Integrating formative assessment into instruction challenges both teachers and students. Is it worth it? Research provides a definitive answer: Yes, it is.
In 1998, Black and Wiliam reviewed 21 research studies and about 580 articles or chapters on the impact of formative assessment on student achievement. They found that “innovations that include strengthening the practice of formative assessment produce significant and often substantial learning gains” (p. 9). In their analysis, they found an effect size between 0.4 and 0.7, a number that exceeds the impact of most educational interventions.
Stiggins (2004) confirmed this conclusion by concluding that effective classroom assessment can have an impact of an increase of a full standard deviation on student test scores, a result that is comparable to the results of one-on-one tutoring. While formative assessment improves the learning of all students from kindergartners to college students (Black et al., 2003), studies show that low achievers who need the extra help benefit the most (Black & Wiliam, 1998).
Formative assessment does not, however, on its own improve student learning, any more than weighing a pig fattens it. Students grow as learners when the information collected from formative assessments is used constructively to meet their individual needs and to help them become independent learners.
Students enter today’s classrooms from a variety of backgrounds with a wide range of abilities and interests. Formative assessment helps teachers meet the individual needs of their students through differentiated instruction.
Developing the skills necessary for lifelong learning is critical for success in the 21st century. By using formative assessments strategically, students develop the skills to become self-directed learners.