Special Report

Understanding Formative Assessment

November 11, 2015
Formative assessment is one of the most widely used—but poorly understood—instructional techniques. This special report highlights common misconceptions about the approach and shows how formative assessment differs from other kinds of assessments, such as summative or benchmark tests. It also illuminates some ways that educators can use formative assessment in their classrooms to find out on the spot whether students are really "getting it."
  • Alan Velazquez, a 5th grader at Gust Elementary School in Denver, helps a peer with a math equation. Gust is among a growing number of schools that are teaching students to look at their own work and their classmates’ work to figure out where they are in the learning process and where they need to be. Some consider such evaluations to be one form of formative assessment.
    Alan Velazquez, a 5th grader at Gust Elementary School in Denver, helps a peer with a math equation. Gust is among a growing number of schools that are teaching students to look at their own work and their classmates’ work to figure out where they are in the learning process and where they need to be. Some consider such evaluations to be one form of formative assessment.
    Nathan W. Armes for Education Week
    Assessment Searching for Clarity on Formative Assessment
    Ask five teachers what formative assessment is and you're likely to get five different definitions.
    Catherine Gewertz, November 9, 2015
    5 min read
    Image of students taking a test.
    smolaw11/iStock/Getty
    Assessment Q&A Q&A: Misconceptions About Formative Assessment
    Richard J. Stiggins, an advocate of classroom assessments in the service of learning, identifies misconceptions about formative assessment.
    Catherine Gewertz, November 9, 2015
    5 min read
    Caroline Wylie
    Caroline Wylie
    Assessment Should Formative Assessments Be Graded?
    Experts warn against grading formative assessments, but teachers sometimes worry that students won't take the tasks seriously any other way.
    Liana Loewus, November 9, 2015
    5 min read
    College & Workforce Readiness New Tools Help Track Common-Core Learning
    PARCC and Smarter Balanced have formative assessments that enable teachers to see if students 'get it' long before the tests.
    Catherine Gewertz, November 9, 2015
    8 min read
    Sony Gomez, a 4th grade student at Gust Elementary School in Denver, uses a red pen and a rubric, or scoring guide, to assess a classmate’s writing sample.
    Sony Gomez, a 4th grade student at Gust Elementary School in Denver, uses a red pen and a rubric, or scoring guide, to assess a classmate’s writing sample.
    Nathan Armes for Education Week
    Assessment Students 'Self-Assess' Their Way to Learning
    In a growing number of schools, student self-assessments are just another part of the learning process.
    Jaclyn Zubrzycki, November 9, 2015
    5 min read
    Tiffany Palmer, a 4th grade teacher at Candeo Schools, a K-8 charter school in Peoria, Ariz., participates in an online professional development program with her colleagues. The program aims to help teachers identify where their students are in the learning process and how they might tailor their teaching to meet students’ needs.
    Tiffany Palmer, a 4th grade teacher at Candeo Schools, a K-8 charter school in Peoria, Ariz., participates in an online professional development program with her colleagues. The program aims to help teachers identify where their students are in the learning process and how they might tailor their teaching to meet students’ needs.
    Nick Cote for Education Week
    Assessment Arizona Leans In on Formative Assessment
    In the Grand Canyon State, teachers are getting a leg up in their efforts to improve the on-the-spot assessments and instructional decisions they make in the classroom.
    Liana Loewus, November 9, 2015
    8 min read
    Assessment Technology Fed Growth in Formative Assessment
    Education-technology tools have made it easier for teachers to keep tabs on students' understanding.
    Michelle R. Davis, November 9, 2015
    3 min read
    Teaching Learning Progressions: Maps to Personalized Teaching
    In Denver and elsewhere, learning progressions offer one tool teachers can use in the formative-assessment process.
    Holly Kurtz, November 9, 2015
    7 min read
    Education Formative-Assessment Videos
    Watch how formative-assessment techniques play out in the classroom.
    November 9, 2015
    Assessment Types of Assessments: A Head-to-Head Comparison
    This chart provides a guide for distinguishing different kinds of student assessments.
    Sarah D. Sparks, November 9, 2015