How to make formative assessments drive student outcomes
The District

Data, data everywhere and not an insight to gather: How to make formative assessments drive student outcomes

Cody Caudill
Oct 12, 2023

In the spirit of formative assessment, raise your hand if you can confidently answer the following questions:

  • What are formative assessments? What types of formative assessments do teachers use in the classroom?

  • How is formative assessment data being collected and used to improve daily instruction?

  • How is the data being leveraged to influence instruction, improve outcomes, and improve professional learning across your district?  

These are a few of the questions I would have asked before writing this blog post. If I knew your answers, I would focus on the information you don’t know yet and breeze through the other stuff. 

But since I don’t have access to that data, we can start at the beginning. (By the way, if  you raised your hand to the questions above, you can skip ahead.)

The goal of formative assessments is to evaluate a student's academic journey, allowing for real-time feedback and adjustments to teaching strategies. It's a tool that can empower both educators and students, fostering a more personalized and responsive learning environment.

These back-and-forth checks for understanding happen naturally every day in the classroom. Teachers constantly use formative assessments like quizzes, essays, polls, discussion activities, bell ringers, and more to determine their next instructional moves. 

But using so many types of formative assessments every day means teachers end up with data everywhere—in various online platforms, on paper slips, in raised hands, and in verbal responses. There’s typically no single place to see this data and easily pull insights. This means educators spend lots of time working alone, looking at isolated data instead of comparing insights across all types of formative assessments. Or even worse, they’re not using any data at all.

For teachers, this makes it difficult to track what individual students know day-to-day. 

For administrators, it makes it challenging to understand what their student body needs as a whole so they can make informed decisions at the district level in areas like instructional strategies, resourcing, and professional learning for teachers. 

Formative assessments are powerful tools to gather insights, spot trends in student learning, and collaboratively improve instruction and outcomes. Its impact can be maximized across the individual student, the classroom, and the district.

Your teachers are already collecting this data. Here are three ways to bring these classroom insights together and make the data work for everyone.

1. Collect feedback and make data actionable, the moment you need it.

Students don’t always make their needs known, and it’s not always easy for teachers to identify those needs in the moment. Providing teachers with real-time data helps them understand who needs additional support, what knowledge gaps need to be filled, and when students are ready to move forward. 

Formative by Newsela enables teachers to formatively assess students and make instructional decisions with instant insights at the student, class, and district levels. They can use data-rich, flexible question types that work with any content to actively capture learner insights. Once teachers know how their class is progressing toward a goal, they can differentiate instruction for their students so everyone stays on track for learning.

2. Work toward shared goals with visibility into performance and progress on standards.

Frequent pulse checks on students’ mastery of state standards can be a powerful tool to inform instruction across classrooms. They also help administrators guide and adjust strategies for their educators each week. This is better than using interim and summative assessments alone, which can become outdated by the time their insights are available.

With Formative, educators and admins alike can track progress toward shared curricular goals easily. You can tag and filter student responses by state standards to identify gaps in performance quickly and adjust lessons accordingly. With standards-aligned reporting, you can zoom in on performance within a district by building, teacher, and classroom to analyze trends. Teachers no longer have to hope their students are ready for end-of-year assessments. They’ll have the data to prove it. And admins can better anticipate the summative assessment results to plan throughout the year.

3. Share best practices and collaborate.

Working in isolation when collecting and analyzing assessment data means educators miss out on support from their peers and district resources. Equipping departments and professional learning communities with a space to share best practices and collaborate means teachers are more likely to access the resources they need to do their best teaching.

With Formative, teachers can share and collaborate on formatives with anyone in their district, and departments can manage libraries of pre-made formatives to support everyday instruction. Once you’ve identified a shared goal, and progress towards that goal, you can work together to push achievement across your district. Educators can implement and share best practices in their departments, professional learning communities, and district-wide. Which means easier collaboration, more time saved, and ensured consistency for students.

How can you make data work better for everyone?

shape classroom learning, make it more accessible, and ensure every student achieves meaningful learning. What could that do for your teachers? For your curriculum and instruction teams? How might it help you better allocate resources across your district?

Want more information?

Learn more about how Formative helps power a range of instruction and assessment needs for everything from in-class checks for understanding to district-level assessments.

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