Buzzwords.  Formative assessment(s) can be included in education’s current list.  There’s a good reason.  Formative assessment, coupled with teacher feedback, is a powerful way – if not the most powerful way – to advance learning outcomes.

Formative assessments help teachers catch misunderstandings and guide students in the right direction BEFORE the test, or whatever the summative assessment may be.

But summative assessments are not the end of the road.  Summative assessments can and should be used formatively.  I guess it took me a while to learn this, and some additional time to learn how to incorporate this concept into my teaching routine (admittedly I’m still learning).

In retrospect, I suppose I started just discussing with the class some of the more obvious misconceptions I noticed shortly after passing back the test.  There’s nothing wrong with this, although most of this probably goes in one ear and out the other.  Minimal impact in improving student achievement.

Same goes with providing the students with written feedback on the summative assessment.  Of course, providing good written feedback is much better than just giving the correct answer, or even worse, just marking the answer incorrect.  However, I think most students just see the grade/score and forget about the written feedback.

I then realized at some point that orally reviewing the written feedback with the students increased the likelihood of them reading and absorbing it.  As such, instead of just calling students by name and passing out their tests, I began having “mini-conferences” with each student as the rest of the class was working on something independently, often a morning warm-up.

Along with these “mini-conferences,” I began to repeatedly tie-in and address noted misunderstandings at various points in my future instruction.

And perhaps soon after, I began – when necessary – pulling quick small groups using the data from summative assessments.  As I returned the assessments, this began saving me time as I tried to quickly meet with each student and provide some feedback.  Why meet with three students individually when all three need the same guidance?

In addition, I began using this time to address student needs across the curriculum.  I guess this is a benefit of an elementary teacher who teaches all subjects.  For example, I recently gave the students an assessment on our last social studies unit, which focused on how and why European exploration began.  I try my best to provide a good mixture of question types on these assessments, and as such, one question was really more of a basic reading comprehension question than a recall of factual knowledge or synthesis of information.  The pic below shows the question.

As you can see in the pic, this student only provided one new technology that caused exploration to change during the Renaissance when the question asked for the technologies (plural) that caused exploration to change.  Maybe this is minor at first glance, but in the day and age of high-stakes tests, providing incomplete answers can make a significant impact.  For instance, if a question asks for “text details” as opposed to “a text detail,” students need to understand the difference.

Several of my students did this, so I quickly met with these several students.  I also decided to add this as a reading conferring note.  Why?  Well, besides falling more in the realm of reading than social studies, I have also come to learn that when students know I’m documenting the feedback I’m giving them, there’s a whole new level of attentiveness.  And of course, the physical act of documenting the feedback increases the likelihood of me remembering to follow up on what we discussed, or at least being mindful that I should be on the lookout to ensure these students retain and apply the guidance they were given as they move forward.

Below is a pic I took using the group note feature of Chronicle.

Nothing fancy, but in my opinion, continual and conscious effort to do these little things add up to make a big difference.

We’d love to hear any thoughts you have regarding how you formatively use summative assessments.