Formative Assessment


This post starts with my response to a question that Larry Ferlazzo asked about formative assessment and that I responded to on his EdWeek blog. There were many excellent responses there, and I urge you to read them here.  I’ve expanded that response to look at an example of what won’t work.

My first thought is that it is not a final, but should give students, and teachers, interim feedback about where the student is at. This leads to the idea that they should also have the chance to act on that feedback and be either re-assessed, or have another chance to show they have mastered the content. It should not be a first and last chance to show knowledge and/or mastery.

What am I doing in my classroom? I’ve moved to a weekly short response assessment that has questions in the two content areas (science and social studies) and literature. I give students a choice of 2-6 questions to answer. I have students develop some of the questions when they do group discussion on what they have read.

Rather than a full-blown rubric, I have a check-list.

  • Does the response have a restatement of the question asked or make clear what they are answering?

  • Does it answer the question?

  • Does it provide supporting details?

  • Does it have good capitalization, usage, punctuation, and spelling?

I then translate this to a percentage grade for their overall writing, their knowledge of the subject matter, grammar, etc. Most importantly, students are given this feedback, and can revise their work to improve their grade. This is certainly not the only way to do this. I’m sure others will suggest things like checklist observations, etc.

Below are more expanded thoughts…

How is this working in my district? It’s not that straightforward by any means. First, we have a new report cards for elementary aligned to the new standards that have 80 separate entries.

The following replaces what was reading comprehension and response to literature (going from two marks, to 7):


  1. Key Ideas & Details

  2. Craft & Structure

  3. Integration of Knowledge & Ideas

  4. Range of Text Complexity


  1. Key Ideas & Details

  2. Craft & Structure

  3. Integration of Knowledge & Ideas

Adding more grades means gathering more data to fill them in, and this is where the problem starts. At the same time, we are also having a push towards formative assessment. We’ve been given new materials (actually, at my grade level we haven’t, we’ve been told to use fifth grade materials since they don’t have sixth grade materials yet — but I digress). Included in those materials are checklists to use as a check for understanding. This is formative assessment, and is a good thing.  The district is suggesting to get grades for all these different subcategories from these checklists. This is a poor use of this tool for a number of reasons:

  • Some of the grading areas are covered only once or twice in a grading period by these checklists;

  • They won’t have a chance to “improve” if they are informally assessed in an area only once;

  • These are new tools and new materials for teachers, they were told to do this only in the last month and a half which is not enough time to become familiar with how to translate this information into a grade on a report card.

You will notice that when I described my system, I said I’d been working on it last year and this year. I’ve thought about it. I’ve shared and discussed it with peers. I’ve seen how it works with students. I’ve had time to assess and adjust what I’m doing. The system my district is telling us to use has none of those qualities, and was not based on the informed practice of teachers in the classroom as they were using these materials, but instead was just some matching exercise that while internally consistent, doesn’t always work as a real-world exercise.

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