‘Just-in-Time’ Tests Change What Classrooms Do Next

By Lynn Olson — July 02, 2007 1 min read

Testing has never been more ubiquitous. Yet much of it is after the fact—long after instruction is done, the unit or even the school year is over, and teacher and students have moved on.

Increasingly, though, educators are interested in measures designed to improve, not just monitor, learning and teaching.

Often called “formative assessments,” such measures have a purpose distinct from that of end-of-the-year state tests. Used during instruction, they aim to provide feedback so that teachers and students can quickly adjust what they do next.

As the idea has gained currency, more products have been marketed as “formative assessments”—so many that some experts worry that the very term is being misapplied to miniature versions of end-of-the-year state tests.

Still, research suggests that, if done well, genuine “assessments for learning” can produce among the largest achievement gains ever reported for educational interventions.

This package of stories begins a three-part series that takes a close look at a handful of formative-assessment tools to provide a sense of what such measures look like in practice. The first installment focuses on reading, while later articles look at math and teacher training.

What’s clear, experts say, is that formative assessments alone don’t improve instruction. They need to be embedded in schools that share a culture of inquiry and data use. They need to be accompanied by ongoing and intensive professional development and coaching, so that teachers know how to use them well. And, even then, educators face the challenge: How should I teach differently in response?

A version of this article appeared in the May 02, 2007 edition of Education Week as ‘Just-in-Time’ Tests Change What Classrooms Do Next