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The value of formative assessment in education: a brief overview

Teachers are always looking for new ways to boost the quality of education they provide. And, if we know a change to the structure of your classes is all it takes to boost knowledge retention and student success, then what’s holding you back?

Formative assessments continue to be a popular topic in the education community, especially when compared to the more traditional summative assessment approach.

Still, how different are these two assessment models? A report from the United States Department of Education ran 22 comprehensive studies to conclude that taking a formative perspective as an instructor resulted in noticeably better academic achievement amongst the students, whether the field was reading, writing, or mathematics.

Not only have the benefits of formative assessments become well-known, but it’s an approach empowered by digital learning solutions that are rapidly gaining traction across the entire education sector.

But, let’s start from the beginning by addressing the basics: from what is a formative assessment, how it’s different from current standards of testing, what benefits you can expect from it to how you can deploy it in your school district.


How Does Formative Assessment Work?

No, it’s not just a buzzword. Formative assessment describes the approach to testing students, specifically the timing of it. In a traditional classroom with summative assessment, an examination occurs at the end of the course to:

  • Gauge student progress
  • Record grades
  • Measure the success of the course
  • Compare results with those of previous years

Summative tests tell you how much success has been achieved at a certain point, but formative assessment occurs throughout the course before the summative assessment. A formative examination aims to:

  • Help guide the course along by providing instant feedback
  • Provide a dynamic learning process that spans throughout the course
  • Possibly work alongside summative assessment

Take, for example, a state examination, which governments use to gauge the performance of school districts. These tests are almost entirely summative in nature. Not only do the results not arrive until several months afterward, but they are primarily designed for state governments to use, not the school itself. Teachers cannot make too many decisions to improve the classroom experience using the results.

Repurposing Classroom Quizzes For Formative Use

The truth is that summative assessment can also be formative in some ways. The quizzes instructors develop for their own classes are used both to benchmark student performance and also discover what sections are causing the most trouble. Teachers often use these results to go over problematic content accordingly.

Teachers should encourage students to ask themselves a few questions based on these tests to promote a formative use of the results.

  • What’s the quality of my understanding? Am I relatively strong at this material, and am I improving? What about areas where I should work on?
  • How can I improve? If my results weren’t up to standard, what could I do to make my answers better? How should I prepare for the next assessment?
  • Where do I go from here? Give students a list of learning objectives so that they can focus on mastering the right topics.

One way to promote formative assessment is to offer a quiz in the middle of a lesson. Have students identify their own strengths and weaknesses in the material so that they know where to improve. Formative feedback is most useful when it is easy to understand and timed during rather than after the learning process so that it can make the most impact.

On that note, the feedback from a formative assessment can be distinguished from that of a purely summative one by one major distinction. A summative result—in the form of an A, B, C, D, or F grade—is a general statement of whether or not you understand the material but doesn’t give you much more detail than that.

A formative result gives specific instructions on what to improve and how to do so. An example is an essay grade that includes what the paper might be missing and what areas should’ve had more attention. These details allow students to correct themselves during the learning process.

The Main Advantages of Formative Assessment: Instant and Usable Feedback

To review, what distinguishes formative from summative assessment is the feedback, specifically the content and timing of it. Formative results are descriptive and easy to understand to show students exactly how and where to improve. They also occur during the learning process to ensure that the direction of the course is on track.

So when an instructor chooses to deploy formative approaches to learning, the advantages here will be:

  • Specific goals: Keep your eye on the ball. Formative assessment reminds participants of the learning objectives and keeps them on track to achieving them.
  • More impactful lessons: Even teachers benefit from formative results. They will learn more quickly what students need the most during the class.
  • Better engagement: Unlike a straight letter grade, detailed advice on what to work on is more engaging and encourages dedication to the material.
  • Personalized experiences: Formative assessment forces instructors to find out the needs of individual students, which helps promote a personalized learning approach.
  • Self-regulated learning: Students get the opportunity to take learning into their own hands, as formative feedback tells them exactly where to look.

Instructors should consider formative testing, as it can result in a significant improvement to classroom performance and student engagement.

Using Tools To Your Advantage

What’s the most efficient way to encourage learners to self-reflect and assess their own needs? Technology has thankfully made the formative process easier for both instructors and learners themselves. 

ModernStudent Information Systems (SIS) are designed to track and promote student understanding by gathering information on performance metrics and streamlining testing in general.

SIS platforms also make school management much easier by digitizing and centralizing a repository for all educational documents, from grades to attendance and class schedules.

For these reasons, we’ve seen unprecedented adoption rates for modern SIS systems, and market reports predict significant growth for the years ahead as well.

Bring Your School District to the Future With Edsembli

Matching modern standards requires bringing the classroom into the future. Edsembli is always introducing new innovative technology to school districts and communities everywhere.

You’re not alone when it comes to finding the best software tools to empower more efficient classrooms. Edsembli has worked with over 100 school districts, serving more than 1.7 million students to date.

Are you looking to embrace modern education and the formative assessment methodology? Rethink how you approach lessons and testing by getting in contact with us today.

Book your demo with an Edsembli education specialist today

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