Formative Assessment in the Classroom
Formative assessments are ongoing, repetitive measures designed to provide information to
both the instructor and students concerning students' understanding of small
segments of course material. As an integrated approach to assessment and
instruction, formative assessments emphasize mastery of course material as
opposed to evaluation of performance or assignment of grades. Formative
assessments are conducted throughout the instructional process to monitor
students' progress and provide feedback on strengths and weaknesses. The key to
formative assessment is the role of feedback; this feedback allows students to
correct conceptual errors and encourages instructors to modify instructional
activities in light of their effectiveness. Since formative assessments are
designed to guide learning and are not utilized as an outcome measure, they are
generally considered a low stakes assessment. With the emphasis on
student-centered instructional strategies, instructors are encouraged to
actively integrate formative assessments into the course mix.
Formative Assessments Provide:
- Insight on students' strengths and conceptual errors in relation to specific course concepts
- Guidance to improve student understanding
- A means of monitoring progress in learning
- Diagnostic information concerning students' errors in understanding
- A non-threatening environment to identify and correct problems in learning and instruction
- Feedback to the instructor concerning the effectiveness of instructional activities
Allows for the identification of conceptual errors
May be difficult to motivate students' performance on low stake assignments
Promotes active reflection on the effectiveness of instruction
Time consuming for instructor to provide effective feedback
Encourages feedback that enhances learning
Intensive dedication required to continue ongoing assessment
Low stake nature prevents motivation for student cheating
May not be practical for large enrollment classes
Guidelines for Enhancing Formative Assessments:
- Formative assessments must directly relate to learning objectives and instructional
activities. When designing a formative assessment, target a singular objective
so that assessment results can be effectively utilized to guide activities
toward overall course goals.
- While formative assessments may be very short and informal, be sure that
all activities are purposeful and goal-directed. Do not use formative assessments
unless there is a clear purpose related to specific course activities or concepts.
- Effective formative assessments must provide feedback. Since the goal of
formative assessment is to identify and correct conceptual errors, instructors
must ensure that students have relevant information to guide their understanding.
Feedback may be either peer or instructor directed as long as it is specific
to the learning activity and assessment results.
- Since formative assessments are a low stakes measure, it may be difficult
to motivate students' performance. To encourage active participation, formative
assessments must be relevant and engaging.
- Both the formative assessment and accompanying feedback must be timely to
course activities, theories, and concepts. This is especially important to
prevent encoding of incorrect information.
- To be most effective, formative assessments must be ongoing. By continually
assessing and providing opportunities for correction, instructors can guide
students toward desired learning outcomes.
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Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
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