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How to Write a Formative Assessment

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Teachers learn how to support their students through regularly administered formative assessments. In this lesson, we will learn how to write and use formative assessments to inform instruction.

Definition of Formative Assessments

You have been teaching your heart out with fun, engaging, informative lessons that your students really seem to be enjoying. At the end of the unit, you give the students a final that half of them bomb. What happened? More importantly, how can we keep this from happening again? This is where formative assessments come in. Formative assessments are quick checks for understanding that happen throughout a unit to make sure students are progressing as they should. Let's find out more about different types of formative assessments and discuss the best way to plan an effective assessment strategy for students.

Lesson Planning

Writing formative assessments is part of the planning process that begins with figuring out what you expect students to accomplish by the end of the unit. Typically, these are the standards and objectives that are required by the state and broken down into a curriculum map and/or pacing guide by the district. Once you know what the students are expected to know by the end of a unit, the next step in the planning process is to write the summative assessment. Summative assessments are the tests that students take at the end of a learning segment to make sure they learned the things they are supposed to know. Summative assessments are comprehensive measures of student mastery that are often used to assign grades.

Once you know what students are supposed to know by the end of the unit, you can break that up into smaller chunks to create lesson plans and formative assessments. Daily lessons and activities should be closely aligned to the end goal of mastering the overall objective. Formative assessments are given daily to measure both mastery of the daily lesson and incremental movement towards the overall objective. In short, writing great formative assessments comes down to alignment between lessons, assessments, and objectives.

Types of Formative Assessments

While some formative assessments will be written by the teacher, others take on another form. Here are some examples of formative assessments that may be written into daily lesson plans:

  • At the end of the lesson, have students write a short summary of things they have learned.
  • Ask students to fill out a graphic organizer that compares/contrasts two or more concepts.
  • Use signaled responses, such as thumbs up/thumbs down, to determine how well students understand what has been taught.
  • Give a short, multiple choice quiz (about 5 questions).
  • Have students tell a partner what they have learned.
  • Have student complete an exit slip, or ticket-out-the-door, that tells about what they have learned and gives them the opportunity to express what information they are still missing.
  • Use a student response system, such as clickers or Poll Anywhere, to measure student answers to a few quick questions.
  • Use anecdotal records or checklists to track individual students' successes and challenges.

Follow Up

Let's say you have done everything you are supposed to do up to this point. Your formative assessments are aligned to your lessons, summative assessments, and learning objectives. You are providing short, daily checks for understanding. What else is there?

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