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Never Underestimate the Importance of Informal Assessment

by Anne-Evan Williams, LGL Director of Educational Development

With formal assessment taking the lead under No Child Left Behind, teachers are busy preparing their students for annual standardized tests and finding formal assessment measures to help judge student progress at benchmarks along the way.  But it's important not to forget the importance of informal assessment in monitoring student growth and achievement.

Simply watching our students as they read is one of the easiest ways to chronicle small achievements throughout the year.  Not every student achievement will be measurable with a formal reading assessment.  And teachers know the subtle nuances of each child.  Being watchful is an effective way to monitor students' behavior as they read.

Student teachers from Wake Forest University are being given an edge up on informal assessment.  They are being provided with Smartphones to quickly take notes on their students and easily transfer that information to their computers for later use.  The university is hopeful that this will encourage student teachers to remember the importance of a few quick notes on each student as they read.

According to an article on the WFU site, "The student teachers can also use the devices to take photos of student work, make audio recordings of students reading, and make video clips of class presentations.  One student teacher has taken pictures of students in class and sent them directly to her e-mail account to include in her regular newsletter to parents."

Documenting student reading behavior has always been a challenge, and with the stress now on formal reading assessments, it's important to remember that reading is a distinctly personal process--and to remember that we're not teaching reading; we're teaching children.

Tags: reading assessment, informal assessment, montoring student growth, monitoring achievement

  1. Selva
    Reply 01/22/11

    The university is hopeful that this will encourage student teachers to remember the importance of a few quick notes on each student as they read.

  2. Patricia Porter
    Reply 06/01/10


    What great information.  It is wonderful to hear about teachers really taking an interest in, and developing an awareness of, their students.

    This information is not only useful in helping teachers design learning programs for students but it also allows parents to see exactly how their child is learning.  Many parents complain that formal school parent/teacher conferences and report cards do not give them the information they need to be able to help their child learn.  The observations these teachers are making are a wonderful way to overcome this lack of information sharing.

    I hope that more schools start doing it.

  3. West Los Angeles Chiropractor
    Reply 03/29/10

    Some formal assessments provide teachers with a systematic way to evaluate how well students are progressing in a particular instructional program. For example, after completing a four- to six-week theme, teachers will want to know how well students have learned the theme skills and concepts.

  4. Tonya
    Reply 06/10/08

    You make some very valuable points in your discussion about the value of informative assessments.  As a primary teacher I put a great amount of value in informal assessments in my classrooms.  With the increased emphasis on formative assessments and test scores it is sometimes easy to ignore or forget about conducting informal assessments on an ongoing basis.  I think that is especially important that primary teachers remember to treat their students as individual when it comes to assessing student learning and planning effective instruction.  Observing students’ reading behaviors at this age can give the teacher much more information than a formal reading assessment that doesn’t account for the students’ individual background or feeling toward the test taking process. 
    When sharing information with parents about their children, I often find that my informal assessments are valuable in citing specific behaviors, strengths and weaknesses of the students.  One of the biggest challenges that I face when taking anecdotal notes on students’ reading behaviors is keeping all of the data that I collect organized and easily accessible.  I think that using a device similar to the Smartphone would be an innovative and effective way to collect informal assessment data.  The abilities to store all of the data on your computer and have it accessible at your fingertips would make record keeping much more feasible for primary teachers who are limited on time.  Unfortunately, with the stress of formal assessment scores, many administrators may not understand the importance of this tool.  However, I hope that more teacher education programs implement this type of record keeping system and emphasize the importance of informal assessment.  It is such a valuable form of assessment that is often overlooked and undervalued!

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