CommonLit Insights Schools & Districts Informing Instruction with Formative Data & Assessments

It’s the day of a huge unit test or summative exam, and students have been preparing for weeks. They submit their answers and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s over. When the scores come in though, over half the class has failed. Students are disappointed, parents are concerned, and the teacher feels like they haven’t done their job.

For many, this disappointing scenario is all too real. So how can teachers avoid the “fifty percent fail” outcome and help students do their best? Utilizing formative assessments and formative data analysis before the unit assessment.

So, What is Formative Data?

While many teachers have heard the terms “formative data” and “formative assessments,” some are still unsure of what exactly these things are and how best to use them. Put simply, formative data and assessments are a way of taking the educational pulse of a student at a moment in time. They give teachers real-time insights into how students are responding to instruction and allow for correction and support before the high stakes summative assessment happens.

One of the key parts of formative assessments and formative data collection is making sure that they are low-stakes. If students know that their learning level will be gauged without penalty, then they are more likely to be open about their struggles and sticking points. Another critical aspect of formative assessments is to make sure they occur at a point in the instructional timeline where instruction can be adjusted based on results. In other words, don’t wait too late in a unit for a formative assessment and data analysis to occur. Lastly, when giving a formative assessment, it’s vital to act after analyzing student data. When it’s evident that students are struggling with a concept, it’s crucial to give them the material in a different way to aid in understanding.

Formative Data - Why It Matters

While some educators know what formative data and assessments are, they question if it’s worth the time and energy needed to implement them into their instruction. Without question, research has shown that not only do formative assessments increase student achievement, but they also can improve students’ attitudes and perceptions about a class. Giving students the “freedom to fail” in certain situations can allow them to worry less about their grade and concentrate more on their learning.

Tips for Getting Started with Formative Data

  • Start small, and collect 2-3 clear and thoughtful data points to address at a time. Make sure you understand what students are confused about before offering support.
  • Get students involved by asking them to set their own learning goals and targets for the week or even for the unit.
  • Be consistent with gathering data and offering subsequent assistance.
  • Use your data to determine who needs additional instruction as well as who needs enrichment.

How can CommonLit help?

One of the great features of the lessons in our CommonLit library is the actionable data that teachers acquire. With every reading passage, students are given standards based questions that provide teachers with formative data and insights into how students are performing on such items as finding the main idea, locating the theme, point of view, and more. Should a student be struggling with finding the best evidence in an article for example, then the teacher could give them additional practice with another story after first assigning a Target Lesson. Target Lessons provide direct support to students in engaging and interactive ways and are a perfect way to respond to formative data findings.

If you’re anxious to avoid the “fifty percent fail” outcome, try CommonLit’s lessons and 360 curriculum. We make it easy to provide students with in-the-moment intervention that’s based on formative assessments and standards-based data as shown in the chart below.

Students' Formative Data in a chart format

To see how easy it is to bring CommonLit’s formative assessments to your school and staff, reach out today to connect with someone from our team who can share more about our affordable support packages.