In the previous post on this subject, we mentioned the state committee that was uncomfortable with the idea of focusing on formative or ongoing (while teaching) assessment. To answer them, “Yes it does take good teaching!” There is a saying in music that there are no choirs that sing out of tune, only choir directors who allow them to. Several members of the committee seemed to accept as a given a level of out-of-tune teaching.

While recognizing the importance of testing, that post asked if it should be the primary means for seeing how students struggling in math are doing. Tests have an aura about them especially for students already struggling, that ongoing assessment may not.

Formative assessment is popping-the-hood so to speak and seeing what’s going on inside the minds of the students with the current lesson and their facility with related prior concepts and skills. The focus is problem identifying and problem solving.

For instance, students struggling with variables may have an issue with variables or their confusion may come from specific prior knowledge or skill gaps. They may have missed that subtraction and addition, division and multiplication, and squaring and finding the square root are all opposite procedures. Stepping back from that, they may not understand the concept of opposite procedures. Or they may have problems with division or squaring itself.

Formative or ongoing assessment is measurement that is built into the fabric of teaching and learning. With it we notice the problem and can immediately adjust our teaching to uncover and address the cause.

In the next posting on this topic, we’ll look at a few formative assessment approaches.