How to Fix 5 Common Formative Assessment Problems Teachers Have

by May 20, 2018

Formative assessment problems are a fact of life and learning. FA has its challenges to be sure. Remember that no assessment method is really 100% foolproof. There’s so much to consider and so many different students. You can fix many formative assessment problems, though. Doing it right involves developing differentiated tasks. It means translating criteria so students can understand it. There’s also a considerable investment of time.

Let’s get down to it. How do you face the most common challenges and move forward from them?

You don’t see a need for it

Formative assessment is critical for differentiation. You can never be sure that your students will be on the same level of understanding. So let’s correct this thinking.

Differentiating for various learning styles is a hallmark of modern teaching. Formative assessment deserves the same kind of priority thinking. All learning must be assessed for impact and effectiveness. Teachers know this and they’re more than up to the challenge.


Formative assessment is too time-consuming

This thinking can be something of a trap. Avoiding formative assessments because they take up too much instructional time decreases potential learning. The fact is formative assessment doesn’t need to take much time at all. Here is a list of quick and challenging formative assessments you can use anytime.

formative assessment problems time

Often teachers get caught up and overwhelmed by looking at the big picture. Tasks can appear overwhelming that way. Getting all that information out during instruction time seems just too much. There are more productive and less daunting paths we can take. One shift is to put the instructional time on video as a flipped lesson. Use it in class time while differentiating and using formative assessment.

You see formative assessment as a graded component

Formative assessment provides ongoing feedback to guide students and teachers in the direction of their goals. This is in contrast to summative assessment. Game over, let’s see what you learned for a grade. Not so with FA.

Think of formative assessment as assessment for learning and not an assessment of learning. For this reason, it isn’t graded in the same way as summative assessment.


You feel you lack guidance on how to use it effectively and efficiently

Let’s break this one down. To make formative assessment effective, consider these 3 paradigms:

  1. Formative assessments are informative guideposts for teachers as well as students. They’re not for a grade or formal teacher evaluation.
  2. FA should be followed up with ideally-tiered corrective instruction.
  3. FA incorporates the opportunity for second chances. This means the student tries until they get it.

Here are a few types of awesome formative assessments. Use at least one daily.

  1. Individual—best when preceded by some group assessment. It’s as if you’re taking the larger picture and focusing on smaller details. You can think of this as a “photo album” rather than a “snapshot.” It needs specific comments or a simple rubric with details on how to improve. The rubric can also simply be an indication of the degree of progress.
  2. Partner—Pairing students-in-need with students who are more proficient.
  3. Group—Circle your classroom, listen-in with partners, and also small groups.

You may also be looking for more specific guidance. If you really want to know how to get the most out of formative assessments, our latest book, Mindful Assessment, has all the answers you need.

Formative assessment involves too much data tracking

It doesn’t need to. There are some simple solutions. One of these is to try keeping a folder for each student. You can even employ a class checklist. This is quicker but less detailed for larger classes. It covers these simple points:

  • Student’s name
  • Skills required
  • Rating scale (1 to 4, etc.)

Once an accurate picture of your class and students is captured by formative assessments, corrective instruction comes in. It’s important that corrective instruction is different than what you used at first. So if whatever method you used before didn’t work, just try something different.


This may be in the form of 2 or 3 levels of tiered instruction, the first being crucial for your at-risk students. This link will download a Powerpoint about Tiered Instruction.

As effective teachers, you value real results. We must diligently collect data and view formative assessments as critical to our craft. It’s our hope that as these challenges are tackled head on, formative assessment will be a part of every teacher’s daily regiment.


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