Formative Assessment is a process used by teachers and students as part of instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of core content. As assessment for learning, formative assessment practices provide students with clear learning targets, examples and models of strong and weak work, regular descriptive feedback, and the ability to self-assess, track learning, and set goals. (Adapted from Council of Chief State School Officers, FAST SCASS)

Cyclical process starting with Formative Assessment Process - Learning Progression Determining learning goals & Define criteria for success, arrow to Elicit evidence of learning, arrow to Interpret the evidence, arrow to Identify the gap, arrow to Feedback, arrow to Plan learning/instructional modifications, arrow to Scaffold new learning, cyclical until the gap is closed.
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Intended Purpose

  • To increase students' learning
  • To adjust instruction
  • To diagnosis student needs
  • To improve the instructional program
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  • Non-graded quizzes
  • Pretests, minute papers
  • Exit tickets
  • Written assignments
  • Concept maps
  • Interviews
  • Progress monitoring
  • Performance assessment scoring guides
  • Weekly reports
  • Focused questions
  • Journals
  • Learning logs
  • Learning probes
  • Checklists
  • Surveys
  • Item analyses of summative assessments

Research has shown that effective assessment for learning practices have the potential to greatly increase both student achievement and motivation. Black and Wiliams (1998) identify the key classroom assessment features that result in these large achievement gains as:

  • Assessments that result in accurate information
  • Descriptive rather than evaluative feedback to students
  • Student involvement in assessment
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For classroom formative assessment practices to both motivate students and increase student achievement, students need to know the learning target, know where they are at in regards to the learning target, and know what they can do to close the gap. In Classroom Assessment for Student Learning, Richard J. Stiggins lists 7 strategies of assessment for learning. They are as follows:

  1. Provide a clear and understandable vision of the learning targets.
  2. Use examples and models of strong and weak work.
  3. Offer regular descriptive feedback.
  4. Teach students to self-assess and set goals.
  5. Design lessons to focus on one aspect of quality at a time.
  6. Teach students focused revision.
  7. Engage students in self-reflection, and let them keep track of and share their learning.
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Formative assessment is an integral part of the following initiatives in Iowa Schools:

Multi-Tiered System of Supports

Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) in Iowa, also known as Response to Intervention or RtI, is an every-education decision-making framework of evidence-based practices in instruction and assessment that addresses the needs of all students starting in general education. A key component of MTSS is evidence-based curriculum and instruction. To keep learning moving forward each student needs continuous monitoring of on-going learning. With each lesson, MTSS teachers identify the intended learning, use evidence of students meeting the learning goals, and identify which students need additional support, are on track to learn, or need to move forward. Teachers using formative assessment practices are also able to engage students in thinking and acting on their learning needs.

Professional Development

The Iowa Department of Education has developed seven online modules for collaborative learning teams. They may be used as part of a building’s professional development plan for implementing the Iowa Core, as part of a course syllabus, or independently by a team of 3 to 10 educators to deepen their understanding of formative assessment. They do not require that the team have an expert in formative assessment as a facilitator, but presume the team or facilitator has some experience in collaborative learning.

These modules illustrate the process of assessment for learning and incorporate the following six attributes identified by Iowa educators: learning progressions; clear learning goals and success criteria; modifying instruction based on elicited evidence; providing descriptive feedback; self- and peer-assessment; and creating a collaborative classroom climate. Each module was developed to follow the Iowa Professional Development Model and to include opportunities for understanding theory, engaging with a demonstration, practicing in the classroom, and peer coaching.

The Assessment for Learning modules are:

  1. Foundation
  2. Learning Intentions
  3. Eliciting Evidence/Instructional Modifications
  4. Descriptive Feedback
  5. Self-and Peer-assessment
  6. Collaborative Classroom Climate
  7. Putting It Into Practice
  8. Module Demo

To access the modules go to Follow the directions on the page to set up an account. Go to Assessment and then Assessment for Learning.

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