By Alicia Atkinson, M.Ed, and Onowa Bjella, M.Ed

Formative assessments area an important part of the assessment/instruction cycle, and there are many best practices which help make their use run smoother.

First, what are formative assessments?

The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by teachers to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning.—Eberly Center, Carnegie Mellon University

More specifically, formative assessments help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work. They also help teachers recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately.

How do formative assessments differ from comprehensive diagnostics?

Formative assessments offer a snapshot of a particular area and are given at shorter intervals than comprehensive diagnostics. A comprehensive diagnostic assesses students in a broad range of topics within a subject area. For example, in math, a comprehensive diagnostic assessment would assess students in all areas of math appropriate for their instructional level. A formative assessment examines only one particular area or skill–for example, fractions, or more specifically, adding fractions with unlike denominators.

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Summative vs Formative or Diagnostic Assessment?

In a 6-minute video, Let's Go Learn CEO Richard Capone explains the difference between different types of educational assessments.
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Here are a variety of best practices in formative assessment, tailored to common situations educators encounter:

Best practices for using formative assessments in the General Education classroom:

  • Start the year with a comprehensive diagnostic assessment.
  • Utilize small groups and scaffolding (created by using beginning-of-year data) to support students as you work through the curriculum/pacing guide.
  • Use skills quizzes to check for mastery of a particularly tough or important concept during a unit.
  • At the end of a chapter or unit, give an adaptive formative sub-test diagnostic assessment.
  • Give the comprehensive diagnostic again at the end of the year, or grading period, to see the full range of retention and growth.

Best practices for using formative assessments with special populations, including special education and English Language Learners:

  • Start the year with a comprehensive diagnostic assessment.
  • Look at granular data from the comprehensive diagnostic assessments, along with other measures, to determine the skills that need the most remediation. (For students in special education, these may often be the students’ IEP goals.)
  • Spend time teaching the skill/concept.
  • Post-test using formative assessments (skills or sub-tests) to determine content mastery.
  • Provide additional instruction if needed, or move on to the next skill/concept.

Best practices for using formative assessments with MTSS/RtI:

  • Administer a universal screener to all students to determine eligibility for MTSS/RtI.
  • Administer the comprehensive diagnostic assessment to eligible students and enroll them in a targeted automated intervention connected to the diagnostic assessment.
  • Look at the granular diagnostic data to determine the skills that need the most remediation.
  • Spend time teaching targeted skills/concepts.
  • Post-test using formative assessments (skills or sub-tests) to determine content mastery.
  • Provide additional instruction if needed, or move on to the next skill/concept.
  • Reassess with the comprehensive diagnostic to determine intervention success and placement/eligibility for the next intervention period.

Tying together formative assessments and comprehensive diagnostics

Comprehensive diagnostic assessments are intended for administration, at minimum, at the beginning of the instructional period (school year) and at the end, but they can also be given at the midpoint to track overall progress. Formative assessments complement and build into these longer comprehensive diagnostic assessments and are better able to track incremental progress. Ideally, the comprehensive diagnostic and formative assessments that you use scale together and are assessing the same scope and sequence. This allows you to track progress on the same vertical scale throughout the year and in each subsequent year.

Why use Let’s Go Learn’s formative assessments?

  • All of Let’s Go Learn’s assessments are online computer-based assessments. Therefore, they can be administered in person or virtually.
  • Let’s Go Learn offers comprehensive diagnostic assessments in reading (DORA, DORA Spanish, DORA Phonemic Awareness) and math (ADAM K-7, ADAM K-7 Spanish, DOMA PreAlgebra, and DOMA Algebra) along with universal screeners (DORA Dyslexia) and formative assessments for the scope of reading (K-12) and math (K-Algebra/Integrated Math I).
  • LGL’s comprehensive diagnostic and formative assessments tie directly into each other. The formative assessments are a breakdown of the comprehensive diagnostics, so they cover the same material. For example, for ADAM  there are 44 sub-tests available and 281 skill quizzes. 
  • Reports bring together data from all types of assessments, allowing progress to be tracked seamlessly.
  • Real-time data and reporting allow teachers to monitor student progress, even in a virtual setting.
  • Assessments are computer-based, so they can be administered in person or virtually.
  • Data follows the student year after year, allowing for comparison and growth conversations.
  • Multiple departments can use Let’s Go Learn assessments, and the data all comes together for the student and the instructors. Therefore, if a student takes a formative quiz in an intervention class or after-school tutoring, the classroom teacher has instant access to the results.