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Formative Assessments Measure Student Growth While They Learn

Posted on April 20, 2023 by EPI Admin

If teaching were a puzzle, assessment would form a big piece of it. Assessments are the means by which teachers measure learning. Or, if we compare a school year to a journey, assessments are the landmarks that reveal how far a class has come.

In this post, based on material from Launch Your Classroom Instruction!, we focus on using assessments to gauge how well students are understanding material while they are still engaged in the learning process.

Formative Assessments

Teachers use a variety of assessments to evaluate student progress and decide what, if any, adjustments are needed. Assessments are also what allow stakeholders, such as school administrators, to observe that students are indeed learning.

Three types of assessment that successful teachers employ are: 

  • Pre-Assessment
  • Formative Assessment
  • Summative Assessment 

Pre-assessments, as the name implies, take place before students are exposed to new material. Formative assessments, on the other hand, assess student learning during a lesson or unit. Summative assessments, often called “unit tests,” are typically given at the end of units or courses of study.

"When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment. When the customer tastes the soup, that’s summative assessment." – Paul Black

As a teacher, you’ll use different assessment types in different situations and at different times. By understanding your goal in assessing student learning, you’ll be able to apply your assessments in ways that create maximum value for you and your students.

Today, we’ll focus on formative assessments. These provide teachers with real-time data on how well students are learning the material, and they also give students themselves valuable indicators of their own progress.

Formative assessments also allow teachers to monitor student learning for differentiation. That is, these assessments help instructors identify students who need additional support. The assessments also provide ongoing feedback that students can use to improve their own learning.

As noted above, summative assessments come at the end of courses of study and provide valuable evaluations of student knowledge. The regular and periodic use of formative assessments, meanwhile, allows both the teacher and student to observe not just progress, but the rate at which progress is being made.

Exit Tickets

Effective lesson design incorporates the regular use of formative assessments to determine how students are doing. The close of class is a good time to incorporate formative assessment through closure activities such as exit tickets.

Exit tickets should not be viewed as a major task but as a quick exercise lasting no more than five minutes. These activities can help students process a lesson’s content, check their own understanding, and provide teachers with feedback about how the class is progressing.

For example, watch the exercises in the video clip below. In this short presentation, both entry and exit tickets are considered formative assessments, as both help the teacher gauge students’ progress over the course of the school year.

Video URL

You can find another example of an exit ticket in the graphic below. It contains questions that can help a teacher gauge understanding of a lesson related to multiplication.

Example of exit ticket

You can learn more about this classroom strategy and download template tickets on our learning unit on entry and exit tickets.

Learn More

Wish to know more? Consider exploring these additional resources!

The Entry and Exit Tickets clip above was part of a longer Launch Your Classroom! video that takes viewers on an adventurous exploration of formative assessments. The presentation examines with greater depth how formative assessments can help close learning gaps among students and simplify grading for teachers:

Video URL

On the subject of grading, you may wonder: Should teachers grade students on formative assessments? A teacher provides her answer in this short video: 

Video URL

Yet another presentation provides added insight. Sharon McCarthy co-wrote the book whose chapters form the basis for this blog post. (An educational consultant and author, she has devoted her life to improving educational systems across the USA.) In the clip below, she discusses the importance of measuring the progress of students and demonstrates a simple formative assessment that uses sketching.

Video URL

Are you curious to know more about differentiation, mentioned in passing above? The Launch Your Classroom! team put together a whole video focusing on instructional differentiation. Find it below:

Video URL

The text for today’s post was based on a chapter from Launch Your Classroom Instruction!, one of four books published by EPI. A previous blog post pulls material from another of these publications to explain how to create effective class rules.

Now that you have a better understanding of formative assessment, you may well be interested in moving on to consider summative assessment. Our Launch Your Classroom! video channel will begin tackling the subject in May. Subscribe to the channel today, to be sure not to miss the videos! We also plan to publish a follow-up blog post on the subject in June, so you can look forward to a post dedicated to the subject in this space at that time.


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