Level Up with Formative Assessment to Improve Communication

How often does a student come for extra help and say “I don’t get it”?  And, how many times have I replied, “That is not a question”?  I need to help them diagnose what they “don’t get.”  More importantly, they need help diagnosing what they “don’t get.”

We’ve spent the last year reading and attending conferences on assessment.  We formed a study group that meets after school to work together to learn to better assess learning.  In Algebra I, we have modified our assessment plan to include 2nd chance tests, test analysis, and self-reflection.  New as of August is an attempt to use formal non-graded formative assessment based on a 4-point rubric to help kids level up.  An important note here is that the target level is Level 3; the level 4 questions are there to provide enrichment for students that always “get it.”

Our formative assessment on slope would be an example of this work.  Students are given this assessment to help them chart their progress and understanding on the basics of finding slope.  They worked independently to attempt to answer all questions; this took about 30 minutes.  At the end of the “testing period”, the final answers were displayed (page 9 of the formative assessment on slope), and students worked in teams to assess, correct, and reflect on their work.  (Pages 4-5 of the formative assessment on slope.)  Homework was assigned based on the individual student’s level.

How do students confidently determine their level?  For some students it is obvious; for other students, they have to ask for someone else’s opinion?   Let me say how really great it is when a struggling student asks for my opinion on his or her level.  It is even better when the same student can tell me what they can do well and where they need help.  To be invited by a child to be part of their learning team is very motivating and removes all the frustration and irritation.  The request for help or advice sends a strong message of interest.

An unexpected by-product of this type of formative assessment is the leveling up of their vocabulary.  Rarely does a student now say “I don’t get it.”  Much more often a child will come by after school and say “I need help writing the equation of a line when you give me a point and the slope.”


One of my students, MR, says “I think that the formative assesments are great!!  They really help me to study and they help me to know what will be on the tests and what I need to further study! Knowing that level three is the target level, always giving us a goal to strive for and to study for is great!”

CH writes “I truly believe the formative assessments are helpful for using as study guides for tests. I use them as study guides and I learn from my mistakes through them. I do like the fact that they are not graded because it takes the pressure off of taking them and makes me believe it is okay if you do not know the material at first. They are really helpful for going back and looking at what I missed, and then ask you for help on those questions. Having the four levels really helps because I know what levels I need to work on so that I can keep moving up to a higher level.”

Worth repeating: 

makes me believe it is okay if you do not know the material at first.”



“What a child can do today with assistance, she will be able to do by herself tomorrow.” ~ Lev Vygotsky.

One comment

  1. “Clarity precedes competence.” What great guidance – through the use of assessment, rubrics, and levels – to assist students in achieving greater clarity about what they are learning, what they know, and what they continue to need more practice with. Additionally, the intrinsic motivation in people to want to improve – to level up – is the biggest reason for the success and genius of video games…and a stroke of brilliance to use such as a classroom tool in teaching and learning.


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