Using Formative Assessment to Improve Student Learning
By Jean Mandernach
UNK Department of Psychology
Formative assessment is often overlooked in comparison to its more glamorous counterpart, summative assessment. But, while summative assessment has been widely promoted for its value in outcomes assessment and documentation of student learning, formative assessment provides the critical classroom bridge between instructional objectives and outcome assessment. The effective integration of formative assessment techniques in the classroom ensures enhanced student learning through the self-monitoring of instructional effectiveness and student progress.
What do we mean by formative assessment? Formative assessments are conducted throughout the instructional process to monitor students’ progress and provide feedback on strengths and weaknesses. The key to formative assessment is the role of feedback; this feedback allows students to correct conceptual errors and encourages instructors to modify instructional activities in light of their effectiveness. Since formative assessments are designed to guide learning and are not utilized as an outcome measure, they are generally considered a low stakes assessment.
Classroom assessment techniques serve the dual purpose of enhancing teaching effectiveness and improving student understanding: Faculty can adjust their instruction in light of student feedback and performance, while students can utilize feedback to measure and modify their understanding of important concepts.
Angelo and Cross (1993) provide a host of ideas for developing and integrating formative classroom assessments. For example, instructors might use empty outlines to discover what students recall and can organize into appropriate knowledge structure, or a minute paper might be introduced at the end of class to quickly assesses the learning gained from a specific instructional sequence by asking students "what was the most important thing you learned during this class?" or "what important question remains unanswered?". If an instructor is interested in assessing skill in analysis or critical thinking, a defining features matrix (see an example at www2.uakron.edu/cci/home/CAT_defmatrix.pdf) may be incorporated to determine whether students can effectively identify if concepts show a presence or absence of a list of important defining features. A one-sentence summary could be assigned to measure skill in synthesis or creative writing that requires students to synthesize information about a given topic into one long, grammatically-correct summary sentence. If the goal is application or performance, directed paraphrasing can be used to focus student attention on summarizing and restating important information or concepts in their own words directed to a particular type of audience. These are only a few examples of the many innovative and creative ways that formative assessment can be quickly and easily integrated into the course mix.
As highlighted by these examples, formative classroom assessments can be designed and integrated to meet the needs of any particular class, population or learning goal. To ensure successful use of formative assessments, faculty must remember:
- Formative assessments must directly relate to learning objectives and instructional activities. When designing a formative assessment, target a singular objective so that assessment results can be effectively utilized to guide activities toward overall course goals.
- While formative assessments may be very short and informal, be sure that all activities are purposeful and goal-directed. Do not use formative assessments unless there is a clear purpose related to specific course activities or concepts.
- Effective formative assessments must provide feedback. Since the goal of formative assessment is to identify and correct conceptual errors, instructors must ensure that students have relevant information to guide their understanding. Feedback may be either peer- or instructor-directed as long as it is specific to the learning activity and assessment results.
- Since formative assessments are a low stakes measure, it may be difficult to motivate students’ performance. To encourage active participation, formative assessments must be relevant and engaging. However, since the goal is to improve learning not measure outcomes, classroom assessment techniques may not be graded or hold very little graded weight.
- Both the formative assessment and accompanying feedback must be timely to course activities, theories, and concepts. This is especially important to prevent encoding of incorrect information.
- Formative assessments must be ongoing. By continually assessing and providing opportunities for correction, instructors can guide students toward desired learning outcomes.
For more information on classroom assessment techniques, read Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by Angelo and Cross (1993).
For Suggested Readings - click on the following link
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Assessment Committees At UNK
The Assessment Committee is responsible for providing guidance and oversight in meeting the goals of the assessment program at UNK. In order to accomplish those goals, the Committee is responsible for establishing the parameters of academic assessment which incorporate principles of "best practice.
The 2006-2007 Assessment Committee:
Chair – Jeanne Butler
Scott Unruh—Faculty Senate
Gloria Vavricka—Distance Education
Sarah Von Schrader—Coordinator of Assessment
The Data Analysis Committee is involved in the application of technology to assessment to develop a campus-wide assessment database. The committee reviews data collected campus-wide to identify trends in student performance on surveys (indirect measures), and assessments (direct measures) of student outcomes. The committee makes recommendations regarding identification of academic priorities and benchmarks of student performance for campus academic strategic planning efforts.
2006-2007 Data Analysis Committee:
Chair – Jeanne Butler
Mary Daake—Academic Advising
Richard Miller—Faculty Senate
Gail Zeller—Student Services
Mary Sommers—Financial Aid
Kim Schipporeit—Student Records
The Student Assessment Committee at UNK was formed in the spring of 2005 to give voice to student concerns and interests in assessment. The committee was formed to help disseminate information and to educate student peers about current assessment initiatives through surveys, conversations, public presentations, and focus groups. UNK's Student Assessment committee is comprised of representatives of each of the colleges and student government.
The 2006-2007 Student Assessment Committee:
Chair - Bethany Hyatt--COE
Megan Boss—Student Senate
Sponsor – Sarah Von Schrader
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Student Academic Advising Survey Results
The online student survey of Academic Advising was developed in conjunction with the office of Academic Advising. The survey was comprised of fifty-nine questions that were based on a five-point likert scale. The survey was sent out to students the second week in April 2006. Since Academic Advising has a great impact on student success at UNK, the results of the survey have provided insights into how well the process is working and areas of the advising process which are areas of concern. The survey was completed by 739 undergraduate students at UNK, 157 freshmen, 156 sophomores, 161 juniors, 235 seniors, and 30 who self-classified as other.
The Student Academic Advising survey found that students felt advisors showed concern for academic needs, and listened to the concerns of students. The survey also revealed that 98% of students would strongly recommend their advisor to other students. It was established that students found their advisors to be easily accessible, and willing to refer students to others if they did not know the answer to the student's question.
Related to academic planning, students valued discussing content of courses, schedule planning, and evaluating academic progress. Students found it important to discuss transfer credit and policies in advising. From results of the survey students identified that during advising sessions it was important to discuss future internships, job placements, and other co-operative educational opportunities.
Students revealed that there is some dissatisfaction in the student academic advising process. Overall seniors (mean=2.4) were significantly less satisfied than any other class, with freshmen (mean=3.0) being the most satisfied with their academic advising experience. Respondents age 18 or younger (mean=3.14) and 19-21 (mean=2.84) rated their general satisfaction with academic advising significantly higher than those aged 22-25 (mean=2.46). Non-traditional students 25 and older rated their advising experience significantly lower than the rest of the student population. Students who received advising via computer or on their own were dissatisfied with advising experience as compared to students who received one on one advising with faculty or an academic advisor.
One important tool that students and faculty use in academic advising process is the degree audit however it was determined from survey results that some groups are less likely to use this tool. Freshmen (mean=2.27) were significantly less likely to use the degree audit as compared to sophomores (mean=3.24), juniors (mean=3.96) and seniors (mean=4.35). The survey results indicated that those who received one on one advising from a faculty member were more likely to use the degree audit than those who received their advising in other ways.
The academic advising office and CTE will be using the student academic advising survey results as an aid in training faculty in the area of academic advising. The survey has also provided information about areas of concern for departments and provides feedback about the success of their advising procedures.
For complete results of the 2006 Student academic advising survey click on the following link -
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The Office of Assessment Welcomes the
New Coordinator of Assessment; Sarah Von Schrader
Sarah Von Schrader joined the Office of Assessment on October 2nd as the new Coordinator of Assessment. Sarah will be awarded her doctorate in Educational Measurement and Statistics in early November from the University of Iowa. Sarah has worked as a Research Assistant for the Iowa Testing Programs and as a Senior Research Assistant for the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. She worked for 18 months as an independent researcher at the University of Leuven, Belgium. Sarah has also been a Teaching Assistant in Psychological and Quantitative Foundations at University of Iowa.
Sarah moved to Kearney in August with her husband and daughter. Her husband, Matthew Klemm, is a new faculty member in the History department.
Ms. Von Schrader will be reviewing and providing feedback on departmental and program assessment reports that are being submitted this month. She will also work with departments to improve their assessment process and reporting. Sarah will take over as Sponsor of the Student Assessment Committee and will be involved in the planning and conduct of the Platte Valley Assessment Conference in April 2007.
We extend a very warm welcome to Sarah and look forward to this opportunity to work with her and to utilize her expertise in assessment and educational measurement.
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2007 Platte Valley Assessment Conference
The purpose of the Platte Valley Assessment Conference is to encourage the faculty and students of regional institutions to share their ideas and best practices in the assessment of student outcomes.
The PVA 2007 Conference will take place at the Nebraskan Student Union on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus on April 20, 2007.
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