Organizing Formative Assessment Data

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will discuss how organizing formative assessment data differs from averaging grades, so that it can be most effectively used and efficiently accessed for the purpose of improving instruction.

Assessment Data

In order to describe ways to organize formative assessment data, it is first necessary to explain what we are talking about. Let's look at the differences between formative and summative assessments and the types of data they would generate.

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are a measure of education as it is forming - as a work in progress. Formative assessments are not usually graded because they are considered practice work and do not count toward a student's overall average. The data from these assessments usually include qualitative feedback in the form of descriptive notes taken from observing students, and it can be bulky and cumbersome to maintain for a busy teacher.

Summative Assessments

Summative assessments are a measure of the summary of one's total education as a unit is completed. Summative assessments are usually graded with some sort of percentage of the whole. The data from these assessments usually include quantitative feedback in the form of a numerical score of points that can be easily organized and documented in charts and graphs with digital gradebooks.

Organizing Formative Assessments

Just because summative assessment data is easier to collect and organize, this does not mean that we want to do away with formative assessment data altogether. These 'notes to self' about students are critical to modifying instruction according to students' needs. A disorderly pile of random Post-it notes is not helping anyone improve their curriculum and instruction for the benefit of students. It's easy to see how formative data can quickly get difficult to manage, creating an urgent need for a system of organizing this kind of qualitative data about a student's ability and performance.

Analog Organizing

Chances are initial formative assessment data will be in an analog format, in that it will be handwritten notes on a piece of paper or assignment. Keeping an organized system for formative assessment data means that these handwritten notes will need to be transferred into a more permanent record keeping system.

For example, while walking around the class during a group assignment, you may overhear a discussion that provides insight to how the students are processing the assignment. After taking notes about the interaction, you might want to annotate each student's file with what you learned.

It may not be feasible to keep detailed paper notes in confidential student files, but any recorded notes should be regarded securely, being mindful of student confidentiality. Create a coding system that can be used consistently, without being breached, so that student data is secured. Anonymize and de-identify the information from field notes in case a note is seen by others. For example, it would not be helpful if one of the notes explaining how a specific student is struggling gets out to the bullies in the class.

An easy way to code data for student privacy is by numbering each student and keeping the key in a secure location so only you can match names with student numbers.

Coding is also helpful when recording common mistakes many students make, enabling visible patterns to emerge. When common patterns of thought or popular mistakes many students make are each given a code, you can record the incidents of each code and allow the data management software to graph or chart the information more clearly than with text. This helps make neat categories for graphing data.

Even paper grade books, for summative assessment data, are eventually entered into a secure system, usually maintained by the school. The process of distilling those field observations into a concise statement of progress for the record requires enough organization in those paper notes that the student doesn't get someone else's feedback by mistake.

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