10 Principles of Assessment

Principle #3

Formative assessment (for learning) must be ongoing, varied, and central to the instructional- learning cycle.

Formative assessment is “the bridge between teaching and learning”; it informs important instructional choices and provides valuable feedback to students that will enhance their learning.

—Dylan William

Formative assessment does not involve grades or scores. The focus is on providing useful feedback to students that specifically guides them to the next stage of learning.

To assess where students are in their learning requires multiple and varied assessments to occur throughout the unit of study. Use of more than one method will ensure reliability and consistency. At the heart of all the assessment is the link to the learning targets or goals.

Assessment for Learning allows teachers to access information about students’ learning; highlight students’ strengths and areas for further development; and make instructional decisions based on the learning needs of the class (or of individual students). Formative assessment takes place during teaching so that adjustments to teaching can be made (Earle & Katz, 2006). The descriptive teacher feedback, intrinsic to formative assessment, occurs frequently and is embedded in the classroom instruction. Formative assessment uses teacher modeling and guidance as students work through their learning. It directs the teacher’s instruction to meet the needs of the individual students.

Rubrics are a widely used assessment tool consisting of set criteria, a measurement scale, and the quality elements of the work. Rubrics benefit students by providing them with clear criteria/learning targets and the steps (scaffolding) to those targets. By deconstructing the learning target into manageable steps (as would be the case in a rubric format), the learner can then see the learning progression. Students can then set meaningful learning goals and monitor their progress in relation to the learning targets. Rubrics, when provided to students at the start of the assignment/project, make them aware of the expectations and also provide an excellent vehicle for feedback, self and peer assessment, and goal setting. Well-developed rubrics, where performance criteria are aligned from teacher to teacher, promote consistency and reliability in assessment practice. Rubrics may be holistic eg. performance standards for social responsibility, or assignment specific eg. a teacher generated rubric for a project in art.

Black and Wiliam (1998) proposed the following five key factors for improving learning through assessment:

1. Effective feedback to pupils

a. occurs in a timely fashion, and describes the features of the work related specifically to the learning targets

b. allows for adjustments prior to it “counting”

c. is descriptive in nature

2. Active involvement of pupils in their own learning

a. is inherent when sharing learning target and building criteria with students

b. is key to designing assessment to meet the students’ needs

c. ensures the assessment gives the students information that will help them through the next steps in their learning

3. Adjustment of teaching to take into account the results of assessment

a. informs decisions about the next steps of instruction

b. creates effective classroom discussion, activities, and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning

4. Recognition of the profound influence assessment has on students’ motivation and self-esteem

a. activates learners as instructional resources for one another

b. activates learners as owners of their learning

5. Self-Assessment for pupils

a. promotes the students as agents of change in their learning

b. is effective when students have an understanding of what they need to do or learn to achieve the goal.

Classroom Examples/Teacher Testimonials

1. An Elementary Teacher uses KWL (Know/Wonder/Learn) as a formative assessment tool in a Kindergarten classroom. It is used to check in with the students before beginning a unit of study to determine what they already know. This helps identify students who require extra support and guides teaching towards the overall learning needs of the class.

2. A Secondary Teacher uses Exit Tickets in Chemistry 12 class. This method of formative assessment provides the teacher with the opportunity to assess information about the students’ learning and to inform instructional decisions. It can also help to identify students who need further instruction or guided practice. Give students one to three questions to answer about the current topic of study/current concept. The answers can be written or electronic such as e-clicker or similar technology.

Teacher Tips

1. Use diagnostic assessments (e.g., webbing, discussions, pre-tests) at the beginning of a lesson/unit to determine students’ prior knowledge and identify any gaps in their understanding or knowledge of the concepts. Diagnostic assessments will help determine priorities when designing instruction.

2. Use quick formative assessment techniques (e.g., Traffic Light checklists; Thumbs up, Thumbs down; Finger of Five, etc.) that provide immediate feedback on students’ understanding so that instruction can be adjusted mid-lesson.

3. Do not use formative assessment (for learning) to evaluate or grade students. The purpose of this kind of assessment is to determine how well students are progressing towards achievement of lesson/unit goals and guide instruction accordingly.