Formative Assessment

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

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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.

Resource Links:

The Relationship between Formative and Summative Assessment: In the Classroom and Beyond

A Primer: Diagnostic, Formative and Summative Assessment

Methods of Assessment

Practicalities of Ongoing Assessment


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