Formative Assessment

“Inside the Black Box”, by Black and William, 1998:  This is not the first research on formative assessment, but perhaps the article that brought the most attention to the subject and became the basis for much of today’s formative assessment work.

From FairTest, a quick summary of FA entitled “The Value of Formative Assessment’ with a few references.

“Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom” is a follow-up to “Inside the Black Box” in 2004, with 3 additional authors assisting Black and William.  The Assessment Training Institute is the group, now owned by Pearson, created by Rick Stiggins and his colleagues to provide leadership and training in Assessment For Learning.

Stiggins, Arter, Chapuis & Chappuis (2006), Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing it right-using it well.  Purchase from  This is, I think, the definitive ‘manual’ for designing and using formative assessments, and it covers many aspects of its use, including a strong discussion of different purposes of assessment, the different audiences for assessment results, grading, student motivation, etc.  One major principal of this in-depth work is the importance given to involving students in tracking their own master of instructional topics, which Stiggins, et al. suggest is a key element that makes formative assessment work with students.  It has an extensive bibliography as well. is a report from the Regional Education Lab, Central, entitled: Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Impact on Elementary School Mathematics in the Central Region: Final Report.  It discusses research using several teachers in multiple districts that were trained to use the Stiggins et al. Classroom Assessment for Student Learning approach in elementary math.  Differences in achievement on Colorado math tests between the CASEL groups and control groups were insignificant, and an extensive discussion considers various problems as the multi-year study continued that might have affected results.

Arter, J. (2010). Interim benchmark assessments: Are we getting our eggs in the right becket?  A paper by Judy Arter on FA presented at NCME May 1, 2010, in Denver.  This has a Q&A format and appendices on FA techniques with examples.

Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey (2007). Checking for understanding: Formative assessment techniques for your classroom.  An ASCD book that provides a wonderful set of day to day quick checks on understanding.  This is more informal than many of the techniques Stiggins, et al. teach in their definitive manual cited above.  This is more of the Madeline Hunter notion of checking for understanding—getting immediate feedback from students about where they are with what you are teaching in the moment.

Persida Himmele and William Himmele (2011).  Total participation techniques: Making every student an active learner.  ASCD.  More day to day techniques for engaging learners, most of which are Madaline Hunter checking for understanding methods.

Susan Brookhart (2010). Formative assessment strategies for every classroom.  ASCD.  A substantial set of tools including good sections on what to use with students to engage them in tracking their own progress.

Susan Brookhart (2008). How to give effective feedback to your students.  ASCD.  Brookhart points out that too much feedback – ‘how to fix everything’ – is not productive.  She reviews what makes sense (and what makes the teacher’s life tolerable), what formats work for different kinds of assignments, and tailoring feedback to different kinds of students.  Much shorted that the prior Brookhart citation,  From the Journal Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, (2009) Dunn and Mulvenon point out the paucity of strong research on the effects of formative evaluation.   They make note, from a more rigorous reexamination of the source articles that promote formative assessment, that several important early studies have over-interpreted the results—that is, they reach conclusions that go beyond what these researches believe the data support. “Using assessments for instructional improvement: A literature review.”  Young and Kim 2010.  A generic but somewhat thorough look at the overall notion of using data to improve instruction, with 8 pages of additional references.  Includes scholarly work as well as promotional commentary by educational program developers—like Stiggins, who develops processes and is not a ‘researcher.’  Includes a look at school organizational issues that relate to data use, and suggestions about where to go with the process.

2 thoughts on “Formative Assessment

    • I had prepared the information for a workshop I did several months prior, and that prep took a half day or so. But formative assessment is something I’ve been dealing with as a professional developer for a few years, and the info was readily at hand.
      Thanks for the compliment. Spread the word about the site. I’m working on improvements and trying to get into the swing of blogging more frequently.

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