The Importance of Formative Assessments for Literacy

Formative assessments are essential to literacy education in all such settings and contexts. By studying and applying formative assessment practices, reading specialists, English as a second language (ESL) teachers and other educators can help improve literacy development and instruction for students in their schools.

Youngstown State University (YSU) offers a Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) – Teacher Education – Curriculum and Instruction — Literacy online program. A core focus of this program is the examination of formal and informal assessments for student literacy learning, applied in various literacy education contexts.

Formative Assessment Defined

Understanding what formative assessment means is critical to understanding its effective use in literacy education. The Formative Assessment for Students and Teachers State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards (FAST SCASS) defines formal assessment as: “A planned, ongoing process used by all students and teachers during learning and teaching to elicit and use evidence of student learning to improve student understanding of intended disciplinary learning outcomes and support students to become self-directed learners.”

This definition highlights the dynamic and collaborative role of formative assessment. A variety of formal and informal evaluation and monitoring methods are used throughout a student’s learning process to assess and analyze progress toward clarified learning goals. This can involve guided self-assessment, peer feedback, teacher observation and evaluation, individual or group projects, quizzes, educational games and technologies.

These formative assessment practices provide ongoing, actionable feedback and evidence of learning. According to FAST SCASS, actionable feedback is used “to move learning forward by adjusting learning strategies, goals, or next instructional steps.”

Another unique element to formative assessment is its regularly implementation. Formative assessment occurs during instruction instead of “summative assessments” at the end of a course or term. A guide to FAST SCASS’ Formative Assessment Rubric, Resources, and Observation Protocol (FARROP) elaborates on this, stating: “The idea of ‘during instruction’ can mean both literally during a class period … and also more broadly, during an instructional sequence that may span several weeks.”

Formative assessment during instruction supports self-reflection and continuous improvement for teachers and students. The feedback gained informs differentiated, personalized and targeted instruction practices. At the same time, formative assessment engages students in their learning experiences, fostering motivation and investment in achievement.

Why Is Formative Assessment So Important for Literacy Education?

As the International Literacy Association (ILA) maintains, “Formative assessment is a crucial component of supporting effective literacy instruction in any classroom.”

Literacy skill development is multifaceted and can differ dramatically for each student. To help students improve literacy skills, teachers must monitor progress constantly and address learning issues that arise through differentiation and other practices. Responsive teaching strategies change and continuously evolve to complement each student’s unique stage of literacy development. The iterative, ongoing nature of formative assessment and responsive adaptation supports the continuous improvement, adjustment and scaffolding upon which literacy learning relies.

The collaborative and reflective aspects of formative assessment also complement literacy learning. Ongoing self-evaluation, two-way feedback and co-created instructional technique selection foster shared purpose, with both teacher and student working toward and invested in the same literacy goals.

What Role Does Educational Technology Play?

Educational technology can help educators in settings with poor student-teacher ratios increase opportunities for formative assessment. However, technology use can limit a teacher’s ability to observe and gauge student progress. As ILA highlights, informal, in-person interactions allow teachers to leverage educational technology apps to incorporate “well-structured formative assessment tasks” into classroom activities and lessons. It also provides opportunities for formative assessment in hybrid and remote education environments.

For example, such technologies can allow students to record audio and video independently or in groups, documenting “think-alouds” to demonstrate comprehension and verbal skills. Leveraging technology in this way can make formative assessment of literacy skills less time-consuming.

Coursework in YSU’s online literacy studies program explores digital teaching and learning in literacy

How an Advanced Degree Can Help

Literacy learning does not exist in a vacuum of devoted reading, writing and language arts courses. Instead, students develop literacy skills throughout learning experiences in multiple subjects. A student’s command of reading, writing, speaking and listening skills impacts their ability to achieve in numerous academic disciplines.

Therefore, formative assessments in literacy learning drive school-wide development and help students apply literacy skills in cross-curricular contexts and deepen learning. Educators with the specialized knowledge and skills gained from literacy programs like YSU’s can be instrumental in creating a school-wide culture of literacy learning.

Learn more about Youngstown State University’s online MSEd. in Teacher Education – Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy program.

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