Formative Assessment Works – Two Research-Based Proof Points Make the Case

Formative Assessment Works – Two Research-Based Proof Points Make the CaseAs the Common Core State Standards are implemented in the classroom, the shift to higher-order thinking is on! One way that teachers themselves can adjust their teaching to accommodate new standards of learning is through the use of formative assessment. Formative assessment use by teachers can help them determine what their students are not learning, giving them the ability to adjust their teaching – in the moment – to move all learners forward.

Embedding formative assessment in everyday teaching is a proven way to improve classroom learning. We’ve blogged consistently about strategies and techniques and have generally sung its praises, but here are two research experiments that prove its success:

1. Informal and formal methods of collecting evidence of student understanding have been shown to enable teachers to make positive instructional changes. In 1989, Thomas Carpenter, Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Education, and some fellow researchers examined one informal method by randomly assigning 20 first-grade teachers to participate in a month-long workshop. During this workshop, teachers focused on posing problems, questioning students regarding their problem-solving strategies, and listening to those strategies. (Using knowledge of children’s mathematics thinking in classroom teaching: An experimental study. American Educational Research Journal, 26(4), 499–531.)

When compared to teachers in the control groups, these teachers had a better understanding of their students’ abilities and were better able to predict performance. In addition, students in these classes outperformed their peers on a mathematics achievement test. The researchers hypothesized that the teachers’ ability to understand the processes that students were using may have helped them to adapt instruction; they would try different activities, resulting in higher achievement.

2. In 1991, Douglas Fuchs, Head of Special Education at Vanderbilt University, and some of his research colleagues investigated a more formal method of collecting information of student learning. These researchers trained teachers to use a set of curriculum-based formative assessments to systematically collect and use evidence of student proficiency. The researchers randomly assigned 33 teachers to a treatment and control group and found that teachers using the program made more instructional adjustments than those teachers who relied on informal classroom observations. (Effects of curriculum-based measurement and consultation on teacher planning and student achievement in mathematics operations. American Educational Research Journal, 28(3), 617–641.)

Systematically eliciting evidence of student learning day-by-day and minute-by-minute can provide invaluable information to teachers. By highlighting student thinking and misconceptions, and eliciting information from all students, teachers can collect representative evidence and therefore better plan instruction based on the current understanding of the entire class.