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The impact of formative assessment: 5 examples for student success

Audrey Campbell
Audrey Campbell
M.A. in Teaching; Senior Marketing Writer

In the world of education, the power of formative assessment cannot be underestimated. Assessment, as a whole, provides valuable insights into a student's progress and understanding, guiding educators in tailoring their instruction to meet individual needs and academic leaders in making informed decisions about programs and policies. With formative assessments, specifically, instructors can go beyond simply measuring knowledge; they actively engage students in their own learning journey.

By providing timely feedback and gauging comprehension throughout the learning process, formative assessment helps educators to identify misconceptions and gaps in knowledge while there is still time to address them. And with formative assessment, students are empowered to improve their own work to reach their full potential.

In this blog post, we will explore the profound impact of formative assessment on student success, highlighting its benefits and offering five practical examples that demonstrate its effectiveness in the classroom.

What is formative assessment?

Before diving into the impact, let's clarify what formative assessment entails:

Formative assessment takes place during instruction and serves as a powerful diagnostic tool to monitor progress, identify areas of improvement, and guide instructional planning.

Formative assessments are not limited to traditional pen-and-paper tests; they can take various forms such as quizzes, discussions, observations, projects, or even educational technology tools. The key lies in their ability to provide ongoing feedback that fosters continuous growth and development.

The difference between formative and summative assessment

Understanding the distinction between formative and summative assessment is crucial for educators seeking to maximize student success. While both types of assessments play vital roles within a comprehensive evaluation system, they serve different purposes.

Summative assessments are “the most high-stakes type of assessment and often come at the endpoint of learning, whether at the end of a unit, course, or curriculum, serving largely as a pure evaluation of knowledge” (Lee, 2023). They are typically used to measure student achievement at specific points in time to determine overall mastery of content. They offer little opportunity for providing student feedback because of their positioning at the end of a learning unit.

On the other hand, formative assessments are designed to monitor progress along the way and provide immediate feedback that informs instruction and learning. They can also provide a safe space for failure, where students feel encouraged to try again and reconsider setbacks as chances to strengthen their resilience and understanding. Additionally, “low-stakes instruction around attribution and citation helps students understand how to pivot from missteps and transform misconduct like plagiarism into teachable moments” (Lee, 2023).

Where summative assessments focus on outcomes and final grades, formative assessments prioritize growth and learning. By implementing regular formative assessments alongside summatives throughout a unit or semester, educators can create a dynamic feedback loop that supports student development while still ensuring accountability.

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The value of formative assessments for instructors and academic leaders

Instructors and academic leaders can leverage the wealth of data generated by formative assessments to inform curricular changes, strategic planning, and policy-making. With these insights, they can identify trends, forecast future performance, and implement proactive measures to address potential challenges.

Moreover, this data empowers administrators to allocate resources more effectively, targeting areas where support is most needed and thus increasing overall institutional efficiency. By using formative assessments, decision-makers are not just reacting to educational outcomes, but actively shaping them, creating a dynamic and responsive educational environment.

The impact of formative assessment on student achievement

Research has consistently shown that formative assessment positively impacts student achievement. When implemented effectively, it can enhance learning outcomes, increase student engagement and self-regulation, and foster a growth mindset.

Here are some of the key ways formative assessment contributes to student success:

Enhancing understanding and retention

Formative assessments provide valuable insights into student comprehension levels on an ongoing basis. By identifying areas of strength and weakness in real time, educators can adjust their instruction accordingly, ensuring that students grasp concepts before moving forward. This targeted approach improves understanding and retention of material, laying a solid foundation for long-term success. Draft Coach, for example, is a Google Docs Add-On that offers formative feedback on students’ grammar and citations, which means they immediately see where/how they are making mistakes and can correct their errors in real time.

Guiding instructional decision-making and differentiation

Formative assessment equips educators with the necessary data to make informed instructional decisions. By analyzing student responses and feedback, educators can tailor their teaching methods to address individual needs, differentiate instruction effectively, and implement interventions where required. This personalized approach ensures that every student receives the support they need to thrive.

Fostering student engagement

When students are actively involved in their learning through regular formative assessments, they become more engaged in the educational process. These assessments encourage active participation, critical thinking skills, and self-reflection—all crucial components for fostering intrinsic motivation and a love for learning.

Promoting self-regulated learning

Formative assessment empowers students to take ownership of their learning journey by providing them with timely feedback on their progress. Through self-assessment opportunities and reflection exercises embedded within formative assessments, students develop metacognitive skills and become self-regulated learners who can set goals, monitor their growth, and make adjustments accordingly.

Cultivating a growth mindset

By emphasizing continuous improvement rather than fixed ability levels or grades alone, formative assessment cultivates a growth mindset among students—a belief that intelligence is not fixed but can be developed through effort and perseverance. According to Carol Dweck, who coined the concept of growth and fixed mindsets in her 2006 book, Mindset: “Challenging situations can be catastrophic for those with fixed mindsets because of the implication that if they don’t already have the skills or intelligence to complete a task, there’s no chance of improvement.” This shift in mindset encourages students to embrace challenges, view mistakes as learning opportunities, and persist in the face of obstacles.

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Five examples of formative assessment strategies

Let's explore five examples of how educators can incorporate formative assessment into their classrooms to promote student success and engagement.

1. Entry and exit tickets

An entry or exit ticket is a brief assessment given at the beginning or end of a class to gauge student understanding and provide valuable feedback for teachers. For example, an entry ticket may ask students to summarize the main points of the previous day’s lesson, or an exit ticket may ask students to explain how they plan to use what they learned that day, or identify any areas where they may still have questions. This strategy allows teachers to quickly assess student comprehension and make necessary adjustments to their teaching for the next lesson.

2. Peer feedback

Peer feedback gives students an opportunity to receive constructive criticism from their classmates, promoting a sense of collaboration and community in the classroom. This can be done through peer review sessions or group projects where students are encouraged to provide feedback to their peers. By evaluating their peers' work according to pre-established criteria, students gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter while developing critical analysis and communication skills. Additionally, peer feedback allows students to practice giving and receiving feedback, a vital skill for future success in the workplace. PeerMark™ is a tool that can help to facilitate seamless peer evaluation and constructive feedback exchange between students, whether anonymously or attributed.

3. One-minute papers

One-minute papers are quick and informal writing assignments given at the end of class to check for student understanding and provide immediate feedback. Students can be asked to answer a prompt related to the lesson or summarize the main points in their own words. One-minute papers not only allow teachers to assess student learning, but also give students a chance to reflect on their own understanding of the material.

4. Student self-assessment checklists and reflection journals

Empowering students to self-assess their own learning is an effective way to promote self-regulation and a growth mindset. Teachers can provide students with rubrics or checklists to use when reflecting on their own work or progress. This encourages students to take ownership of their learning and identify areas for improvement. Additionally, self-assessment promotes a growth mindset by encouraging students to view mistakes as opportunities for growth and development.

Reflection journals are also a powerful tool for promoting self-reflection and critical thinking. Students can use these journals to reflect on their learning, set goals, and track their progress over time. Teachers can provide prompts or questions for students to answer in their reflection journals related to the lesson or their overall growth as learners. This practice not only encourages students to think critically about their learning, but also allows them to see their growth and development over time.

5. Misconception Check

Rebecca Alber offers the idea of a misconception check: “Provide students with common or predictable misconceptions about a specific principle, process, or concept. Ask them whether they agree or disagree and explain why. Also, to save time, you can present a misconception check in the form of multiple-choice or true/false.” This offers immediate feedback on which areas of the lesson need clarification and which skills require additional practice.

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In sum: The impact of formative assessment on student success

Formative assessments are integral to fostering an enriching educational environment that prioritizes learner-centric approaches. They empower students with the ability to take charge of their educational journey, instilling in them a growth mindset and the confidence to navigate challenges with resilience. The success of any educational experience greatly hinges on the continuous feedback loop between teachers and students, facilitated by formative assessments.