soup.jpg"When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment; when the customer tastes the soup, that’s summative assessment."

~ Paul Black, frequently cited as a forefather of formative assessment research

In their purest definitions:

  • formative assessment is FOR learning

  • summative assessment is OF learning

Effective Formative Assessment should:

  • provide timely if not immediate feedback
  • provide evidence for teachers to inform instruction
  • help students evaluate their own learning
  • provide assistance in reaching targeted learning goals
  • allow student time to revise, reflect, reshape, and/or restate
  • not necessarily be for a grade (emphasize learning over points)
  • foster dialog and avoid lecture

What Are Formative Assessments and Why Should We Use Them?


Since formative assessments are considered part of the learning, they need not be graded as summative assessments (end-of-unit exams or quarterlies, for example) are. Rather, they serve as practice for students, just like a meaningful homework assignment. They check for understanding along the way and guide teacher decision making about future instruction; they also provide feedback to students so they can improve their performance.

Types of Assessment Strategies

  • Summaries and Reflections Students stop and reflect, make sense of what they have heard or read, derive personal meaning from their learning experiences, and/or increase their metacognitive skills. These require that students use content-specific language.
  • Lists, Charts, and Graphic Organizers Students will organize information, make connections, and note relationships through the use of various graphic organizers.
  • Visual Representations of Information Students will use both words and pictures to make connections and increase memory, facilitating retrieval of information later on. This "dual coding" helps teachers address classroom diversity, preferences in learning style, and different ways of "knowing."
  • Collaborative Activities Students have the opportunity to move and/or communicate with others as they develop and demonstrate their understanding of concepts.

The conditions for successful formative assessment include:

1. The student and teacher share a common understanding of what constitutes quality work. That is, they have the same standards for achievement.

2. Both student and teacher can compare the student's performance to these standards.

* The student assesses as s/he is working on the task at hand, and upon completion.
* The teacher may assess the completed work or while the work is in progress.

3. Following the assessment, teaching and learning activities are adjusted to close the gap between the student's performance and the standard.

* The teacher not only assesses the student's performance, but also provides feedback (guidance) to the student enabling him/her to improve his/her performance.
* The student will use what s/he has learned from the assessment to improve future performances.* The teacher also assesses the instruction that preceded the performance. The teacher will adjust their instruction based on this assessment.


Formative Assessment:

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Additional Information:

Formative assessment as a process

Effective Classroom Assessment: Linking Assessment with Instruction
Effective Classroom Assessment: Linking Assessment with Instruction

Effective Classroom Assessment: Linking Assessment with Instructionby Catherine Garrison, Dennis
Chandler, and Michael Ehringhaus. View all NMSA assessment resources.

Formative Assessment: Debunking the Myths
Catherine Garrison talks about the 5 myths surrounding formative assessment in a special 2-part episode of Today's Middle Level Educator.

Downloadable PDF version of this article

The Culture of Formative Assessment
Catherine Garrison discusses the culture of formative assessment.

What is Formative Assessment?

soup.jpg"When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment; when the customer tastes the soup, that’s summative assessment."

~ Paul Black, frequently cited as a forefather of formative assessment research

Formative assessment is a "diagnostic use of assessment to provide feedback to teachers and students over the course of instruction is called formative assessment. It stands in contrast to summative assessment, which generally takes place after a period of instruction and requires making a judgment about the learning that has occurred (e.g., by grading or scoring a test or paper)...Assessments become formative when the information is used to adapt teaching and learning to meet student needs." (From the research publication The Concept of Formative Assessment by Carol Boston).

"Formative assessments are not a type of assessment but the way in which the assessment results are used. Formative assessments are administered for the purpose of measuring progress toward a goal. Formative assessments should occur often enough so that teachers can discover when instruction has not been effective in time to correct it. This continual monitoring of progress prevents students from going too long before a weakness or conceptual misunderstanding is detected and addressed." (from the Maryland education website : ).

According to PDE, Formative Assessment is "Used by teachers and students during instruction to provide feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes." (Read more at

Read More About It

NCTE's Research Brief: Fostering High Quality Formative Assessment --very recent publication by National Council of Teachers of English that addresses some of the myths of formative assessment

A US Dept of Education brief on using graphing calculators for formative assessment

The Best Value in Formative Assessment-- Gives a clear description of the difference between formative and summative assessment and a good picture of what formative assessment should include.

Taking Formative Assessment Schoolwide-- a look at how a San Diego urban school implemented a school wide formative assessment plan.

external image pdf.png Linking Formative Assessment to Scaffolding.pdf
external image pdf.png Helping Students Understand Assessment.pdf
external image pdf.png Formative Assessment that Empowers.pdf
external image pdf.png formative Assessment in a science class.pdf
external image pdf.png Best Value in Formative Assessment.pdf

external image AssessmentFormative.gif

Proof Points

Black and William (1998), two leading authorities on the importance of teachers maintaining a practice of on-going formative assessment, defined it as, “all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by the students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.”

Formative assessment encompasses a variety of strategies to determine student progress toward achieving specified learning goals. As Menken (2000) pointed out, “for assessments to be effective and useful for educators in instructional practice, they must be deeply entwined with the classroom teaching and learning driven by the standards.” Timely teacher feedback is an essential ingredient of this process. The habit of embedding formative assessments at key points during instruction yields information that teachers can use to identify and respond to problem learning areas.

The strategies for investigating student learning identified below provide different types of data from and about students. Many of these approaches are also suitable to use as homework assignments. It is appropriate to include the work generated through formative assessments in the comprehensive assessment system used to evaluate student performance.


3-2-1 Reflection
Serves as a post-instructional activity that helps students to focus their ideas and synthesize large amounts of information.
As I See It
Sentence stems that elicit opinions or understandings about key issues associated with a topic.
Prompts students to reflect upon a matter that is “out there,” and which, at first glance, appears to have little or no affect on them. Binoculars challenges learners to recognize how seemingly unconnected issues may influence them.
Changes In The Wind
Assesses the impact of reading, listening, viewing, etc.
Definitions Are Us
Prompts students to develop their complete understanding of a term by creating their own definition.
Directed Paraphrasing
Builds personal definitions or explanations of concepts presented in class.
Exit Ticket
Prompts students to answer a question targeting the big idea of the lesson.
Examines a piece of text in terms of identifying factual information, eliciting questions, and generating personal reactions.
How Do I Know What I Know?
Uses a tightly focused question set to determine a student’s level of understanding about key ideas or concepts.
Is That a Fact?
Prompts students to examine the difference between a factual statement and an opinion-based statement.
Let’s Compare Notes
Provides the opportunity to build note-taking skills, characterize information, synthesize data, and assess student understanding.
Make It a Priority
Prompts students to generate and rank order alternative strategies to address an issue, solve a problem, or meet a need.
The Microscope
Asks to students reflect upon a specific experience, article, task, etc. and make generalized statements and connections to their personal, social, and academic lives.
The Mirror
Allows students to reflect upon themselves, their experiences, their knowledge, etc.
What’s Still Confusing Me...
Provides students with the opportunity to express to the teacher what they identify as the least understood aspect of the lesson.
One Last Question
Uses a final question to facilitate critical thinking about a specific concept covered in a lesson.
One Sentence Summary
Uses tightly framed answers to a number of questions to summarize the big idea about a topic in a single sentence.
Personal evaluation of a piece of text, object, picture in terms of its positive, negative, and interesting aspects.
Sequencing Events
Employs different visual forms: timeline, flowchart, etc to aide students in ordering things.
Thinking Diagram
Compares and contrasts two objects or events in terms of their key attributes.
Venn Diagram
Compares and contrasts two different objects, ideas, or events.
Wait a Minute
Reveals reactions to course materials, activities, and assignments.

Formative Assessment Tools

Tech tools that allow students to take quick quizzes, post their thoughts, and share ideas can help you see individual learning and differentiate instruction. In many cases, they also give you quick, easy to manage assessment data with little or no grading time.

Online Quiz and Survey Tools

  • Survey Monkey --Can be used to create quick online quizzes or surveys. Teachers have used these for quizzes, student created post-presentation quizzes, for group performance evaluations after a group project, and for peer review of online projects.

Chatrooms and Discussion Boards

These easy to create chat tools could be used for quick informal discussions, pre-assessment of content, as well as a formative assessment tool to check and monitor individual understanding.
  • -- chatroom webtool that can be used for informal discussion as a pre-assessment of student knowledge and needs, and as a formative assessment tool to check and monitor understanding at an individual level. Join a sample live chat here.
  • Coveritlive--a live blogging/chat tool that allows more control than chatzy and can be embedded right on a wiki page. You can choose a moderator who approves comments before they go "live" which could help avoid any inappropriate or off-task comments. Click here for an back channel chat example.
  • Wallwisher A flashy, post-it type discussion board...students will love this! You can also add links, video, and audio to posts and moderate posts before they appear live. Try it out here.
  • Skrbl-- an easy to share collaborative online whiteboard. Group students and have them organize insights and information, and check their work online.This can even allow them to complete collaborative assignments from home. See an example here.
  • Twitter--another (very popular) realtime chat tool that might be used in your classroom.
  • Skype --
  • Wiki discussion boards-- use the discussion tab on any wiki to create instant online discussion threads. Discussion boards on individual student pages could be used for more personal reflections.
  • WHSD Teacher Website Blogs