Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Teachers' Use of Formative Assessment

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Teachers' Use of Formative Assessment

Article excerpt

A teacher is one who helps others learn new things, but how does a teacher know when a student has learned and is ready to move on to the next new thing? How does a teacher know a student is ready to advance to another level? What instructional methods are available to help a teacher know if the learning objectives for the lesson or unit have been met? How does a teacher best check for understanding? The answer is formative assessment. "Formative assessment, if used effectively, can provide teachers and their students with the information they need to move learning forward" (Heritage, 2007, p. 1).

The practice of formative assessment has been around for several years, and research supports its impact, but whether teachers actually use the practice is questionable. Some research has indicated that they do not. The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project is a research group funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to "determine better ways to identify and develop effective teaching" (Kane & Staiger, 2012, p. 1). The MET Project report, Gathering Feedback for Teaching (Kane & Staiger, 2012), was the second of two initial reports from the MET Project. This report analyzed classroom practices using varied observation instruments, including Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), Protocol for Language Arts Teaching Observation (PLATO), Framework for Teaching (FFT), Mathematical Quality of Instruction (MQI), and UTeach Teacher Observation Protocol (UTOP). Observations were conducted in 1,333 classrooms. More than 7,491 lessons were videotaped, resulting in more than 22,000 observation scores. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, the largest school district in North Carolina, was part of this study (Kane & Staiger, 2012).

Although many good teaching strategies were observed, the observers did uncover areas of weakness in teaching practices related to formative assessment. These findings, chronicled by Kane and Staiger (2012), included weak practice in the use of student feedback (CLASS); weak practice in classroom discussion (PLATO); weak practice in questioning and discussion techniques, as well as in using assessments in instruction (FFT); weak practice in student participation of understanding meaning and reasoning (MQI); and very low use of formative assessment in classrooms participating in the study (UTOP).

In my practice as a school administrator, I often observed that teachers might have a level of understanding about formative assessment as a result of professional development and other opportunities, but they did not implement formative assessment appropriately within the context of their everyday teaching. Considering this observation and the research that supported the use of formative assessment, I designed a study to examine teachers' use of formative assessment. Specifically, my research investigated teachers' perceptions of their use of formative assessment and students' perceptions of their teachers' use of formative assessment.

Literature Review

Simply stated, formative assessment is assessing a student's progress regularly as learning and teaching are happening. Formative assessment allows the teacher to adapt lesson plans to match the necessary path to learning-immediately. Formative assessment allows educators the opportunity to gauge student learning as it is happening and respond at once to the students' needs.

The widespread use of the term "assessment" in every area of education results in varied definitions of that term. Although an often-debated topic in education at the local, state, and federal level, assessment can be confusing as it can mean many things to many people. For example, aptitude tests predict a student's future performance; criterion-referenced tests assess a student's knowledge of a particular subject; norm-referenced tests compare student achievement with national results; formative assessments allow a teacher to evaluate students' progress during teaching and to adjust teaching according to students' needs; performance-based tests assess a student's execution of a given task; and standardized achievement tests, administered the same way to all students, assess understanding in a particular area (McGraw Hill, 2001). …

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