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The benefits of using formative assessments to guide instruction

April 12, 2021


On February 22, the U.S. Department of Education announced that states must resume annual summative assessments this year even though many schools continue remote learning and some states have requested testing waivers. Amidst all of this, educators are trying to support student growth and proficiency despite not having 2019-2020 test data.

In an October 2020 article, Dr. Tim Hudson, DreamBox’s chief learning officer and a former K-12 district math coordinator, discusses the value of using formative assessments to guide instruction rather than relying so heavily on summative assessments. While summative assessments provide educators with some data about students, they also create challenges for teachers and students.

  • Teacher pressure: Standardized tests often pressure teachers to focus more energy on test preparation than on lesson and instruction planning. Not only does test administration take away from valuable instruction time, teachers also feel pressure to use additional class time for test preparation.
  • Student stress: Student stress has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and many are feeling higher levels of stress than ever. Test conditions create more stress for students, especially when they are expected to demonstrate a year’s worth of understanding in a single exam. Heightened stress levels during a single, high-stakes test means that the data won’t always accurately reflect what students know and are able to do.

Unlike one-shot summative assessments, educational technologies like DreamBox Math can provide teachers with valuable insights about student achievement without disrupting the school schedule, putting pressure on teachers, or adding stress for students. “With intelligent adaptive learning technology, embedded assessments are already able to develop detailed formative and summative reports on student learning progress,” Dr. Hudson writes. DreamBox’s data provide richer insights than standardized test because DreamBox is assessing not only each student’s answers, but also how a student solved the problem. Teachers can use the data to inform their approaches to differentiation and intervention.

Without taking away from instructional time, DreamBox provides teachers with formative assessment data and even offers predictive insights on how a student will perform on the state’s spring standardized test. Essentially, teachers can access insights about student growth and proficiency continually throughout the school year rather than relying on a single summative exam for data.

Looking for more information? Check out Dr. Tim Hudson’s article Less testing, more learning: Reimagining assessment

Check out how DreamBox Predictive Insights works here.


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