Formative Assessment

Basic Concept

According to Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence at Carnegie Mellon(n.d.), on The Whys and Hows of Assessment, “The assessment of teaching and learning can be viewed as two complementary and overlapping activities that aim to benefit both the quality of student learning and the professional development of the instructor. Assessing learning alone is not sufficient because the ultimate success of students is also dependent upon their motivation and commitment to learning. Similarly, assessing only teaching behaviors and course activities is not sufficient because qualities of the instructor may be appreciated by students but not optimally helpful to their learning and growth. Done in tandem, assessing teaching and learning can help instructors improve and refine their teaching practices and help improve students’ learning and performance.”

Below list the goals and characteristics of each side by sde.


Overall, as we all know, summative assessment is used in education for student achievement, grading, determination for advancement and the driving force for the educational system flow. It is something that is done at the end of a chapter, the end of a lesson, the end of a class and so on. The mere nature of summative assessment being at the end of instruction does not allow for any opportunity to revisit the material to increase learning and understanding that may have not yet been optimally obtained. The summative process continues forward never to visit this material ever again.

Formative assessment, on the other hand, is a process that is dynamic and parallels the student’s progress and learning processes and offers a knowledge status so as to increase student learning. It is not just the student’s summative knowledge typically measure at the end of designated ending points.

Research and studies have found formative assessment to be a very effective learning and instructional strategy for both the student and teacher. The following will present some of the relevant research, applications and examples.

A Brief History of Formative Assessment


“As with most effective teaching methods and practices, individual teachers have probably used formative assessment throughout history. Indeed, we could claim Socrates as an early practitioner. Peppering his students with questions that probed and provoked, he used their responses to measure their learning and guide his instruction; this is the primary attribute of formative assessment. “(Greenstein, 2010).

Learning Theories and Formative Assessment

Formative Assessment has its roots in a variety of educational learning theories. According to Mary James in her work titled, Assessment, Teaching and Theories of Learning, (2006), “For example, constructivist rhetoric can be found in behaviorist approaches and the boundary between cognitivist constructivism and social constructivism is indistinct “

Behaviorist, Cognitive, Constructivist and Socio-Cultural, Situated and Activity Theories of Learning

Mary James continues and highlights specifics from some learning theories to illustrate how they contribute in part to the the delivered formative assessment strategies.

“According to [behaviorist] theories the environment for learning is the determining factor. Learning is viewed as the conditioned response to external stimuli. Rewards and punishments, or at least the withholding of rewards, are powerful ways of forming or extinguishing habits. Praise may be part of such a reward system. These theories also take the view that complex wholes are assembled out of parts so learning can best be accomplished when complex performances are deconstructed and when each element is practiced and reinforced and subsequently built upon…Learning, under [cognitive, constructivist theories of learning], requires the active engagement of learners and is determined by what goes on in people’s heads…According to [socio-cultural, situated and activity theories of learning] occurs in interaction between the individual and the social environment.“


Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Furthermore, a teacher may even use Howard Gardner’s Theory on Mulitple Intelligences (MI) , whereas “the eight intelligences that comprise MI theory relied upon the domains or disciplines in which one typically finds individuals who demonstrate high levels of each intelligence.” and choose the formative assessment strategies to use.” (Davis, Christodoulou, Seider, & Gardner, 2012)

In essence teachers will combine theories when designing and implementing formative assessment. Being that the nature of formative assessment relies on the insights and perspectives into a student’s learning, knowledge level and capabilities, all learning theories must be looked at as a pool of possible learning and instructional strategies. Therefore, formative assessment can not be thought of as an expresison of any one learning theory.

Reference to Research

According to W. James Popham (2013) in Transformative Assessment, “Most observers credit British researchers Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam with kicking off today’s worldwide interest in formative assessment. In 1998, Black and Wiliam published two important works: an article in the journal Phi Delta kappan and an extensive review of empirical research studies focused on classroom assessment. In their kappan article, Black and Wiliam (1998b) argue that formative assessment, properly employed in the classroom, will help students learn what is being taught to a substantially better degree. They support this argument with evidence from their research review (1998a), a meta-analysis in which they conclude that student gains in learning triggered by formative assessment are “amongst the largest ever reported for educational interventions”

According to Kyena Cornelius (2014) in her publication titled, Formative Assessment Made Easy, “Research suggests that monitoring students, adjusting instruction, and offering feedback can be powerful tools in teaching (Bangert-Drowns et al., 1991; Marzano, 2007). With this objective in mind, teachers should use daily formative assessment to lead students to content mastery and thereby ensure them greater gains (Keeley, 2011; Lingo, Barton-Arwood, & Jolivette, 2011; Wormeli, 2007).”


Formative Assessment Distilled

Inge Martin edited by Heidi Andrade and Gregory Cizek (2010) distilled this research, identifying 10 elements across the studies that researchers have noted as important features in their publication titled, Handbook of Formative Assessment

Formative assessment:

  • Requires students to take responsibility for their own learning.
  • Communicates clear, specific learning goals.
  • Focuses on goals that represent valuable educational outcomes with applicability beyond the learning context.
  • Identifies the student’s current knowledge/skills and the necessary steps for reaching the desired goals.
  • Requires development of plans for attaining the desired goals.
  • Encourages students to self-monitor progress toward the learning goals.
  • Provides examples of learning goals including, when relevant, the specific grading criteria or rubrics that will be used to evaluate the student’s work.
  • Provides frequent assessment, including peer and student self-assessment and assessment embedded within learning activities.
  • Includes feedback that is non-evaluative, specific, timely, and related to the learning goals, and that provides opportunities for the student to revise and improve work products and deepen understandings.
  • Promotes metacognition and reflection by students on their work.
  • Heritage further categorizes formative assessments into three types that all contribute to the learning cycle:
  • “on-the-fly” (those that happen during a lesson),
  • “planned-for-interaction” (those decided before instruction), and
  • “curriculum-embedded” (embedded in the curriculum and used to gather data at significant points during the learning process). (Martin et al, 2010)

Formative Assessment That Truly Informs

According to the National Council of Teachers of English (2014) in their publication titled, Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction,” At the center of all this research is one underlying idea: Formative assessment is a constantly occurring process, a verb, a series of events in action, not a single tool or a static noun. In order for formative assessment to have an impact on instruction and student learning, teachers must be involved in every step of the way and have the flexibility to make decisions throughout the assessment process. “

Principles and Processes of Formative Assessment

I am in agreement with Lorrie Shephard (2009) as she states in her Commentary: Evaluating the Validity of Formative and Interim Assessment, “I believe that the validity research that will tell us the most about how formative assessment can be used to improve student learning must be embedded in rich curriculum and must at the same time attempt to foster instructional practices consistent with research on learning.”

Laura Greenstein (2010), outlines principles of and processes for formative assessment in her article titled, What Teachers Really Need to Know About Formative Assessment”. In it she offers principles of and a cyclic process outline for formative assessment.

Principles of Formative Assessment

  • Formative Assessment Is Student Focused
  • Formative Assessment Is Instructionally Informative
  • Formative Assessment Is Outcomes Based
(Greenstein, 2010)

The Formative Assessment Process

Formative assessment gives teachers continual information on student progress—information that supports decisions about how much and what kind of learning, support, and practice students need to reach the goal. In this model, assessment data come from a variety of activities, rather than from a single assessment at the end. While formative assessment and summative assessment serve the same learning goals, the former is an ongoing process and the latter is a finale: the finish line at the end of the race. (Greenstein, 2010)


Goals of Formative Assessment

As stated by Carnegie Melon’s Eberly Center for Teaching Effectiveness, “The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. More specifically, formative assessments:

·         help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work

·         help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately

Formative assessments are generally low stakes, which means that they have low or no point value. Examples of formative assessments include asking students to:

·         draw a concept map in class to represent their understanding of a topic

·         submit one or two sentences identifying the main point of a lecture

·         turn in a research proposal for early feedback.” (Carnegie Mellon, n.d.)

With the growing attention to diversity in the classroom with the trends and needs for differentiated instruction in addition to the controversy surrounding the reliance on standardized testing and assessment for the means of many important aspects to education, more attention needs to be made to nurture the use of formative assessment in the classroom to increase learning effectiveness and overall elevate the educational levels of our educational systems and institutions.

Formative Assessment Templates

According to Kyena Cornelius, “Teachers should reflect on student understanding and focus on aligning the lesson objectives. This knowledge enables them to make data-driven decisions in instructional planning. Formative assessment informs a teacher’s next steps of instruction. “

Cornelius offers templates for formative assessment in his publication titled, Formative Assessment Made Easy: Templates for Collecting Daily Data in Inclusive Classrooms.

“The templates provided are intended to help the teacher gather daily formative assessment data in his or her classroom. Using the anecdotal seating chart, daily scorecard, and objectives grid can facilitate collaborative planning between the teacher and his or her general education partner. When a teaching team collects and analyzes student data frequently, they can easily adjust instructional pace and student demands to ensure students are making appropriate progress toward content standards.”

Anecdotal Seating Chart


Daily Score Card


Objectives Grid



The Online Classroom

I have taught online classes for many years. I am a fan of formative assessment and have used it in various ways to increase learning such for my students.

For learning management systems themselves, the incorporation of dashboards, performance monitors and logs are a good automatic method to acquire data to aid with formative assessment. Some of these items if available to the student would allow for self-formative assessment and therefore hopefully constructive and positive follow-up actions as well as the ability to add additional resources with feedback for student use, audio visual personalized feedback, live one on one web conferencing with application sharing by both the instructor and the student to name a few.

There are learning management models that can automatically track what the student has completed or what the student needs help with since they completed something incorrectly like a quiz question. Those items that were not completed or completed incorrectly can be followed up with prompts and backtracking advice for steps the student should revisit to strengthen their knowledge and skill before proceeding forward. The system can even block their progression to insure that the knowledge was obtained.

Instructor feedback is crucial for the online and on ground classroom alike. The more personalized and detailed it is the better and more effective it is for the student provided the student sees it and uses it. I allow students to revise assignments based on my feedback and resubmit them for more credit. I find this incredibly effective for the students who do respond to the process. After a few weeks, the students ends up turning in perfect assignments.



Example Use of Formative Assessment

Here is a quick video illustrating the use of formative assessment at the Hatboro-Horsham School District wIth student and teacher sharing their experiences.

Media embedded January 31, 2016


Critical Reflections

According to Rick Stiggins and Rick DuFour (2012), in their article titled, Maximizing the Power of Formative Assessments, Formative assessment, done well, represents one of the most powerful instructional tools available to a teacher or a school for promoting student achievement.

While formative assessment is proven to be effective and a strategic tool to use to increase the effectiveness of learning and instruction, it is usually an added task for the instructor or teacher to handle. With a large class size this can be daunting. The formative assessment needs to be for each individual student requiring individual attention, guidance and instruction.

According to Harry Torrance (2014) in his publications titled, Formative assessment at the crossroads: conformative, deformative and transformative assessment, “The theory and practice of formative assessment seems to be at a crossroads, even an impasse. Different theoretical justifications for the development of formative assessment, and different empirical exemplifications, have been apparent for many years. Yet practice, while quite widespread, is often limited in terms of its scope and its utilisation of the full range of possible approaches associated with formative assessment.”

While the smart Learning Management Systems (LMS) tend to have automated features that lend themselves to formative assessment, it is the responsibility of the student and instructor to use it which can reduce its usage therefore ultimate effectiveness and potential.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Formative assessment should be used in all classrooms, by all educators and students. We need to keep training teachers on how to do it, help students to be aware of it and utilize it to its fullest potential. Having automation in the process to help the teachers and students alike can help in increasing its usage. Including administrators and other personnel in the academic environment in sharing some of these tasks to help lessen the load for the instructors and nudge the students to follow-up. Use peer to peer collaboration and assessment to increase the formative assessment each student receives and provides.

Ultimately, more research and technologies must be done in order to embrace and realize formative assessment so that It can be included and implemented in all educational models and environments. I hope to work on a smart learning management system that helps the instructors and students alike by adding more personalized attention and implementation of differentiated instruction and learning for the student, instructor and educational institutions’ personnel.


Carnegie Mellon. (n.d.) What is the difference between formative and summative assessment?. Retrieved from

Cornelius, K. E. (2014). Formative Assessment Made Easy: Templates for Collecting Daily Data in Inclusive Classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children, 47(2), 112-118. doi:10.1177/0040059914553204

Davis, K., Christodoulou, J. Seider, S. Gardner, H. (2012).  The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved from

Greenstein, L. (2010). What Teachers Really Need to Know About Formative Assessment. Retrieved from

Hatboro-Horsham School District. (2013). Understading Formative Assessments. Retrieved from

James, M. (2006). Assessment, Teaching and Learning Theories. Retrieved from

National Council of Teachers of English (2014). Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction, Retrieved from 2014.

Popham. W.J. (2013). Transformative Assessment. Retrieved from,-What,-and-Whether.aspx.

Shepard, L. (2009). Commentary: Evaluating the Validity of Formative and Interim Assessment. Education Measurement: Issues and Practice. Vol. 28. No. 3, pp. 32-37.

Stiggins, R.& DuFour, R.(2012). Maxmizing the Power of Formative Assessments. Retrieved from

Torrance, H. (2012). Formative Assessment at the Crossroads: Conformative, Deformative and Transformative Assessment. Oxford Review of Education, v38 n3 p323-342 .



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