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In our efforts here at to educate people on the need for a balanced assessment approach, one form of assessment often gets overlooked, miss categorized, and/or defined incorrectly. And yet it can be one of the most powerful forms of assessment available to educators, and that’s formative assessment.

How Formative Assessment Plays a Critical Role in Classroom LearningAssessment in general gets a lot of press, and too often this press is negative and misinformed. Many people, when they think of assessments, think of summative accountability assessments, those state or district-wide standardized tests that measure grade-level proficiency, and end-of-year subject or course exams. There are also interim or benchmark exams. Interim assessment may be administered multiple times between instances of summative assessment to measure progress towards meeting the summative expectations (interim benchmark assessment) or to measure growth on a continuum of learning (interim growth measures). To get a better sense of the definitions of assessment and their roles in the classroom, be sure to visit our page on assessment types.

Formative assessment is not assessment of learning, rather formative assessment is often called assessment for learning. It’s a measure that is perhaps more than anything else a yardstick for the educator to determine what they need to do to move the learner forward. It’s not for grading but for answering the question ‘Now What?’

While some students have greater knowledge of a certain topic than others at the outset of a lesson, if teachers are successful in their efforts, all students should, at least, have the same baseline knowledge once a lesson has been taught.

With formative assessment strategies and techniques, teachers can get a “quick take” on where students are in learning the lesson and make adjustments along the way. If they identify a few students who aren’t moving forward, they can provide additional information or support accordingly. If students are collecting and using the evidence of their learning, with the help of their teacher and peers, they, too, can make adjustments in their learning tactics and seek out peers as resources.

Edutopia recently shared some insights on one of the most common forms of formative assessment, the Exit Ticket, in their piece – Exit Tickets: Checking for Understanding. The exit ticket is simply a question that is posed to all students prior to class ending. Students write their answer on a card or piece of paper and hand it in as they exit. This formative assessment technique engages all students and provides the all-important evidence of student learning for the teacher.

Formative assessment, especially when embedded into the classroom instruction process, is effective in moving all students forward in their learning. For additional formative assessment tactics and ideas, visit the Teach. Learn. Grow. blog post 22 Easy Formative Assessment Techniques for Measuring Student Learning. Share your thoughts with us via Twitter (@Assess2Learn).