Formative Assessment: Getting to Know Your Kids

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

Quick as a bunny, it’s not a new school year any more. The older I get it seems time accelerates at an increased rate, faster and sooner we get where we’re going.

kids testing

The subject for today is “Ok, where are we going?” In special education, we are compelled to assess everything in sight; our progress, our failures, our kids, our methods, the very degree to which we are succeeding as teachers. This last, teacher evaluation, is a subject that will gain special significance as we continue to embrace Common Core State Standards and new teacher evaluation systems. I will dedicate a post to it later this year and I’m collecting stories from teachers who are being evaluated using new systems (please let me know how you’re doing out there.)

As assessment becomes more remote, more attached to complex statistical models and driven by new technologies, we’ve forgotten how to do simple classroom assessments, which are now called formative assessments. We have binders on our desks with fancy printouts from our state departments of education with our numbers. These reports drill right down to your classroom if you massage it all the right way.

bubble test

Today, I want to share a couple of quick assessments you can do in your classroom that will give you more actionable information to help your students right now, like the San Diego Quick Reading Inventory. I’ve evaluated a few sites that provide descriptions of quick reading assessments and I share one from the home schooling community with you. Ann Zeiss gives us a look at several quick ways to determine a reading level for your students.

This is important because you can go through all the data in your binders, but a hands-on tool will be so much more useful for simple tasks like taking your class to the library (you do use your library media center, right?). If you know your students’ grade level for reading you and your library media specialist can guide them to the best books to help build on that level and improve their reading skills, perhaps help them learn to love reading and become lifelong learners. It only takes a few minutes to assess the kids right in your classroom. Because you have done this yourself, it stays in your mind. We also know we have many different reading levels in our little group, your LMS can help you with this as well.

In special education, we are inundated by acronyms: ADHD, ADA, BD, CP, DD, DB. Educational jargon and acronyms are invented to make us look smart when we speak. If you know the lingo, you must be an expert. I think it all just serves to remove us from important dialogues we could be having to look at kids in a more holistic “ability” way.

In your binders, you have one of those acronyms for each one of your students. Don’t let those designations pigeon-hole your kids and close your mind to the possibilities ahead for each one of your students. Quick reading assessments and math grade level quizzes, administered even-handedly to all students regardless of their acronym will make them seem more alike than different, and isn’t that what we want to do anyway?

For quick ways to determine grade level in math and reading, find old academic achievement test questions. Almost all states (Ohio here) have released tests that were given in the last 2-5 years. Pull out the standards and assess students in groups of standards in math (number sense, geometry, algebra, etc.). This helps you know the skills you will need to concentrate on for each child. Clusters of mistakes in any given standard should be a red flag and a beacon for finding appropriate math materials to remediate the gaps.

I’m not suggesting that you throw out all those fancy charts; they are important and you need to assimilate their contents so you can prepare for your own teacher evaluation. Most new teacher evaluation systems include evaluations of your classroom assessment protocols (talk about circular logic), not just the achievement information. But, here you have a couple of quick ideas to bring you closer to your students and really know where their capabilities reside.

This is the “data based decision making” conversation that has been going on for the last few years with NCLB as the back seat driver. It’s all good. The more you know about your kids, the more able you are to bring them to success.

Tell us what you’re doing in your classroom to find out more about kids, your formative, and summative assessment tools. Tell us your stories about teacher evaluation too.


Grant Name:  IWP Foundation Educational Grants

Funded By:  Innovating Worthy Projects Foundation

Description:  Giving on a national basis. The Foundation makes grants to organizations dedicated to serving developing innovative programs, disseminating ideas, or providing direct care or services for children with special needs, acute illnesses or chronic disabilities.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, Early Childhood, Special Education

Eligibility:  Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline:  12/31/2013

Total Amount: $100,000.00 – $200,000.00

Average Amount:  $1,000.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 4045 Sheridan Avenue, Suite 296, Miami Beach, FL 33140

Telephone:  305-861-5352



Availability:  All States

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s