Attributes of Effective Formative Assessment


By Sarah McManus

Council of Chief State School Officers


This paper, intended for leaders and practitioners at the state, district, and school levels, defines formative assessment as a process used by teachers and students during instruction to provide feedback on teaching and learning so that greater student achievement can be realized. To promote the use of formative assessment, the Council of Chief State School Officers created a national initiative, the Formative Assessment Advisory Group, which consisted of measurement and educational researchers. The council also formed the State Collaborative on Assessment and School Standards to implement recommendations made by the advisory group. Both bodies made a substantial effort to clarify what is meant by formative assessment, based on literature, and how it can best be used by educators. This document presents the definition of formative assessment as agreed upon by twenty-five states and discusses the five characteristics of effective formative assessment.

Formative assessment involves collecting evidence, while students are learning, about how their learning is progressing so that instruction can be properly adjusted to meet student needs. The author emphasizes viewing formative assessment as a process rather than a formal test and that it involve both teachers and students. The author highlights five attributes that are critical features of effective formative assessment: learning progressions should clearly articulate the sub-goals of the ultimate learning goal; learning goals and criteria should be clearly identified and communicated to students; students should be provided with evidence-based feedback that is linked to the intended instructional outcomes and criteria for success; both self- and peer-assessment are necessary for providing students an opportunity to think metacognitively about their learning; and a classroom culture in which teachers and students are partners in learning should be established. A follow-up paper provides examples of formative assessment practice.

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