Part 1: A Look into Formative Assessment

Formative assessment. A buzzworthy phrase you’ll hear often in education. It’s something that administrators are looking for. A topic of professional development. A section in lesson plan templates that teachers try to complete. But what is it? The definition of formative assessment can be difficult to pin down because there are several interpretations of it across the board. Most include some form of evaluating student learning, progress, and needs. Another common element is assessing the efficacy of one’s teaching.

While it should include those aspects, formative assessment is so much more complex than the evaluation of teaching and learning. Formative assessment is not a product, an isolated test, or a one-time activity, but part of an ongoing process. When looking for tools and programs to aid in creating such a process, you want to make sure they allow teachers to support inferences and draw conclusions about learning, as well as provide students with feedback that will enable them to be more responsible, self-regulated learners who take ownership of their education.

What does this mean? It means educators have room to grow in the area of formative assessment, as many do not understand the multi-faceted process that it should be. It means that formative assessment is a lot more complicated than a simple ticket-out-the-door or a quick quiz or poll.

There are currently a multitude of tools and strategies that claim to be formative assessments. You can do an online search for “formative assessments” and find hundreds of quick activities that will help teachers evaluate their students’ learning. However, it’s questionable whether these tools are fully meeting the goals of true formative assessment. Educators are without a doubt spending time to make inferences about student learning, as well as using screeners and diagnostics to gauge progress, look for areas of improvement, and evaluate their own teaching. But an unclear definition leads to gaps in classroom formative assessment, and the key participants, the students, often get left out of the conversation. What part of the assessment process do the students take part in? How are they learning to take responsibility and ownership of their own learning? Are they learning to self-regulate? And most importantly - how can they communicate their learning obstacles back to the teacher?

There are tools on the market, however, which attempt to close these gaps. While educational product companies are beginning to build more student components into their resources, they are not all-inclusive of the student experience and needs. And that is exactly what we are doing here at Measurement with MI Compass. Built by educators for educators, MI Compass is an online formative assessment tool that allows teachers and students to track progress of math and ELA standards - and we are adding more subject areas every day! Our vision for MI Compass is to become the complete formative assessment tool for educators everywhere and we invite you to join the conversation to empower teachers to effectively evaluate learning and enable students to take ownership of their education.

Come back next week to read more about what’s missing in formative assessment in Part 2 of our Navigating Formative Assessment series. We’d love to have you be a part of our team - find out more here!


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