Friday, April 19, 2013

Formative Assessments: Let's call it Your Reality Check

All educators have heard of formative and summative assessments.  From a 20th century perspective, formative assessments were commonly thought of as "quizzes" and summative assessments were thought of as "unit tests" and/or "finals".  

However, with the paradigm shift of 21st century teaching we gain a broader perspective of formative assessments.  Some teachers have even dabbled in renaming "quizzes" to names such as "quick checks" or "quests" (indicating a quest of knowledge).  However, before we can truly choose a student friendly name for formative assessments we need to examine why they even exist.

So, what is the purpose of formative assessments?  Rick Wormeli (2010) states in his video Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom that formative assessments have "the greatest impact on student achievement" and he reiterates this by stating students cannot learn "without formative assessments and the feedback that comes from it".

Formative assessments should not be for the purpose of putting points in the grade book simply to move forward to the next objective.  Instead it should be a snapshot of each student’s current reality regarding the learning objectives.  Therefore, I call formative assessments “reality checks” and ask students, as well as myself, “What’s your reality today?”

Reality checks are the way in which we measure where students are at so that they can grow from there.  Students must be taught to self-evaluate their level of understanding on reality checks as well as how to verbalize their learning needs. Assigning points is not the purpose of formative assessments.  Descriptive feedback and teacher student conversations are catalysts for student growth.   When we focus on detailed feedback and speaking with students about the progress of their learning, we create a paradigm shift from point chasing to knowledge seeking.

In Rick Wormeli's (2010) a fore mentioned video he poses the question, "Can kids learn without grades?"  His resounding response is, "Yah!"

Students can learn without grades if:
  •  learning goals, objectives and levels of understanding are made clear
  •  process is valued over product
  •  descriptive feedback is the steering wheel for instruction 
Teachers need to define and make known to students what they need to know and be able to do regarding each level of understanding.  In the grade book descriptive feedback creates snapshots of a student's understanding of goals and objectives throughout a unit.  These snapshots guide instruction and further serve as indicators as to what students know and are able to do in regards to the learning goals. 

While this article can continue on in many directions, for now let's stick to formative assessments for the purpose of assessing the reality of student learning in your classroom!

What is your current reality for formatively assessing student learning?

For your reality check, finish one of the following statements:
  • I am still holding on to 20th century quizzes because...
  • I have started to shift to 21st century formative assessments, but I still....
  • I have made the paradigm shift regarding 21st century formative assessments and my next step is....
Reality checks should be an authentic reflection of student learning in order to create opportunities for growth from each student’s level of understanding.  Reality checks are your GPS to differentiating for student learning; depending on where students are at will depend on the route they need to take.

Wormeli, R. (2010) Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom:  Formative and Summative Assessment Critical Feedback for Learning [video file]  Retrieved from