Why do teachers love formative assessment?

by craig jones

Teachers love to talk about “good” and “bad” assessments, but why is there such a strong difference?  Why do educators love the process known as formative assessment and have such strong sentiments against other types of assessment?

A traditional assessment is nothing more than a check for understanding at a certain point in time (like a Unit Test, Weekly Quiz or End of Year exam).  In this sense, the assessment is a method for identifying which students are struggling or mastering certain concepts.

Many teachers have a negative connotation to this type of assessment because traditional assessments:

  1. Take up valuable time that could be used for learning.
  2. Do not provide useful levels of insight on the concepts/standards being taught.
  3. Focus on grades and reporting student performance as opposed to growth.
  4. Delayed to the point where feedback is asynchronous and misconceptions linger.

So why do teachers love Formative Assessment?  How can a formative assessment be known as the “good assessment?

The key difference between formative assessment and summative assessment is that a  summative assessment is only a check for student understanding, whereas a formative assessment always goes one more step to make an intervention.

To elucidate this comparison, imagine going to the doctor and taking a blood test.  A week later, the results of the blood test are in.  The report reads that you have a 0% chance of life without treatment.

In a summative assessment, this would be the end of the story.  Your doctor would optionally tell you the news and, even if there was a treatment, you would not receive any support!

Just like a summative assessment:

  1. The doctor only set aside time to administer the test, not do anything with the results.
  2. The blood test did not provide any useful insights for growth.
  3. A report giving you a 0% chance of life has little practical value.
  4. Worst of all, the doctor never gave you any treatment or support!  With any intervention you may not only survive but live a long and healthy life.

This is why teachers feel so passionately about formative vs. summative assessment.

Don’t just give an assessment!  Do something with the data!

Teachers who practice the principles of formative assessment always do something with the information that they gather in order to help their students grow.

The faster and more frequently that teachers can check their students, diagnose a learning need, give feedback to a student and adjust their teaching to intervene to a potential problem, the more effective that they can become.  If they can be efficient in this process, their students will thrive.

In fact, an Education Endowment Foundation study found that the Feedback process, empowered by formative teaching, can lead to 8+ months of increased impact per student per year.

In conclusion, teachers love formative assessments because they actually use the information that they gain from assessing their students in order to help their students grow.

Written by: Craig Jones (former 8th grade science teacher)

Craig is the CEO of Formative, a platform dedicated to formative teaching.  He is building web-based software that makes it simple to intervene in the moments that matter most!

Try out www.goformative.com for real-time formative assessments – its FREE for teachers and students!