Formative Assessments and Their Role in the Data-Driven Classroom

Formative Assessments and Their Role in the Data-Driven Classroom
Contributed By

Alexis Roesser

English Teacher and Department Chair for Salamanca High School

Formative Assessments and Their Role in the Data-Driven Classroom

Posted in Evolving Ed | January 31, 2018

A data-driven classroom is not quite as dull or stodgy as the name might imply. The very name implies that a lot of information is being collected and gathered on students and instruction.

To an educator unfamiliar with this concept, it may seem as if students are constantly being tested, measured, poked, and prodded like lab rats. The purpose of collecting student data, however, is not simply to create charts and graphs about a student's progress. It's meant to inform an educator's instruction.

Summative vs Formative Assessments

There's a distinct difference between summative and formative assessment, but they are too often used synonymously. Summative assessments are used to evaluate student knowledge at the end of a chapter or unit for a grade and typically are a thorough and time-consuming processes.

The goal of a summative assessment is to gauge students' knowledge acquisition. After multiple modalities of teaching have been employed to address a topic, educators need to see what students have mastered.

The data culled from summative assessments can provide an overall view of a student's performance in class and be a solid indicator of how the student will succeed at the end of the course. If a student fails the summative assessment, the question then becomes what could have been done sooner to identify his or her struggles before the final test.

The answer lies in formative assessments, which are central to a data-driven classroom. A skilled teacher can re-direct instruction based on feedback that they are receiving from their students throughout the flow of a lesson.

Formative assessments, which are ungraded measures to check for student understanding, can happen several times throughout a lesson to gauge students' understanding of the material. They do not require the same level of planning or execution as a summative assessment, so they are easier to insert into a lesson when the instructor needs to take a quick "temperature check."

Below are some types of formative assessment, some helpful tools for conducting them, and pedagogical structures for collecting data.

Entrance and Exit Tickets: Two Helpful Types of Formative Assessment

A nice link to the previous day's lesson or to assigned reading is to begin class with an entrance ticket. These can be done via online discussion platforms, shared online surveys, or even with a simple post-it or index card; however, using a digital platform, such as an LMS, can provide instant, overall, question-, and student-specific insights.

The entrance ticket asks students to offer their current level of understanding on a topic, or recall key elements from the previous class lesson. Immediately upon scanning the entrance ticket results, the instructor can identify areas of the reading or previous lesson that students may be struggling with and spend time during class recapping these items.

Exit tickets are used at the end of a lesson to recap the day's material in a succinct fashion or allow students time to make meaningful connections to the material. Educators can pose questions that are more literal in nature, such as "What are three key points of today's lecture?" or they can allow students to make personal connections to the topic, such as "Can you think of examples in your life where this theory would apply?" These slips are then collected at the end of class and allow the educator to gauge students' understanding of the lesson and address perceived gaps at the beginning of the next lesson.

Digital Tools for Conducting Formative Assessments

Personal technology allows students access to lots of great sites where they can review material and also gives educators ways to create quick formative assessments. Sites like Socrative, Quizlet, and Kahoot allow educators to create study sets where students can review terms or material and then take practice quizzes which identify students' weaknesses and allow them to continue working with the items that pose the most difficulty. Additionally, sites like Socrative and Quizlet have "live" features where you can have students join your "room" and you can see the class' anonymous answers as a whole.

If you're seeing that 75 percent of your class is struggling with the process of mitosis after it was introduced at the beginning of the lesson, this is a time to stop and re-teach the concept in an alternative manner. These tools also promote student self-regulation since students can also use these sites outside of the classroom to monitor their own progress.

Take it a step further, try using these formative assessment tools along side, or even embedded in, an LMS. This allows you to simplify your processes because the activity, communication around it, and the remedial actions all happen in the same place. It also allows you to weave Kahoot assessments, for example, together with online discussions, your classroom calendar, self-paced lessons, mastery data, and more.

Cooperative Engagement Structures for Collecting Formative Data

For smaller classes, cooperative engagement structures allow students the freedom to work with their peers while the instructor monitors their progress. This close monitoring can serve as formative assessment feedback to show where students are struggling with understanding material.

For example, the "Rally Coach" strategy has students working in pairs to verbally explain their thought process, solve problems, and offer assistance to their partner as needed. This engagement structure allows the teacher freedom to move throughout the classroom and monitor students as they work through the tasks.

Another cooperative engagement structure is "Quiz/Quiz/Trade," where the educator comes up with pre-printed questions in any format on a card, making sure there are enough for each student in the class. Students will find another student to "quiz" with their question, concealing the correct answer on the back. If the student answers incorrectly, the question will be noted in the corner with a tally.

After students have traded questions with several different students, the educator will collect the cards and can quickly see which cards were highly missed questions. These topics are now identified as priorities for re-teaching.

Formative Assessments Benefit Both Students and Educators

Gathering data about student performance benefits both students and educators, as it provides a chance for both to reflect on the material covered and how it was presented. The goal is to increase skill proficiency and knowledge, and formative assessment data can be the key to see tremendous gains in this area.

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