Assessment as an Instructional Tool? YES!

January 1, 2018

Research for This Tool

As your team looks for instructional strategies that work, don’t forget to use one of the most reliable and effective tools available: Common formative assessments. Common formative assessments are assessments that are created by teams of educators for the purpose of gathering information to help improve instruction. Research into the effectiveness of formative assessments at improving instruction has shown positive results and we have provided two references for readers looking for more information on this topic:

Bennett, R. E. (2011). Formative assessment: A critical review. Assessment in Education Principles, Policy & Practice, 18 (1), 5-25.

Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B. & William, D. (2003). Assessment for learning: Putting it into practice. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

How to Use This Tool

Assessment as an Instructional Tool? YES!All assessments determine if students have learned something, but it is what happens next that sets formative assessments apart from summative assessments intended to just answer the yes/no question, “Did they learn it?” Common formative assessments are given while students are still learning. This schedule allows educators to take stock of students’ mastery of smaller chunks of content and then make changes to instruction if specific standards or objectives have not been mastered.

While there are all kinds of common formative assessments, given at various intervals (some are three-week; others are given on a nine-week schedule), we suggest that short-cycle common formatives are most effective when used in these ways:

  1. Think prevention! Assess often, so that you can implement interventions quickly and focus on small chunks of learning. We want to prevent failure, not wait until students have struggles for a long period of time and then fail.
  2. Common means common! Make sure your common formatives are created, summarized, and analyzed by the team (for example, third grade math or Algebra 1). That way, everyone can support students experiencing difficulty and teachers do not have to do everything alone.
  3. Compare and share! By collecting, reviewing, and intervening on group data, teachers can compare and share strategies, approaches, and tools that worked. This allows for adjustments in teaching that are likely to bring better results.
  4. Make data-based decisions! The data from the common formative assessments should tell teachers:
    • How many students (and who) did not “get it” the first time and need a re-teach
    • Which students got the big ideas but need more practice
    • Which students lack some basic skills (think vocabulary) that should be pre-taught before the next unit
    • Which students already know the content and should require enriching alternative learning activities.

Assessment as an Instructional Tool? YES!The assessment information is your road map and will tell you where to go next!

Here at Tools for Great Teachers, we support many teams of educators, some just beginning the school improvement process. We know that it takes all three biggies—curriculum, instruction, and assessment—to make sustained improvement. We have provided a tool that your team can use to reflect on where you are in the common assessment implementation process.

Using the Common Assessment Implementation tool should help your team evaluate, identify the areas in which you want to improve, and just like in the classroom, take that knowledge and make changes. We suggest that you remain focused on the purpose of the common formative assessments as your team works. Use the assessments to improve instruction!


“Common Assessment Implementation” (.pdf)