Indistar indicators of effective practice related to the use of pretests are numerous throughout the system and address a variety of issues. Among these are supporting students who need assistance and providing enhanced learning opportunities for others. This support is provided within the context of a curriculum aligned to standards, instruction aligned to the curriculum, and assessment aligned to the instruction. Well-designed pre-tests provide a starting point for instruction.  Analysis of the pretest information will inform the teacher and team about those who already have a firm grasp of the material and those who do not, which students to group together, and where misunderstandings or unfamiliarity with the material exists. These are important issues that can inform the development of instruction. 

 However, quality instruction depends upon much more than pretest information. Once instruction has begun the teacher needs ongoing information about the students’ abilities to understand, master, and apply the concepts to be learned. This is where formative assessments play a crucial role so that instructional and grouping adjustments can be made when needed.

 Two indicators that address the issue of formative assessments are IID09 and IIIA07.  IID09 (Instructional Teams use student learning data to plan instruction) states in the Wise Ways that “The most valuable sources of student data for instructional planning are teacher-created formative assessments and periodic benchmark assessments.” (Italics mine)

 In IIIA07 (All teachers differentiate assignments {individualize instruction} in response to individual student performance on pre-tests and other methods of assessment) the Wise Ways states, “The teacher looks at pretests and the students ongoing work to assess mastery and make adjustments in the plans.” (Italics mine) This Wise Ways goes on to state, “Teachers need to be able to swiftly gather information about each student and then adjust accordingly.”

 So we’ve established the importance of formative assessments. Carol Ann Tomlinson, a leading advocate for differentiated instruction, proposes 10 principles to guide the use of formative assessment in an article published in the March 2014 edition of Educational Leadership entitled “The Bridge Between Today’s Lesson and Tomorrow’s.”    As she states, “Formative assessment is – or should be- the bridge or causeway between today’s lesson and tomorrow’s.” A brief summary of her 10 principles follows, but our hope is that you will read her article in its entirety and share you reactions in IndistarConnect.

1.     Help students understand the role of formative assessment – It is to help students learn, not to evaluate or judge their work.  That’s the role of evaluation and happens later in the process.
2.     Begin with clear KUDs – OK, so what’s a KUD? It stands for Know, Understand, and be able to DO. This principle begins when teachers (and teams) map out the curriculum.  They must decide what is most important for students to Know, Understand and be able to Do.  Then they develop pre- and post-assessments.  The pre-assessments provide starting points for instruction.  The formative assessments also inform the teacher about the KUDs on a daily basis.  BTW, this approach to planning is described in detail in the outstanding book Understanding By Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. 
3.     Make room for student differences – Provide a variety of formative assessments that allow students to show what they know. Include opportunities for students to use drawings and labels, examples from their own experiences to illustrate their understandings, or references to “sports, music, cooking, shopping, building something, or another area they are interested in” (Tomlinson, 2014) to demonstrate their understanding.
4.     Provide instructive feedback – Instructive feedback is specific and helps the student know what is needed to improve.
5.     Make feedback user-friendly – Tomlinson makes the very interesting point that user-friendly feedback should elicit a cognitive response, not an emotional one. Negative or voluminous feedback more often elicits an emotional response. User-friendly feedback results in helping a student understand how to improve incrementally.
6.     Assess persistently – Tomlinson provides a great shopping list of ways to assess continually throughout a class period from observation to use of thumbs-up/thumbs down, use of whiteboards, start-up prompts, exit tickets, etc.
7.     Engage students with formative assessment – Provide rubrics and examples that point toward quality work. Encourage students to question the teacher when feedback is not clear.
8.     Look for patterns – Look for patterns of understanding by the students so that subsequent classroom grouping can meet the variety of evolving needs.
9.     Plan instruction around content requirements and student needs – Use formative assessments to modify instruction and instructional plans, not as a final evaluation of student learning.
10.  Repeat the process – Make using formative assessment a habit rather than something that occurs occasionally in the classroom.

We hope you find this article and all of Carol Ann Tomlinson’s work on differentiation useful.  We apologize for the formatting problem, knowing it cuts off some of the text. To view the article correctly please scroll to the bottom of the article and use the gray bar to center it.  

We encourage feedback, which you can do at the end of this blog. Or share your feedback in the Your Reflections section.  Either way, we look forward to your input, as do all Indistar users.  

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Paul Axtell

With more than thirty years of experience helping organizations and individuals be more effective, Paul Axtell has honed his insights in executive offices and training programs for everyone from office staff and line workers to managers and team leaders.

A large focus of his work is how to run effective and productive meetings—to turn them from something people dread into useful, productive sessions with trackable results.

Paul is the author of multiple books, including Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Being Remarkable, and Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He can be reached at <a href=""></a> and via email at
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