The Power of Purposeful Assessment
Every educator had hoped to begin this school year in a more familiar fashion, but as the year kicks off, it is clear that we are still not even close to normal. After the learning disruptions of the past two school years, it is reasonable for educators to wonder, “What do my new students know right now?” Even though most districts conducted some type of summative assessment at the end of the 2020–2021 school year, research suggests that it is critical for teachers to perform formative assessments to better gauge where students are to start the year.
Purposeful formative assessments should show how much students have learned, how hard they’ve worked, and the strategies they’ve used. When conducting formative assessments, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Keep them short.
- Create the quizzes, prompts, and questions yourself.
- Focus on the heart of what students need to know.
- Consider prerequisite skills.
- Plan and embed assessment opportunities into low-risk practices (such as the components of Morning Meeting).
Making Assessments Equitable
Getting accurate results with formative assessments is key to student progress. As Grant Wiggins, author of Educative Assessment and Assessing Student Performance, points out in his article on authentic assessment, “The more you teach without finding out who understands the information and who doesn’t, the greater the likelihood that only already-proficient students will succeed.” This highlights the issue with equity in the classroom, especially when there are ineffective checks on student comprehension. Here are some methods that can provide a more accurate sense of varying levels of mastery and inform your next moves:
- Provide every student with opportunities to share responses to well-developed questions using dry-erase boards or familiar digital platforms.
- Offer opportunities for quick writing responses in a journal or online app.
- Have students respond to purposeful entrance or exit tickets at the end or beginning of a lesson to better inform next steps for learning.
Using Assessments to Empower Students
As teachers provide strong, purposeful formative assessments, they can then use their words to support and foster students’ growth mindset. Educators can use reinforcing language to nurture growth and let students know that they are on the right track or provide envisioning statements to remind students of their strengths and continued possibilities for growth. When educators succeed in fostering this shift to a growth mindset, students are more likely to embrace challenges, persist in the face of failure, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from setbacks and criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.
Another way educators can use teacher language to move students forward is by sharing their assessment data with students immediately. This empowers students to take responsibility for their work and prepares them to own their learning. Working with assessment results helps students measure progress toward goals and target areas for improvement with a growth mindset. Educators can make this process more relatable for students by using appropriate teacher language:
- “I want to know how you are doing during learning so I can take next steps.”
- “Errors are a vital part of learning.”
- “It’s persistence, not first and fastest, that matters.”
If our aim is to ensure students come back stronger from this pandemic, using ongoing assessments, data, and supportive teacher language will foster the best recipe for closing academic gaps this year.
Written by Dr. Maureen Marshall, Dr. Maureen Marshall, former elementary school teacher and principal for over 25 years