How NOT to Use Assessments: Common Mishaps When Implementing Formative Assessments and How to Correct Them

January 26, 2018 Dan Thompson

Instruct. Assess. Feedback. Repeat. This is the timeless methodology of formative assessment applied, in some way, in all levels of education. The application of this process is continuously subject to change based on our teaching strengths, students, the level and industry in which we teach, and the constant evolution of educational best practices. Unfortunately, one element that tends to stay the same throughout this process are the common pitfalls that await all teachers when implementing formative assessments.

Even the best and most experienced teachers fall into common traps of misusing assessments. Fortunately, through identifying these common misuses and remembering some basic tips we can ensure our assessments are meaningful and effective. So, let’s get to it—here are the most common examples of how NOT to use assessments and the simple corrections to get you back to being an assessment pro:

  1. Using formative assessments for points to increase attendance. 

Formative assessments (quizzes) for points should not be used as carrots to entice students to come to class, but rather to engage students in the content. Using quizzes to make students physically present in class does not mean they are automatically going to be engaged in your lecture either.

INSTEAD: Engage students in your lesson by using active learning instructional methods instead of lecture. (See the video at the bottom of this post for more info!)

  1. Formative assessments as punishments.

Assessments are made to assist with learning, not as punishment. Having students complete additional work as a punishment does not trick them into learning more, it makes school work a negative, causing the opposite effect. Moving forward, students will not want to engage with classroom content as it will be seen as a form of punishment for them.

INSTEAD: Repeat this mantra – formative assessments are for learning. Make this your goal when assigning students work or holding a classroom discussion. (Learn more in the video!)

  1. Using old assessment items when you have changed your content from previous years.

As your content and instructional methods change, so should your formative assessments. Using formative assessments that are not uniquely paired with your teaching may render your formative assessment ineffective in driving student learning and self-assessment.

INSTEAD: Create new formative assessments as you plan your content delivery. One easy tip to follow is to always align your learning objectives, content, instructional methods, formative assessments, and summative assessments. Building your instructional sessions or courses in this manner will improve the quality of your lessons, keep students engaged, and improve student outcomes. (More details in the video!)

  1. Assessing minutiae.

Hey, we’ve all been there, right? You created a great assignment for students to complete before coming to class. What’s next? A quiz, of course. It’s time to implement a formative assessment to ensure students are completing the work and coming to class prepared. Be careful – those meaningless questions to make sure they watch the whole video are tempting us. Remember – assessment for learning. Avoid those questions that really don’t have any educational value.

INSTEAD: This is all sound pedagogical practice; complete the lesson with formative assessment items that are meaningful to the learning process. Focus on your objectives – assess them and prepare students for success on future summative assessments. (Did I mention to check out the video?)

  1. Not providing meaningful and timely feedback.

Formative assessments without feedback are not true formative assessments. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of assigning homework, collecting it, grading it, and giving students their scores. This is missing something though – the learning.

INSTEAD: Always provide meaningful feedback to students in a timely manner that allows them to learn from the assessment. Students need positive reinforcement when they’re doing well and help correcting their mistakes when they struggle with content. This will truly help the formative assessment to be a positive learning experience for students that will, in the end, improve their overall outcomes on summative assessments. (Ready to click play yet?)

About the Author

Dan  Thompson

Dan holds a Master of Science in Technology Enhanced Learning and a Bachelor of Science in Adolescent/Young Adult Education from the University of Dayton. His background as a secondary-level educator drives his research and professional interests, including the appropriate use of summative and formative assessment and how the data they produce can be used to positively impact teaching and learning. Dan currently assists faculty at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in course design and development, while also introducing new methods of utilizing educational technology in the curriculum to create a learner-centered environment.

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