DA Survey Results: How to Improve Formative Assessment

Strategies to help teachers take a systematic approach

Formative assessment can help to differentiate instruction and improve student achievement. Many teachers, however, struggle to take a systematic approach, which could make formative assessment much more effective.

In this web seminar, we discussed the results of our recent District Administration survey about the topic. The survey asked administrators how their teachers are using formative assessment, and what barriers are preventing them from using it more effectively.


Kurt Eisele-Dyrli
Research Editor
District Administration

Vickie Whitfield
Vice President of Instruction and
Product Knowledge

Kurt Eisele-Dyrli: To set the scene, we asked: “Would you say that most teachers in your district use a systematic approach to formative assessment in their classrooms on a consistent basis?” Formative assessment is used in all kinds of ways, but the key term here is “a systematic approach.”  The majority said “yes”—close to 75%. But another 25% said “no.”  That’s a lot of schools and teachers saying they don’t. Vickie, what’s your take on this?

Vickie Whitfield: That does reflect a lot of what I see in the field. But more and more, of course, administrators are looking to put in place a systematic approach. You have to identify students for tiered instruction, and you have to have a way to progressively monitor those students to make sure that the instruction provided for them is effective. More educators are realizing we can’t wait until the end to decide if students will be successful on summative assessment. We have to have something ongoing.

Kurt Eisele-Dyrli: We had a follow-up question: “Why do you believe that most of your teachers do not use a systematic approach to formative assessment on a consistent basis?” The most common response was that they simply haven’t received adequate guidance or professional development.

Vickie Whitfield: Professional development is key. Teachers have to know why they should take a systematic approach to formative assessment and how to do it, and the professional development needs to be ongoing. You want to progressively monitor what the teachers are implementing as well, to make sure that they are understanding the tools they have.

Kurt Eisele-Dyrli: “Do you think more teachers in your district would use a systematic approach to formative assessment consistently if it were easier or less time-consuming?”  The vast majority—almost 70%—said “yes.”

Vickie Whitfield: If there’s one thing teachers will tell you, it is: “I need more time.” They’re asking for time during the day to be able to actually teach children. An assessment tool provides that. You can focus on data and then use it in planning instruction for students.

Kurt Eisele-Dyrli: “How would you describe the use of digital tools?” The top answer by a pretty significant margin: Individual teachers use the digital tools that they prefer.

“Administrators are looking to put in place a systematic approach. You have to identify students for tiered instruction, and you have to have a way to progressively monitor those students to make sure that the instruction provided for them is effective.”

Vickie Whitfield: When you have a variety of tools in the district, that can be problematic because the data becomes difficult to disseminate. Are you getting a good picture of your district or campus as far as its needs for professional development? If you have a systematic tool and everyone is using that systematic tool, the data will be something that you can plan professional development around.

Kurt Eisele-Dyrli: “Do you use assessment tools that identify each student’s strengths and weaknesses?” The leading answer was “yes,” at almost 50%, with 30% saying “no” and more than 20% saying they were “unsure.”

Vickie Whitfield: A lot of the respondents may not be aware that there are digital tools out there that will do this. Istation is one of them. We prescribe that “What’s next?” We group students based on the needs that they have, and then we provide lessons that are based on research and best practices. We make that very easy. With a click of a button, they have lessons, and the lessons have everything that teachers need to deliver.

Kurt Eisele-Dyrli: “Would it be helpful to your district to have some sort of digital formative assessment system?” About 50% said “definitely.” Another 43% said “probably.”

Vickie Whitfield: You want an assessment that will be predictive of future success, and you need to monitor growth. Summative assessments are not going away, and districts want to know how their students will perform. Istation has done a lot of predictability studies with various state assessments. With that data, we’re able to tell with 95% confidence whether students will pass those end-of-year assessments.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit DAmag.me/ws092619