The Importance of Formative Assessment

Posted on: February 24th, 2011 by CDWP

In this era of obsession with assessment, it can be easy to overlook the importance of formative assessment. It is especially easy to overlook formative assessments that use writing as a vehicle for monitoring student learning, partly because so many teachers erroneously believe that such techniques take too much time. In all the anxiety about preparing students for standardized tests, we can forget how easily formative assessment techniques can be integrated into daily classroom activities at all grade levels and all subjects.

I was reminded of the effectiveness of formative assessments recently when I encountered an article titled “Formative Assessment: Helping Students Grow,” published in 2007 in the Council Chronicle (from the National Council of English Teachers). You can find the article here. The author provides an overview of some of the many ways that teachers can use writing to conduct brief but effective formative assessments to support their students’ learning; she also reminds us that formative assessment and summative assessment go hand-in-hand when it comes to effective instruction–no matter the grade level or content area.

Of course, Writing Project teachers already know this, and we often share ideas for using writing to conduct formative assessments of our students. But in the cacophony of public debate about education reform, which all too often focuses on testing and test scores (that is, on summative assessment), we rarely encounter thoughtful discussion of how teachers can use formative assessments strategically to improve student learning–and, not coincidentally, increase students’ test scores.

So the next time a colleague tells you he or she has no time for writing activities that help assess what students know and can do, you might point them to this article–or tell them how you use writing to support your students’ learning.

Happy writing.

Bob Yagelski
Director, Capital District Writing Project

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