Skip to main content
BlogEngaging ClassroomsEveryday InnovationResearch InsightsSchool Improvement

Formative Assessment—What it really is and why it matters

By October 14, 2014June 13th, 20165 Comments

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Diane Brooks-Sherry says:

    This is the best explanation I have seen of the difference in assessments. The most difficult part for teachers is not usually understanding what their students need but finding the time to create the variety of assessments while also contacting guidance counselors, special education, parents, filling out administrative reports, and attending faculty meetings. Since the one-room school house of colonial times, teachers are constantly observing students to understand what they know and where they struggle. The increase in class sizes along with the pressures from educational trend setters and increased administrative and legal responsibilities has decreased the time teachers have to truly focus on students. Most teachers would prefer to spend time working to improve experiences for their students. Hopefully, more districts will replace meeting agendas that could be emailed with teachers working with each other for the benefit of their students.

  • Anne Tweed says:

    As a long-time teacher and now one who works with them, clearly teachers are in a bind. With all of the initiatives that they have to address, time to effectively focus on student learning becomes the greatest challenge. So key to helpng teachers to help students is to maintain focus on what is most important–our students. So how can we have the time needed? One approach is to stop grading every assignment and focus on feedback. Also working together can save valuable planning time. And as you mention, having administrators that can reduce and/or streamline the administrative responsibilities will help teachers have the time and energy to teach and meet their students needs.

  • Mandy says:

    I have to admit, I had lost a clear understanding between the two types of assessment. My school district uses many formative assessments throughout the school year that serve to provide information for meaningful instruction. Although the student scores are not graded, the results are mailed home to parents, which can result in some anxious parent phonecalls. The data from our formative assessments is sorted according to standards and then broken down into specific skills that each student either has mastered or has not mastered. This information helps guide my small group leveled instruction, so I can work with students on specific skills.

  • Craig Breedlove says:

    I never have thought of formative assessment in this manner. While I agree that it is meant to provide feedback to me the teacher about where to head in terms of instruction, I never thought of it being a two-way street. The need to actually provide feedback to my students in a way that is not in the form of grade, but rather a way in which the teacher and student work together to reach the common goal. However, my question would be how these non-graded assignments look and how that two-way feedback for each student looks? How does it look in a class of 30+ students? To often I find myself giving limited feedback to students, or general feedback, not so much specific to that student.

  • Dear Ms. Tweed,
    Since 2009, I’ve used the text, Teaching Science Through Inquiry-Based Instruction or earlier editions of it in a science methods course for elementary teachers. With the 13th Edition, I am very surprised that the chapter on learning/behavioral objectives was omitted. Is/Was this intentional? I stress this as the most important part of a lesson and on which all other parts depend, so this semester, I found this chapter was omitted.
    Please advise.
    Thank you.
    Dr. Paulette Shockey

Leave a Reply