day to day classroom assignments were either busy work with little to no educational value or I never got the feed back that is so important for knowing where i was because teachers were worried about cheating if they handed papers back. Looking back at i it frustrates me because during observations, my two week unit, and now at FHS I can see just how valuable something as simple as feedback is for both the teacher and the student because you are able to see a students errors or misconceptions as they develop them and correct them instead of having them become habits. What i like best about formative assessment tools is that they can actually be really fun for the students when you use things like Kahoot or poll anywhere (they love anytime they get to use their phone no matter what it is for), and just this week I learned about a new technology/presentation software called Nearpod and it works really well for the “how can i close the gap” question. To make it simple Nearpod is like a PowerPoint combined with Socrative and google forms so you can be presenting and have multiple choice, fill in the blank, or short answer assessments placed throughout the presetation/lecture that students follow along with on any smart device, and as the “teacher” you can see what each student is writing and if you get to a short answer and you see a student that has a really good answer you can pull it up for the entire class to see without knowing who actually posted it so every student can see exactly what a “good” response is and know exactly what the teacher is looking for.
1/23/2018 11:08:21 am
I am right there with you ,Tyler. It is frustrating to know how many different ways our teachers could have helped us in our learning process throughout middle and high school. Kahoot is one of my favorites and I know that as a student I would have really enjoyed using that. I have never heard of Nearpod but I am definitely going to look into it so I can use it in my future classroom.
1/23/2018 11:03:21 am
Throughout my time at LCU I have realized how important formative assessment is and how little of it I experienced during my middle and high school years. Most of my teachers used to only do multiple choice tests, using scantrons, at the end of every unit. Then, I would only get my grade and so I wouldn't even know which questions I missed and that was really frustrating for me. Even if the entire class did bad on the text we would still go ahead and move on to the next unit. Now, as I have been observing and student teaching, I see such a difference in the student's learning because of formative assessment. For example, my cooperating teacher taught our students how to conjugate verbs last semester and, since that is a crucial to know for writing and speaking in Spanish, she wants to make sure every student understands it. She had the students write 3 sentences as a bell ringer and just with that it quickly told her if she needed to go over the material again or if the students got it. At LCU I have also learned different formative assessment strategies that I am excited to use in my future classroom.
1/23/2018 07:35:41 pm
When a teacher only gives the grade back, not the scantron and the multiple choice test, I feel like that is sending the students a message that says forget everything you just learned, it isn't important, and lets move on to the next topic. Without that feedback based on what you have learned, why would students have the motivation to learn? My cooperating teacher also uses bell ringers to formatively assess the students, and I think I will continue using this strategy when I begin teaching the classes.
1/23/2018 05:52:18 pm
I loved the quote about formative assessment which stated, " It's a process, not a product." When I look back on my education, so many teachers, even professors got that concept wrong. However, at the time, I didn't notice then, I just dreaded the idea of pop quizzes, or even pop tests (yeah i know..). I have been exposed to very little formative assessment done correctly, and I, as many of us have, have been subjected to countless multiple choice, scantron tests. Of which, in my case never showed my level of understanding, but rather my skills in memorization, guessing, and process of elimination. I have been fortunate to have grasped the concept of the difference between understanding and knowledge, and how to teach in a student-centered way for understating. In my observations of Mrs. Salazar's mathematics class I got to witness and learn how to give effective daily bell ringers and exit tickets, as well as many other ways to assess students understanding. Furthermore, I believe the most important thing I learned in my observations is what a critical component to learning feedback can be. All and all, there are many different formative assessment tools of which I have now been exposed to and i am looking forward to using them this Spring semester.
1/23/2018 07:21:27 pm
I was fortunate to have good experiences with formative assessment when I was in high school. In my 10th grade geometry class, I remember always having to complete some type of project every six weeks. We used scale factors to enlarge images onto posters, we measured and calculated surface areas of different shapes and created a city with buildings using those 3D shapes. After we had learned all of the different geometric constructions, we had to write out instructions that included the order in which the constructions should be drawn to make the image that we wanted. In my geometry class, I also had quizzes and other assignments. I enjoyed this class. I knew the learning target that I was working towards, and there were plenty of opportunities for formative assessment, and feedback. As I have observed my cooperating teaching at Frenship, I have learned how critical it is for students to receive feedback about their learning. The students want to reach the learning goal, and though they do get frustrated when they have to work through the struggle, Mr. Pratt does an excellent job at encouraging and motivating the students to keep pushing forward.
1/23/2018 08:47:48 pm
The more experience I have with formative assessment, and the more I understand it, the more I see the value it has with students. It's such an important tool, or part of the learning process to be more accurate. At the very basic level it helps teachers gauge where students are at, but it goes further than that. As the article states, if used properly it is a way to help students take control of their learning. I have to admit, so far in student teaching, there is a noticeable difference in my effectiveness teaching the first class of the day to the last class of the day. By the time I get to the lat class, I've worked out many of the kinks that help me reach the student-based learning -- asking the right questions to help guide them to their own understanding and for their motivation to learn. My experience as a student has taught me that, it might seem like a small detail, but one aspect, the fact that students are empowered to think and that they're reinforced that their thoughts and ideas matter, is a huge motivator and also it helps them make connections that they won't make if the information is just fed to them.
1/24/2018 01:28:35 am
When I think back to my years as a student, I think of formative assessment in a negative way. I felt a lack of student/teacher understanding of expectations/goals for learning objectives. I honestly don't remember ever seeing a formal assessment used for student growth and evaluation. I felt like all assessments used were just for a letter grade in the grade book. Once noticeable change I see from my days as a student to my current days as a clinical teacher is the use of Benchmark testing. All last week, the students in my classroom were taking the Benchmark. I know that when I was a student I believed that Benchmark testing was a practice exam for the "TAKS" test. I never saw it used as a tool to assess where I stood on my learning objectives. My teacher is planning to use their scores to identify their strengths and weaknesses on the test, and plan out a way for each student to improve their scores. I feel like the students put forward more effort into taking the Benchmark when they feel like it has a purpose. Knowing that Mrs. Tucker is using the Benchmark as a tool of improvement, students dont feel the pressure to get every question correctly. Instead, they are to do the best they can. If they do poorly, it only identifies the direction that they need to focus on in the student's learning.
1/24/2018 05:21:47 am
As a student, I am not sure if there was really any "formative" parts of how my peers and I were assessed. At least for some classes. It seemed like we had to have so many grades per six weeks so we trucked through those, took the end of unit exam, and never really discussed how we did on those after. What you made is what you made, no discussion given. As an observer, I have seen teachers look at the work of an assignment, see that their students needed more time on this, and completely changed what they were doing for the rest of the week based on what they thought the students needed. This past week at Frenship, we have been covering religions in the Middle East and having discussions on based on the notes that students have taken. Our discussion day was only scheduled for one day but, from seeing the thoughts and questions students have, it has been extended for three days. The teacher didn't feel the need to speed through the students' wonderings just to get to the next topic.
2/11/2020 09:00:27 am
Dr. Box is a master teacher and respected colleague. Her understanding of assessment (and her concise summation of Chappuis) is appreciated. The idea that assessment is a way to invite the student into learning is not what I was “raised with.” Yes, I was, as described by Chappuis, a student that had to “perform” at a high level to be seen as competent. It was much later in life that learning became something “I wanted to do” and not something I did to “find my value.”
2/11/2020 07:44:23 pm
Throughout my years as a student, I would say that I had a negative connotation toward assessments (tests). It would frequently conjure up feelings of nervousness, stress, and some level of anxiety This is not to say that I had "bad" teachers, but they most likely passed on an example of teaching that was displayed for them. Until recently, I was well on my way to continuing this trend. Upon enrollment in Dr. Box's course on "teaching teachers how to teach", I was unaware of the 7 Strategies of Assessment for Learning. These intentional steps are a means to change the current trend for assessing a student's knowledge in the classroom and join them on their life-long journey of learning.
2/18/2020 10:43:32 am
As a teacher I sometimes think I know what my students struggle with and what they are getting. But when I take the time to really ask and see what they know I always find myself surprised. I also need to remember that I need to teach my students that the formative assessment is more for them to adjust their learning. They are the ones responsible for this learning, not me really!
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I am a former science teacher and currently work at Lubbock Christian University as the QEP Director and in the School of Education preparing future teachers. I am passionate about helping teachers find practical ways to improve learning!