Formative Assessments

Formative assessments. That’s the answer to questions like, “What can I do to increase student achievement?” or “How can I improve my classroom instruction?” when I know the teacher has a strong rapport with students and good relationships are already in place. Read on to get more answers to questions about formative assessments. 


Why are formative assessments so important in the secondary classroom?


I don’t know about your school, but the term “formative assessment” gets thrown around a lot at my school. And it’s not always used in the right context. Sometimes it helps to be reminded of the intended definition of these educational buzzwords. The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning

I think formative assessments are one of the most important tools teachers can use because of the “ongoing feedback” they provide. Unlike summative assessments, formative assessments allow teachers to fix misconceptions before it’s too late. There is no other data that influences my teaching and instruction more than what I learn from formative assessments. No matter how far behind you are or what needs to be taught, formative assessments will always be worth your time!


What do formative assessments look like in your classroom?


The beauty of formative assessments is they can look like just about whatever you want and can be whenever you want! We often think of exit tickets when thinking about formative assessments, and they’re wonderful, but there are many other options, too!

They take on so many different forms in my classroom, from on-the-fly-questions to questions planned ahead of time and assigned through google classroom.

For “on-the-fly” types of formative assessments, I like to use whiteboards or scrap pieces of paper (I try to keep cut-up scrap paper on hand for these instances). Or there is no writing at all. I like to take small opportunities within a lesson to do a quick check for understanding. This can be as simple as asking every student to show me their thumb. I ask for a thumbs-up when feeling confident, a thumbs-down when they are not understanding, or a “wiggle in the middle” when they are unsure or somewhere in between. 

Sometimes I plan ahead and print out the question on small slips of paper for them. When possible, I like to use google slides or google forms to assign formative assessments. A sometimes forgotten but important aspect of formative assessments is student self-assessment. I not only want to see what the student can do but how confident are they in that skill. If you’d like to see what my google slide formative assessment with student self-assessment looks like, click here for a FREE template! 

I created exit tickets for the entire year of Geometry. Click the image above to check them out!


What do you do with the data collected from a formative assessment?


How you handle what you learn from the data collected on the formative assessment depends entirely on the number of students who missed all or part of the formative assessment and the mistakes that were made.

Formative Assessment

I have also found it insightful to compare the results of the formative assessments with students’ performance on the summative assessment. If results are noticeably different (students did well on F.A., but not S.A.), it might be that students are not able to transfer their understanding and a change in approach to teaching and/or the types of questions posed may be necessary.

If you need help with the data collection process, here are a few options that I’ve used to keep track of formative assessment data. It can be as easy as a checked box or as detailed as a 1 to 4 scaled score with a description of the mistake made.

If you would like to read more about ways to improve classroom instruction, check out this post: Engagement Strategies for the Secondary Classroom.

Formative Assessments



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