A very wise man, Yogi Berra, once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
OK, maybe Yogi’s quotes weren’t always genius, but this one actually makes sense. In education, we know where we want students to end up, but the way there is not always clear. Assessment is a crucial element of determining that path.
What is Assessment?
In education, there are two main types of assessment: summative and formative.
Summative assessment is the way we’ve always done things - but is it really the best approach? According to Rebecca Alber, “If you are not routinely checking for understanding then you are not in touch with your students' learning. Perhaps they are already far, far behind.”
Therein lies the problem with summative assessment.
In the video “How Should We Measure Student Learning? 5 Keys to Comprehensive Assessment,” Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University, explains: “Research evidence is extremely clear that one of the strongest positive influences on achievement occurs when students get formative feedback that they immediately can apply.”
Rosemary Callingham also wrote a great article about the importance of math assessments in primary classrooms that is worth checking out.
Benefits of Formative Assessment
- Catch issues early. When it comes to math, concepts build on one another. If a student is struggling with a basic concept, there’s a good chance they will continue to have difficulties as the lessons progress. With formative assessment, these issues can be caught early, before they are really affecting a student’s progress.
- Better understanding of students’ abilities. Since there is so much one-on-one interaction with formative assessments, teachers can really understand the strengths and weaknesses of their students. This makes for a better classroom experience because coursework can be tailored specifically to the requirements of the class.
- Increases learning opportunities. With this form of assessment, students are very involved in the process. They reflect on what went wrong and how it can be improved in the future, which is where the magic happens. We need to focus on creating a growth mindset culture in the classroom where students thrive on the feedback they receive – not shy away from it.
As American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.”
Challenges With Assessment
Two of the biggest challenges with formative assessment are (1) it is time consuming and (2) it is difficult to measure in early grades.
When we first started digging into assessment for Zorbit’s Math Adventure, we asked a lot of K-2 teachers how they did it in the classroom. Especially for the youngest kids who can’t yet read or write, it was very time-consuming - lots of one-on-one observation and rubric development. In the early years, you can’t just give these kids a test.
Although assessments may take a lot of time to develop up front, they will ultimately save time in the end. Imagine if you always knew exactly where every students’ learning gaps were? You could be so focused! With this knowledge, you could prioritize your lesson plans and focus on the areas of greatest need, without wasting time covering things students already know.
Although it can be difficult to find the time to implement these assessments, there are a lot of great resources out there that can help.
How Can Technology Help?
Nothing beats spending one-on-one time with a student doing an activity or asking students questions. A teacher can assess students in a qualitative way far better than any machine or technology can.
But we know with classroom sizes the way they are, and with all the diverse needs of students in each classroom, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to give each student this type of assessment.
Thankfully with programs like Zorbit, the process can be far easier. In Zorbit’s Math Adventure, we implemented an adaptive scaffolding system that determines students’ understanding of a concept, and then tailors the type of feedback they receive. This way, strong students retain their autonomy when problem solving, while weaker students are given a helping hand to help build confidence.
What are the most effective forms of assessment for you and your students? We’d love to hear from you in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.
Zorbit's Math Adventure is a fun and engaging online math game, currently available for kindergarten and grade 1 teachers and students. This adaptive, game-based learning program will improve your student's experiences with math, increase their level of understanding and performance, and will allow you to view your entire class's game performance from a high-level overview.