Formative Assessments Dept.

(A preview/snippet from my book “Out on Good Behavior: Teaching math while looking over your shoulder”)

Some say summative assessments can be used formatively, by using the results to guide approaches in subsequent courses. The overlapping nature of how these definitions have evolved give me much cover in my quest to appear aligned with the edu-party line. During my first year at Cypress, I allowed my classes to use notes for quizzes, but not tests. I felt that this would reinforce the idea of the value of notes. The problem was that some students’ organizational skills were lacking—resulting in this typical conversation:

Student: How do you do this problem?

Me: Look in your notes.

Student: I can’t find it.

Me: (Drawing a diagram on a mini-white board.) How would you find the time each of the cars are driving?

Student: I don’t know.

Me: (Writing “Distance = Rate x Time” underneath the diagram)

Student: Oh!

I knew that there was a potential that such approach could quickly blossom into grade inflation and an artificial sense of achievement. So I justified my giving them help by telling myself “Well, I guess this is a formative assessment and I’m using the results to guide future instruction.” But I knew there were limits.