What is Formative Assessment?

Formative  assessment is easily and understandably misunderstood. For many teachers, formative assessment is synonymous with “benchmark testing,” or periodic standards-based, objective tests.  Because we are moving out of the age of the California Standards Test, which was objective, and quite frankly, easier to prep for, and into the era of the new computer-based, constructed response assessments, it might help us to rethink the definition of formative assessment. This video, Maryland Formative Assessment (Click Here) does a fine job of defining formative assessment.

Why is formative assessment important? John Hattie’s work Visible Learning details 138 factors that influence student learning, and among them, formative assessment, or “formative evaluation” as he terms it, has the third largest effect size on student achievement! This, of course, is no surprise to a teacher who uses formative assessment strategies in class because formative assessment gives feedback to the student while learning is taking place, and it gives feedback to the teacher during the lesson. It simply makes sense that formative assessment, giving feedback on learning as learning takes place, increases learning outcomes. 

Oncore is a formative assessment machine. If a teacher uses Oncore consistently, he is collecting meaningful data, as students learn.  In my classroom, I use Oncore daily, and I’ve noticed the following effects of Oncore as a formative assessment tool.

1. I focus on what the student is learning because I’m always making a concrete evaluation, using the Oncore colors. Every time I check for understanding, I’m processing how much a student gets it, and I can give meaningful corrective feedback in context. 


2. I think a lot more about content standards because I easily attach a content standard to assignments and classroom activities.

3. My students are aware of what weak, emerging, and strong content and skill knowledge is using the color hierarchy.

View More: http://brianapetersen.pass.us/2013-oncore

4. Increasingly, my students want to know my evaluation of them. They want to know if I think they are “right.”

5. The classroom is less focused on a letter grades, and more focused on proficiency.  Knowledge is acknowledged, and hard work is rewarded.

In short, Oncore has integrated formative assessment into my daily practice seamlessly, and, as importantly, easily. It fits right in to what I’m doing anyway, but helps me to do it better.

How has Oncore functioned as a formative assessment tool in your classroom?

2 comments on “What is Formative Assessment?

  1. I don’t know if you actually check the comments on old posts or not, but I thought I would comment just in case you do! Where and how did you get that poster of the OnCore color scale?!?! I would LOVE LOVE LOVE one for my classroom so I can make a poster of what you show in the picture with he whiteboard comments describing the quality of responses. If there is any way you can let me know how to go about buying one, or making one at a print shop with an image file or something I would be so grateful!

    1. Hi Stephanie–

      I love the color rubric. I use it for lots of different activities in class. It really focuses the students (and it focuses me!) and fosters lots of metacognition.
      As far as getting your hands on one, there are two options:
      1. We can have one printed for you and send it out to you. I can send you a price quote via email.
      2. Or you can Download the PDF and send it to a print shop yourself. The pdf we have has a minimum of 4

      I’ll email you with a few questions.



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