The Success of Formative Assessment in the Classroom

Ann Hayes, Ph.D.

What is Formative Assessment?

Formative assessment has been around for decades in various programs and practices. Benjamin Bloom, so well-known for his Taxonomy of Learning Domains, emphasized the need for instructional differentiation that matched the needs of each student. Based on his landmark study of how tutors worked with students, he maintained that adding more time for those who needed it as well as re-teaching would allow all students to be successful and that assessments should be used to give students feedback and to serve as guides for correction (Bloom, 1968). According to a policy brief on formative assessment published by the National Council of Teachers of English (2010), excellent formative assessment emphasizes the quality of student work instead of the quantity; coaching and encouragement for improvement rather than grades; student-instructor dialogue as opposed to lectures; and as many chances for success as necessary, concentrating on a few increments of understanding at a time.

Many educational researchers in the field today prefer the term assessment FOR learning, to clearly differentiate it from summative assessment, or assessment OF learning (Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall, & Wiliam, 2004; Stiggins, 2004). The term assessment for learning clearly indicates the crucial role assessment should have in learning. Students are assessed as they learn so that instructors and students know what comes next – more practice, instructional intervention, or moving on to the next concept (Black & Wiliam, 1998).

What Does Formative Assessment Look Like in the Classroom?

Many types of formative assessment happen naturally in the classroom, as instructors give specific, timely feedback to students on their learning and then work to strengthen understanding of concepts. They do this when they ask for exit tickets or when they ask for a quick “thumbs up” check for understanding. They do this when they coach a student through a project or scrap an entire lesson plan because students are “not getting it.” Formative assessment does not result in a grade in the grade book. Formative assessment guides both instructors and students in making decisions during learning about what additional learning needs to take place.

There are also more formal methods of formative assessment. PEG Writing Scholar® is one of these methods.

How Does PEG Writing Fit In?

PEG Writing is a tool that allows students to practice writing in a low-stakes environment and receive timely feedback on their efforts as they practice. PEG Writing offers several forms of feedback to the student writer. First, it provides in-text conventions and sentence structure feedback. Students receive scores for each of the Six Traits of Writing, so that they can see which areas need improvement. They may also receive targeted feedback on one or more traits. A lesson may be suggested to help with improvement in a specific trait. It's also a great way for students to polish their writing on their own, without teacher input.

Outside of the automated feedback, instructors also can leave “sticky notes” and messages for students to give them suggestions or corrections on which students should focus. There is also a place for instructors to score content accuracy and textual evidence, which are not automatically scored by the PEG Writing system.

Using PEG Writing should be a partnership among the student, instructor, and program. The goal in using PEG Writing is not to earn a specific overall score, but to improve on each trait using the feedback and suggestions from both the program and the instructor.

It is important to note that while PEG Writing is an excellent tool for student writing practice, it is merely one tool in a instructor's toolbox for teaching writing. Just as a contractor cannot build a house with only a hammer, instructors cannot teach writing solely with PEG Writing. Used in conjunction with a writing program that includes instructor modeling, instruction, and assessment, PEG Writing can help students increase their writing skills and confidence.

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To learn more about PEG Writing and formative assessment in the classroom, contact us today.


Bloom, B. S. (1968) Learning for mastery. Evaluation Comment, 1(2), pp. 1-12. Retrieved from

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box. The Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139-148.

Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2004). Working inside the black box: Assessment for learning in the classroom. The Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1), 9.

National Council of Teachers of English (2010). Fostering high-quality formative assessment: a policy research brief. Council Chronicle, (20)1, 12-14.

Stiggins, R. (2004). New assessment beliefs for a new school mission. The Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1), 22-27.