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What Are the Advantages & Disadvantages of Formative Assessment?

by Dr. Nesa Sasser

Formative and summative assessments both check for understanding. Formative assessments may decrease a student's test anxiety that usually comes at the end of a lesson. If trained properly, teachers can use these assessments to guide final mastery. Teachers have to be careful not to exhaust allotted time conducting excessive formative assessments in exchange for having time to cover complete lessons. Therefore, when to use formative assessment depends upon how familiar the teacher is with a student's knowledge of a subject.

Formative Assessments Defined

Formative assessments allow teachers to check for understanding during the lesson instead of waiting until the completion of the lesson to assess student learning. Judith Dodge, author of "What Are Formative Assessments and Why Should We Use Them?," says that formative assessments support learning during the learning process and check for understanding during the lesson. Some teachers have students use body actions, such as having students displaying a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down," as a way of indicating their understanding of concepts of the lesson.

Advantages of Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are not graded, which takes the anxiety away from students. It also detaches the thinking that they must get everything right. Instead, they serve as a practice for students to get assistance along the way before the final tests. Teachers usually check for understanding in the event that students are struggling during the lesson. Teachers address these issues early on instead of waiting until the end of the unit to assess. Teachers have to do less reteaching at the end because many of the problems with mastery are addressed before final tests.

Disadvantages of Formative Assessments

Some teachers complain about sacrificing time to assess during the lesson and fear that they may not even finish the lesson. Teachers then feel the need to rush through a series of units, which causes students to lack mastery once the assessment is given at the end of the unit. Teachers may lack training or professional development on how to use formative assessments successfully because, historically, assessments are completed at the end. Formative assessment may lack the same weight — low to no point value — as a summative assessment, and students may not take the assessments seriously, which may cause teachers to misread feedback from students.

Types of Formative Assessments

Formative assessments include summarizing techniques, where teachers can guide students through their thought patterns. Graphic organizers are also used to help students organize their work to master lessons. Collaborative learning activities allow students to work together in groups as they develop and demonstrate their understanding of concepts.

When to Use Formative Assessment

The goal of formative assessment is to gauge student learning and adapt content accordingly. Since it is "low stakes," formative assessments should be used to monitor student learning qualitatively as opposed to examine it quantitatively (e.g., a final exam). Think of it this way: when assessing for learning, formative assessment is the way to go; when assessing the measure of learning, summative assessment is best.

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