Using Classroom Assessment to Improve Teaching (page 3)

— The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
Updated on Apr 30, 2014

Compile and Analyze Assessment Results

Data that result from a regularly administered variety of formative assessments can provide teachers with reams of information about their instruction, what worked, what did not, and what to do next. Neither the formative assessment nor the data need to be elaborate. Teachers can compile student responses to find out which students are missing achievement targets and how. Often patterns or trends will emerge when teachers ask and answer questions, such as “Are all of my students making the same kind of error?”; “Do their mistakes show that they don’t have the background knowledge they need to understand this new content?”; or “Could my students demonstrate understanding if the question format were changed?” Constructing formative assessments so that “in a given set of items, the wrong-answer options reveal specific student misunderstandings” (Popham, 2006, p. 86) can yield precise indicators to guide teacher follow-up instruction.

Differentiate Corrective Instruction

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of using formative assessments is knowing what to do with the results. Results that indicate a student has not learned an important concept or skill call for corrective instruction and additional opportunities for the student to demonstrate learning. “To be optimally effective, correctives must be qualitatively different from the initial teaching,” says Thomas Guskey (2005, p.6).  “Little variation in the teaching result[s] in great variation in student learning” (p. 2). If direct instruction was used for the initial lesson, a corrective lesson that makes use of manipulatives or a kinesthetic activity might be appropriate. Students can be grouped so that those who demonstrated understanding are provided with enrichment activities while those who need additional time are provided with follow-up instruction. Alternatively, pairing high- and low-achieving students for a cooperative activity can benefit both learners as well. The aim is to reach all students by using a variety of teaching strategies.


With the spotlight of accountability focused so intensely on summative exams, it is easy to be distracted from the importance of regular, formative classroom assessments. Each has a place in the educational system, but each serves a different purpose. Using effective formative assessment strategies can empower both teachers and learners. For teachers, making an investment in formative assessment similar to the investment that states and districts have made in summative assessment can yield dividends in student achievement.


Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139–144, 146–148. Retrieved November 29, 2006, from Burns, M. (2005). Looking at how students reason. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 26–31. Retrieved November 29, 2006, from Guskey, T. R. (2005). Formative classroom assessment and Benjamin S. Bloom: Theory, research, and implications. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Montréal, Québec, Canada. Retrieved November 29, 2006, from  Popham, W. J. (2006). All about accountability / Those [fill-in-the-blank] tests! Educational Leadership, 63(8), 85–86. Stiggins, R. (2004). New assessment beliefs for a new school mission. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1), 22–27. Retrieved November 29, 2006, from

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