How to Measure Student Progress with Formative Assessment?

How to Measure Student Progress with Formative Assessment?

Every student is unique, talented, creative and has the ability to learn anything. Things that differ from student to student are values, perspectives, concerns, learning style and agendas in the learning environment. But the reason why only few

students in a class reach the learning standards and the rest stay behind the line of merit is because our traditional education system can’t provide them with a personalized learning environment where every student learns equally. Education system must realize the fact that not all the students learn at the same pace. Only personalized instructions can reduce the large differences between student grades. Individualized instructions and personalized instructions are originated from a strategy called, “assessment”. Assessment is an integral part of instruction and it determines whether or not the learning standards are being met. It enables educators to know whether or not their teaching strategies are helpful to students. Assessment is a combination of both Formative assessment and Summative assessment. Let’s learn about the definitions of both of them.

Formative assessment: The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning and provide ongoing feedback to instructors to improve their teaching and to students to improve their learning.

Summative assessment: The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.

21st  century educators have recognized the need of formative assessment as its goal is to monitor student learning and provide ongoing feedback to instructors to improve their teaching and to students to improve their learning. Let’s learn about the importance of Formative assessment and how it measures student progress.

Dylan William’s approach:

Dylan William, Formative Assessment Expert, suggested the five strategies that make up a smart formative assessment strategy: setting learning intentions, questioning, feedback, activating self, and activating peers.

Setting Learning Intentions:

“Not all children are motivated all the time” – Dylan William.

What all educators must try to do is sharing some learning intentions to make them desperate to learn.


Dylan suggests educators that sometimes the smart way of teaching a lesson is to put a question that grabs their attention or encourages them to ask questions during the class.

He also shared one of his classroom teaching experiences. When he was teaching, a kid asked him a question “Why is it colder at the top of the mountain even though it’s closer to Sun?”, the question not just surprised him  but also made the entire class to think of it. Questions are always a great way to engage students. This is one of the great strategies that engages students with their own learning.

“The key feature is that the teacher finds ways of helping the student to be active in the classroom, and helping the student to speak out and express their ideas. Until that happens, the teacher doesn’t know what’s needed.”, said Paul Black.


Besides developing learning intentions and questioning, one more strategy to be implemented is providing feedback that moves leaners forward.

He also pointed a quote by Paul Blackney,“The feedback should take the form of comments rather than grades”. He expressed his dissatisfaction on our current educational approach that even the feedback in the form of comments was not good. Instead of telling students that “It would have been better”, educators must suggest them “what it needs to be better”. But the current approach was like “Not so much of Medical, more like a Post mortem.

Activating Self:

Understand the fact that the most important instructional decisions are not taken by teachers, they are taken by students. Educators need to put the learner at the heart of the process.

“Formative assessment is not a process that is done by teachers to students; it is led by teachers and yet actually done with students to engage students in their own learning.”

Activating peers:

When it comes for an educator, it’s difficult to focus on all the students all the time. A creative way to measure their progress is to utilize peers. I’d like to share a classroom practice of Karen Vear, an educator at Lord William’s School, Oxfordshire.

Karen says that if we make two students sit together, they will be quite frank with each other in a peer assessment, where teacher can’t always be there, they’ll discuss their works and assess each other by marking, advising and correcting.

The above mentioned is an effective teaching practice recommended by Dylan William, Formative assessment expert. I’d like to share about another approach of Formative assessment by Paul Black and Chris Harrison, Expert educators and Authors of the influential pamphlet “Working inside the black box”. Both the authors took the help of Karen Vear and Jon Ryder, educators at Lord William’s School, Oxfordshire in their initial research.

The model of Formative assessment they’ve derived includes the following approaches:

Effective Questioning (or Open Questioning approach):

Effective questions are the questions that evoke great ideas related to what the learning has to achieve.

Feedback (or Comment-only approach):

Feedback shouldn’t be in the form of marks, grades or levels based on students’ performance.  It affects their self-esteem and it isn’t always useful. Instead, educators should deliver instructions on how to improve or what’s needed next. We can also ask students to reply to us. Educators can utilize the social platforms to perform this approach.

Peer and Self-assessment:

It’s similar to the approaches (Activating self and Activating peers) that I’ve mentioned earlier.

The above mentioned is just a brief information of a detailed research and if you want to know more about it, you may read my previous article “What are the Best Assessment Techniques used by Educators in the Classroom?

Educators’ views about Formative Assessment:

"Formative assessment is using information to adapt the learning to put the learning back on track. It's making adjustments."- Dylan Wiliam

“Kids will use formative assessment if they are empowered to make choices on the next steps of their learning”- Aaryn Schmuhl , educator and an innovator.

“The formative assessment process is ultimately a communication process between teachers and students”- Alan Tenreiro , Principal Cumberland High School.

“Multiple forms of consistent Formative Assessment is where student growth can explode versus other methods/tactics”- Ryan Hill , High School Science Teacher and TOSA Technology Integration Specialist.

“Formative assessment has a bigger impact on student learning than class size or socioeconomic status”- Ryan McLane, Principal of Big Walnut Intermediate School in Sunbury, OH.

Examples of Formative Assessment:

David, a Formative Assessment Specialist for Mathematics at New Visions for Public Schools  in NYC, illustrated 54 different examples of Formative Assessment and curated them interestingly in a beautiful presentation. I’m sharing a few important examples that I find great.

Creating Something:

Have students build/create something that requires that they apply what they’ve learned. This is similar to project based learning and group learning which simultaneously improves students’ creativity, critical thinking and problem solving nature and promotes collaboration among them.

Doodle It:

Have students draw what they understand instead of writing it. This assessment clearly benefits both students and teachers.

Watch Body Language:

Students communicate understanding or lack of understanding quite often through their body language. Educators can easily understand it with  careful attention.

Social Networks:

“Ask them for Comments/Questions/Suggestions about the lesson”. Students who normally wouldn’t participate in class will participate virtually. Using web platforms is a great way of engaging students.


Socrative  is a cloud-based student response system which allows educators to easily create polls, quizzes and other educational exercises for their class and monitor their students’ responses and progress in real time. You may read our previous article “Socrative: Formative Assessment Tool For Your Classroom ” to know more about it.

In addition, there are many more great examples of Formative assessment and its benefits.

I hope this guide helped you to know more about How to Measure Student Progress with Formative Assessment? I’m inviting all educators and administrators to initiate and participate in the discussion about the theme “Formative Assessment”. The comment box awaits you.

About the Author
Author: Santosh Bhaskar KWebsite:
Devotee of Dr. Abdul Kalam. Following his path of Creating Creative Education in India. Contributing my works in "India Vision 2020". Former EdTech Blogger/Researcher at ETR India

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