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The Best Resources For Learning About Formative Assessment

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'Thumbs Up' photo (c) 2006, Gregg O'Connell - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

(Thumbs are one of my favorite forms of formative assessment)

Be sure to read my Ed Week column, Ways to Include Students in the Formative Assessment Process.

As the new school year approaches (we go back in two more weeks), I’ve been thinking a bit on how I can be a little more intentional and strategic in using formative assessment.

For those who might be new to the term, formative assessments are ongoing practices that help both the teacher and student evaluate and reflect on how they are both doing, and what changes either or both might need to make to become a more effective teacher and learner (I’d love it if someone left a comment with a better definition). I use a lot of these in my classroom, ranging from regular cloze (fill-in-the-blank) and reading fluency assessments, to “show me with thumbs,” to observations. I feel that I use them pretty effectively, but also feel that I could do a better job applying what I learn from them in the classroom.

Again, for people who are new to these terms, formative assessments are often contrasted with summative assessments. Summative assessments are the mid-term and final exams, benchmarks, and state tests that we give. They’re designed to, at least theoretically, tell us what a student has learned and what she/he hasn’t learned.

Formative assessments are generally considered more useful to teachers, which is why I’m thinking about them. To quote Robert Marzano from The Art and Science of Teaching, formative assessments “might be one of the more powerful weapons in a teacher’s arsenal.” (p. 13).

Here are some resources that I’ve found useful in my reflections. is sort of a beginning of a “The Best…” list, since I know there is a lot out there, and a lot of people who know more than me about it. So I hope you’re contribute suggestions.

Here are my choices for The Best Resources For Learning About Formative Assessment:

Formative and Summative Assessments in the Classroom comes from The National Middle School Association

Formative Assessment Strategies

Formative Assessment comes from LEARN NC

Here’s a Slideshare presentation on Formative Assessment

Here’s a very nice document from Learner Centered Initiatives

And I thought the Wikipedia page on Formative Assessment was pretty decent, too.

Measuring reading fluency is one of the formative assessments we regularly do at our school. Basically, we have students read two separate passages to us for one minute each three times each year.

Of course, there is a little more to it than that…

Reading Fluency: What, Why, and How? by Mike Dunn is a very good short explanation of how to do that kind of assessment.

Why Formative Assessments Matter is a nice and useful article by Rebecca Alber in Edutopia. It provides simple and helpful suggestions for teachers.

How to Look at Multiple-Choice Assessments Formatively by Heather Wolpert-Gawron at Edutopia.

One Test to Rule Them All is by Jason Buell.

Why Is Formative Assessment So Misunderstood? is a good blog post from ASCD In Service, and Formative Assessment—A Process, Not a Test is a useful Ed Week article.

The Best Value in Formative Assessment is from ASCD’s Educational Leadership.

Here’s a nice short video from ASCD on formative assessment:

Are Your Assessments Good, Not So Good, or…Great?

(In)Formative Assessment: The Key to Accountability is by Bill Younglove and appeared in California English (you need to scroll down to page 21).

New SEDL Report On Formative Assessment Is Great On Research, But Surprisingly Lacking In Practical Value

Staying Focused on Formative Assessment is by Rick Wormeli.

The Fundamentals of Formative Assessment is from ASCD.

22 Easy Formative Assessment Techniques for Measuring Student Learning is from The Northwest Evaluation Association.

I’m not a big fan of using digital devices for formative assessment, but I know it works well for others. Here are some related resources from NEA:

Digital Technology Tools for Implementing Formative Assessment – Post One

Digital Technology Tools for Implementing Formative Assessment – Post Two

Accurately Defining Formative Assessment is from Teach Learn Grow.

33 Digital Tools for Advancing Formative Assessment in the Classroom is from The Northwest Evaluation Association.

Again, feel free to offer additional suggestions.

If you found post useful, you might want to look at the 490 other “The Best…” lists and consider subscribing to blog for free

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for the useful resources, Larry. And I think your definition of formative assessment is great–simple and to the point. On a formal level, one thing I advocate for both formative and summative purposes is a daily opening Quick Quiz, which contains two questions on recently covered material and two on material going back as far as the start of the year (and even previous courses). But I also stress informal, in the moment assessment techniques, some of which I describe in two blog posts you and your readers may want to check out:
    http://ginsburgcoachingtt.wordpress.com/2010/02/06/assessing-through-asking/
    http://ginsburgcoachingtt.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/practice-with-coaching-makes-proficient/

  2. Thanks for the post. I think the best formative assessment resource out there is Keeping Learning on Track (KLT) developed by Educational Testing Service. I work with six urban high schools in MA, as the Director of Secondary Curriculum and we just finished a two-year research study using the program. It’s entirely teacher led, and focused on assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning. We have a large population of English Language Learners and the KLT tools have proven to be very successful with language learners. We are extending the program into our elementary and middle schools this year. Thanks again for all the great posts and resources.

  3. Pingback: The Best Resources For Learning About Formative Assessment | Samoset Middle School Blog

  4. Valuable information with opportunity to easily access your resources for the reader. Two observations for helping readers be more efficient and less tired: 1) Watch if the readers move their lips when they read silently (although many of us might mouth the words when we are studying a passage or rereading to remember) Explain why moving lips slows down the reader. 2) Watch if the readers move their heads back and forth as they track the words across the page. Readers get tired easily from this type of reading. Help them break this habit. Chin in hand while elbow is stationary on desk. Demonstrate how to look at phrases and move eyes across the page without moving heads . Focus more on center of page instead of the beginning and end of a line Practice with the readers.
    Thanks for the great work with the blogs and I appreciate everyone’s responses.

  5. Pingback: Assessment Check! « principalberry

  6. Hi Larry, Thanks for the thought-provoking post and the definitions. I come from the world of International Education, particularly the International Baccalaureate programs. Many school districts in the US are now implementing these academically rigorous programs.
    In those programs, most of all in the elementary school program (PYP) and the middle school version (MYP), those definitions don’t really apply. Yes, formative assessment is all about the learning process providing the teacher feedback on teaching so that instruction can be modified to make learning more effective. However, when it comes to summative assessment, the model is different. Rather than have an examination or test that provides a grade, the IB model requires the teacher to take all evidence of learning into account when assigning a grade. This means that the teacher needs to use assessment tools to measure learning during the formative assessment period (using rubrics, continuums, exemplars, grading schemes, etc) and take any examination, test or quiz results into account.
    Put simply, formative assessment is best teaching practice, while summative assessment is a process. Summative assessment is not an event.
    I can understand that the model is different in different countries, and for differing reasons. However, I thought I’d point out an essential difference with the IB international programs.

  7. Love that you’re promoting formative assessment! Such a great way to engage the classroom and adjust teaching in the moment. Here’s another blog you may want to consider adding to your arsenal that speaks to all things formative assessment, including ideas, tips, etc…

    http://www.nwea.org/blog/category/formative-assessment/

    Thanks Larry!

  8. Love your ideas on formative assessment. We also have been doing lots of work in our district on this topic. Here’s a link to a wikipage I’ve organized called “Let the Data Be Your Guide” with tons of resources on the topic of formative assessment as well as data discussions, feedback, and student self-assessment:

    http://letthedatabeyourguide.wikispaces.com/

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