Using Formative Assessment to Improve Practice - National Council of Teachers of English
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Using Formative Assessment to Improve Practice

As Connected Educator Month continues, we offer this advice from Dan Fowler, Assistant Principal at Eastern Elementary School, Washington County, Maryland.


 Using the Formative Assessment Process with Teachers to Improve Instructional Practice

The Maryland Department of Education defines “formative assessment” as “a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes.”

 Following “the 5 Critical Attributes of Formative Assessment” can truly transform a teacher’s practice, but can also be transformational for their students.


5 Critical Attributes of Formative Assessment

Learning Progressions, Success Criteria, Feedback, Self-Assessment, and Collaboration

As a school administrator, I have watched teachers who participated in our FAME (Formative Assessment for Maryland Educators) Cohort transform their practice and implement these critical attributes. I have also observed how powerful the process of formative assessment is in their classrooms and its impact on student growth.

As I went through the FAME Cohort with my teachers, I too began to transform my practice as an administrator and instructional leader. Collaborating with teachers through formative assessment allowed me to provide more descriptive feedback. It also allowed me to support teachers in their own learning to improve instructional practice.

“How can I use the formative assessment process with teachers to improve instructional practice, but also impact student learning?”

The Solution

When teachers develop SLOs (Student Learning Objectives), they identify a specific learning goal and a specific measure of student learning used to track progress toward that goal. Teachers must also identify the professional development, materials, and resources that will support their instruction and assist students in meeting their growth target.

hands in for formative assessmentMy vision this school year is to work with teachers to develop an instructional goal, connected to the teacher’s SLO, that will help shape their overall approach to instruction and ensure students learn.

From the teacher instructional goal, I collaborate with individual teachers to develop a Criteria for Success that will identify key instructional strategies that are specific, concrete, and descriptive of what success looks like.

This Criteria for Success will assist teachers in:

  • Clarifying expectations within instructional practices to help them meet their instructional goals,
  • Obtaining feedback around their instructional practices related to their Student Learning Objective,
  • Providing descriptive and specific feedback that encourages reflection,
  • Developing next steps to refine instructional practice related to the teacher’s instructional goal, and
  • Promoting teacher self-assessment.

As an instructional leader, I feel it necessary to utilize the formative process to engage in dialogue, descriptive feedback, and reflection around instruction. By utilizing the 5 Critical Attributes of Formative Assessment in a coaching method with teachers, I can provide feedback to teachers that will promote the improvement of instructional practice, but also impact student learning. In turn, I hope this process will promote self- and peer-assessment, and lead to a collaborative culture where we are all partners in improving instruction. Furthermore, this process will help teachers feel comfortable in taking instructional risks and becoming empowered to take ownership of their own learning.