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Home > Evaluation and Assessment > Formal vs. Informal Assessments
by Maria Stickley, Mon Oct 17, 2011 2:45 PM
As teachers, it is important that we assess our students learning periodically throughout the school year. These assessments allow us to monitor our students' progress in their learning, which tells us if they are absorbing the information we are teaching. It can also show us what subjects they are grasping and what subjects they need extra instruction in. There are two main types of assessments: formal and informal. Personally, I think both are very important. Informal assessments can be used more often and in ways that are less stressful to the students. For example, the students can be asked to fill out a worksheet, play a study game, asked questions, etc. These activities allow us as teachers to see how well they are grasping a topic, and what we need to go back an discuss so they are prepared for formal assessments. Formal assessments, such as tests and quizzes, are also crucial. These assessments are most often graded, and they make up a big chunk of the students' grade in that specific class. Informal assessments can be given without warning, as they are more for checking up on the students progress than anything else. Formal assessments should be given less often, and students should always be aware of when they are so they have a chance to study. The formal assessments are normally not used to monitor a student's progress, but rather as a last time check-up to make sure they absorbed all the information and are ready to move on to the next topic/subject.
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by Arlene Jurewicz Leighton, Wed Oct 19, 2011 9:48 AM
As teachers, it is important that we assess our students learning periodically throughout the school year. These assessments allow us to monitor our students' progress in their learning, which tells us if they are absorbing the information we are teaching. It can also show us what subjects they are grasping and what subjects they need extra instruction in. There are two main types of assessments: formal and informal. Personally, I think both are very important. Informal assessments can be used more often and in ways that are less stressful to the students.

Hi Maria,
Thanks for your great post about formal and informal assessments. We actually have a discussion forum on formative and summative assessment in this community forum.

http://learningcenter.nsta.org/discuss/default.aspx?tid=EWMi57TwhCU_E so it would be great to have you share your ideas there , as well.

You mentioned that informal assessment can be also a status check for what your students know as you teach. One of the ideas from the series Uncovering Your Students Understanding is that these types of tools be used as a diagnostic to uncover the preconceptions and misconceptions your students may have before you being teaching concepts.

I am attaching a free chapter introduction to these formative assessment probe books by Page Keeley and others. Let us know what you think of the framework of suggestions to use

Type of Classroom Assessment
Purpose Link to Stage in an Instructional Sequence

Formative (pre-instruction)
Diagnostic—to find out students’
existing ideas

Elicitation Stage—Used prior to developing
instruction or during the instructional sequence
when new ideas are encountered.


Formative To monitor student learning and/or
to provide feedback to students on
their learning

Exploration and Concept Development Stage—
Used continuously throughout the instructional
sequence.

Summative To measure the extent to which
students have achieved a learning
goal
Application Stage—Used primarily at the end of
an instructional sequence.



Arlene JL
Side note:
Love that you are study dance and elementary ed together
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by Penny Ghinaudo, Tue Nov 01, 2011 12:45 PM
I agree that we must give both formative and summative assessments throughout the year and we must check in with our students frequently to determine that they are understanding what we are teaching. I do, however, have a problem with a district which dictates how often this must occur. My school has just said that we need to have questions ever 5 to 7 minutes and have defined the types of questioning techniques that we must use (time we must wait, etc.) If we follow all of their guidelines, there will never be any time for anything else. There must be a way to allow teachers to place questions in without dictating how many and how frequently so that the flow of the class wil not be interrupted. Teachers worth their salt have been doing this for years anyway.
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by Maureen Stover, Tue Nov 01, 2011 2:27 PM
Penny Ghinaudo, Nov 1, 12:45 PM wrote:
I do, however, have a problem with a district which dictates how often this must occur. My school has just said that we need to have questions ever 5 to 7 minutes and have defined the types of questioning techniques that we must use (time we must wait, etc.) If we follow all of their guidelines, there will never be any time for anything else. There must be a way to allow teachers to place questions in without dictating how many and how frequently so that the flow of the class wil not be interrupted. Teachers worth their salt have been doing this for years anyway.

Hi Penny,
I know how difficult it can be to try to meet all of the district's mandates while still trying to teach all the content! What questioning techniques is your district is mandating? Have they provided any guidance as to how to implement the techniques? In my district, the pacing guide encourages teachers to use essential questions as an assessment technique. When this concept was introduced, the district provided in-service training to help teachers understand how to use the technique effectively in our classrooms.

I agree that using various assessment techniques is critical to fostering an effective classroom learning environment. I have tried using several "sneaky" assessment tools so my students are able to give me feedback on their understanding of the content without feeling like they are being tested. What are some of the techniques that other teachers have found effective for assessing student understanding?
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by Uriel Richardson, Thu Nov 03, 2011 9:54 AM
Assessments do not necessarily have to be pen and paper or sit for an hour or two and take a test. Having students do oral presentations can be a good indicator as to how much students understsnd the content material. When students communicate what they have learned in a proficient and effective manner (process standards) that shows learning has taken place.
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by Pamela Auburn, Thu Nov 03, 2011 6:22 PM
As a check to make sure that my students are engaged in more than mere memorization, I frequently respond to their answers to my questions with: How do you know that? This is in a sense an ongoing real time assessment. I get immediate feedback. The answers I get give me a spot check. Now there is no sense in doing this sort of check unless I am prepared to act on it also in real time. This is not a process for the faint of heart. Over the years I have gotten more used to what I would have to characterize as improvisational instruction. I started this in a small way about five years ago and have gotten more comfortable with it over time. I have had to deepen my own understanding in many areas, and improve my ability to ask probing questions. Fortunately, I have also found that "wild conceptions" are not as varied as I feared (they have tribes of believers). As I have moved to a more student centered inquiry, I find that students are asking more questions and I think we are all learning more. Perhaps too, the incredulous stare coming from my face is in a way positive feedback. Sometimes, before a response has completely registered in my cortex, I hear faint laughter also with I don't think that's it. Now I will admit that it can take a great deal of discipline not to blurt out the answer myself but rather develop a line of questioning that directs students until they uncover that answer for themselves. The student and I are working together: I get immediate feedback on my instruction and they get immediate feedback on their learning.
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by Mario Patino, Tue Nov 29, 2011 9:58 AM
Here is a good resource related to formative and summative assessment. The key with formative assessment is the quality of the feedback. Check this video out from Rick Wormeli
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