Formative Assessment

Black and Wiliam (1998) define formative assessment "as encompassing all those activities undertaken by teachers, and/or by their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged" (p.7). Moss and Brookhart (2009) similarly focus on formative assessment as an "active and intentional learning process that partners the teacher and the students to continuously and systematically gather evidence of learning with the express goal of improving student achievement" (p. 6). In both conceptions, formative assessment is a process, not an object, and involves active engagement of both teachers and students gathering evidence of learning and using feedback to attempt to improve. If evidence that is gathered from assessments is not being used to make decisions about future learning, then it is not formative (Pellegrino et al., 2001).

According to Moss and Brookhart (2009), three essential questions guide both teachers and students learning:
  • Where am I going?
  • Where am I now?
  • What strategy or strategies can help me get to where I need to go?
"This continuous process of setting a learning target, assessing present levels of understanding, and then working strategically to narrow the distance between the two is the essence of formative assessment" (p. 8). 

Wiliam, in Embedded Formative Assessment, proposes five "key strategies" that improve teaching and learning within a lesson or sequence:  

1.  Clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success (ex. student friendly learning targets and clear rubrics)
2.  Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities, and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning (ex. participation strategies, all student response systems, exit tickets)
3.  Providing feedback that moves learning forward (what's the student's next step, focused, related to learning goals)
4.  Activating learners as instructional resources for one another (Peer evaluations, 2 stars and a wish, student reporter)
5.  Activating learners as the owners of their own learning (traffic lights, learning portfolios, learning logs) 

For one practical and focused strategy for formative assessment, see "Hinge Point Questions."