What is Balanced Assessment?

What is Balanced Assessment?

A 21st Century Assessment System must include both Formative and Summative Assessment
The 21st century will usher in a new era for how teachers utilize assessment systems. The new model will include both summative and formative assessment. In contrast to summative assessment, formative assessment is more focused on collaboration in the classroom and identifying learning gaps that can be addressed before the end-of-year assessments.

A comprehensive balanced assessment system includes classroom assessments, interim/benchmark assessments, and statewide assessments that are aligned to state standards. Each component is important and should be valued for what it contributes.

Formative Assessment

A process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to help students improve their achievement of intended instructional outcomes.
Formative Assessment includes:

  • Questioning
  • Discussions
  • Learning Activities
  • Feedback
  • Conferences
  • Interviews
  • Student Reflections

Formative assessment is found at the classroom level and happens minute-to-minute or in short cycles. Formative assessment is not graded or used in accountability systems. The feedback involved in formative assessment is descriptive in nature so that students know what they need to do next to improve learning.

Summative Assessment

A measure of achievement to provide evidence of student competence or program effectiveness.
Summative Assessment includes:

  • Selected Response Items
  • Multiple-Choice
  • True/False
  • Matching
  • Short Answer
  • Fill in the Blank
  • 1-2 Sentence Response
  • Extended Written Response

Performance Assessment

Summative assessments are found at the classroom, district and state level and can be graded and used in accountability systems. The information gathered from summative assessments is evaluative and is used to categorize students so performance among students can be compared.

What is Formative Assessment?

Formative Assessment is a vital part of successful teaching, and should be practiced continually throughout the learning process. This type of assessment is key in helping students to achieve their highest potential in the classroom.

Formative assessment is different from a summative assessment- some form of a test at the end of a unit or lesson; an assessment that is given a grade to determine how well the student learned the material after the content has been completely taught. Instead of occurring at the end of all instruction, formative assessment takes place during teaching, and continues throughout the entire learning process. Traditionally, these assessments aren't given a grade; they are instead used by teachers so they are more aware of how to approach future instruction with students on the subject.

Benefits of Formative Assessments

  • Gives the teacher insight on student needs, and provides the opportunity to adapt their teaching in order to best meet the unique needs of the students
  • Allows the chance for reteaching throughout the learning process 
  • Gives the teacher a concept of where every student stands with their current knowledge (and of what each student still needs to know during the unit or lesson)
  • Allows the teacher (and students) to determine a set goal for learning and decide how to best reach that goal
  • Helps the teacher to know what level of instruction to begin with the next time the material is presented to the students
  • Gives teacher the opportunity to make necessary changes and differentiate instruction appropriately for the students to be successful
  • Provides students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge as they learn new things 
  • Provides the teacher with insight on how to appropriately group students for cooperative learning activities
  • Allows the teacher to adjust instruction in order to effectively provide for different student needs

By utilizing formative assessments in your teaching, you are enhancing both instruction and student learning. These assessments aren't solely for the use of the educator or the student. They provide vital information and feedback to everyone involved in the learning process and greatly improve the atmosphere of the classroom and the overall student achievement.

Types of Formative Assessment

Formative assessment does not (and should not) take the same form every time. It is beneficial to both the teacher and the students to use a variety of types of assessments
throughout teaching and learning. There are many ways that formative assessment can be implemented in order to give the teacher the most information possible, and to give students the greatest number of opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge.

  • Use individual, partner, small group and whole group activities in order to assess students (this will provide and overall concept of how the class is doing, as well as an individual look at student progress)
  • Students can discuss and share their thinking with others in the class in order to form a deeper understanding of concepts taught (such as a think-pair-share)
  • Students should summarize main ideas within the unit or lesson, and reflect upon learning (in order to best make sense of what they know)
  • Use writing assignments in order to cover specific questions or topics (allow students to use pictures along with words)
  • Provide vocabulary and main concepts on a topic both before and after the teaching and learning occurs (to determine how much learning has taken place, and how much still needs to be improved on)
  • Conference with students on an individual basis to discuss progress and establish future goals for learning
  • Have students use lists, charts or diagrams to organize the information that they know
  • Use cooperative learning activities so that students have the opportunity to work with other students and build an even further understanding of concepts

In the first grade classroom...

Formative assessment should be used in every grade level to enhance the teaching and learning that takes place in the classroom. Even in first grade, formative assessment can be used in many different ways to benefit the teacher and students. At an age where so much rapid growth and change can occur, formative assessment can be key in keeping up with the ever-changing abilities of students. In first grade classrooms many students are beginning to have a stronger concept of literacy and are rapidly growing into readers. Individualized formative assessments (such as a reading conference between the student and the teacher) should be used in order to determine the individual reading abilities of each student. If the teacher regularly holds reading conferences with students, they will be able to keep up with the unique needs of every learner, and set goals for reading throughout the year. This will make the teacher more aware of which types of materials to use with their students for lessons and assignments.

Although first grade students are young, it is still extremely important to utilize cooperative learning and small group assignments within the classroom.  If the teacher uses information gathered from other formative assessments to properly group students into cooperative learning groups, students will not only learn how to work with others early on, but they will be able to support each other’s learning.

In the first grade classroom, you can also have students reflect on their learning by writing a small summary of what they have learned or somehow relating the information to themselves. This accomplishes several important goals at once- gives the teacher an idea of what information has been learned, teaches the student to summarize and reflect on their own learning, and helps to develop early writing skills.

Formative assessment is a valuable tool in the classroom. It is an ongoing process that will help to guide the learning process and future instruction.


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Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
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