Tech-Based Formative Assessment

“When we use formative assessment strategies, we’re on a fact-finding mission. As educators, we work to figure out who understands the teaching point of a lesson, who has mastered a new concept, who needs extra help. Formative assessment happens naturally as we walk around the room and listen in on student conversations or examine their classwork after the bell rings. But how can you use technological tools to check for understanding in meaningful, sustainable, and scalable ways?” — Monica Burns, Edutopia

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10 Examples of Innovative Formative Assessment

“Innovative formative assessment strategies are part of the heart of any modern classroom. They provide crucial information about what students understand and what they don’t. These ungraded assessments are also valuable guides for students. It can help them enhance their performance. Teachers can use them to determine if further instruction is necessary.

“Using innovative formative assessment consistently and effectively removes the surprises from getting final grades. When integrated into teaching and learning on an ongoing basis, students can constantly improve and excel. Formative assessment is “assessment as learning”. In other words, the feedback is used to improve the learning.” — Lee Watanabe Crockett 

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An “A” for Effort


The following editorial came through my Inbox (Thanks, Lee). I share it as a follow-up to my recent post, Confusing the Level of Effort with Quality of Work.

‘A’ for Effort? Not in My Class
By: Bill Maxwell


Even now, more than 20 years later, I clearly recall the student’s anger as she flung the red-inked essay across my desk and screamed that she had “worked too hard” for the grade of C. It was the first time a college student had so vehemently challenged a grade I had given on a writing assignment. It would not be the last.

Along with being startled, I wondered if I was in danger of bodily harm. The student, a freshman, continued to scream, saying her parents would kill her if she earned anything less than a B. She had been an honor student in high school, she said, and demanded that I change the grade. I explained that her writing was undistinguished, merely satisfying the standard — “average” — requirements of an expository essay. I did not change her grade. The term was young enough for her to withdraw from my class and find another.

When I told colleagues about the incident, I was surprised that all of them had similar experiences. Over time, I came to expect students to challenge lower-than-expected grades solely on the basis of having “worked hard” and having satisfied the basic requirements.

A recent New York Times article shed light on the increasing problem by summarizing a study, “Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors,” that was published last year in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. I read the study, and it confirms everything my colleagues and I had discovered years ago by way of sharing anecdotes.

Conducted by researchers for the University of California, Irvine, the study reports that many of the students surveyed, a diverse group that included East and Southeast Asian Americans, Caucasians, Latinos and other groups, expected B’s because they attended class. A larger number expected B’s for having read the assigned material.

The researchers, professors themselves, looked for the sources of this growing trend of entitlement among students. More than any other factors, they found that pressure from parents and competition among peers and relatives have given students a greater sense of what is referred to as “achievement anxiety.”

Other researchers in education and the behavioral sciences also have been looking into the causes of the phenomenon. Some have traced it back to students’ experiences in their K-12 classrooms, where they are bombarded with high-stakes tests that determine if they move to the next level — or even graduate from kindergarten. One result is that they have become exceptionally skilled at preparing for tests, producing a level of efficiency that encourages these young people to search for what one professor calls “a magic formula to get high scores.”

When such formulas get students high scores in K-12, the expectation of high scores follows far too many freshmen into the college classroom. This expectation has become a new religion, a very real and perhaps harmful sense of entitlement.

As my colleagues and I had experienced, the study shows that the rising sense of entitlement creates, among other negative problems, selfishness, unrealistic and demanding attitudes toward professors, exploitation of peers and university staff members, narcissism and, of course, various forms of academic dishonesty.

A University of Maryland senior who spoke to the New York Times is a poster child for the academically entitled college student. “I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” he said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in? If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point? If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

Obviously, I disagree. Putting in your maximum effort does not always produce levels of excellence that deserve the highest grade. As my colleagues and I reminded many disgruntled students, you should want to explore ideas, test new techniques and expand your knowledge.

You should set aside the need to be instantly rewarded with a mere grade for effort. Enlightenment should be your goal. And yes, you can call me out of step and old-fashioned.

Confusing the Level of Effort with Quality of Work


I’ve been teaching for more than 16 years now. Whether teaching elementary and middle school students or undergraduate and graduate students I’ve occasionally encountered learners that believed that no matter what they get an A for effort.

I’ve recently read some research and several articles on this topic. The response I received after sharing one of the resources over Twitter and Plurk is the motivation for this and a forth-coming blog post. I invite your feedback and reaction.


Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes
By: Max Roosevelt

Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.

“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark,” Professor Grossman said. “Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before.”

He attributes those complaints to his students’ sense of entitlement.

“I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” he said. “That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.”

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.

“I noticed an increased sense of entitlement in my students and wanted to discover what was causing it,” said Ellen Greenberger, the lead author of the study, called “Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors,” which appeared last year in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Professor Greenberger said that the sense of entitlement could be related to increased parental pressure, competition among peers and family members and a heightened sense of achievement anxiety.

Aaron M. Brower, the vice provost for teaching and learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, offered another theory.

“I think that it stems from their K-12 experiences,” Professor Brower said. “They have become ultra-efficient in test preparation. And this hyper-efficiency has led them to look for a magic formula to get high scores.”

James Hogge, associate dean of the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University, said: “Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work. There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.’ “

In line with Dean Hogge’s observation are Professor Greenberger’s test results. Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, that should be taken into account in their grade.

Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

Sarah Kinn, a junior English major at the University of Vermont, agreed, saying, “I feel that if I do all of the readings and attend class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a B.”

At Vanderbilt, there is an emphasis on what Dean Hogge calls “the locus of control.” The goal is to put the academic burden on the student.

“Instead of getting an A, they make an A,” he said. “Similarly, if they make a lesser grade, it is not the teacher’s fault. Attributing the outcome of a failure to someone else is a common problem.”

Additionally, Dean Hogge said, “professors often try to outline the ‘rules of the game’ in their syllabi,” in an effort to curb haggling over grades.

Professor Brower said professors at Wisconsin emphasized that students must “read for knowledge and write with the goal of exploring ideas.”

This informal mission statement, along with special seminars for freshmen, is intended to help “re-teach students about what education is.”

The seminars are integrated into introductory courses. Examples include the conventional, like a global-warming seminar, and the more obscure, like physics in religion.

The seminars “are meant to help students think differently about their classes and connect them to real life,” Professor Brower said.

He said that if students developed a genuine interest in their field, grades would take a back seat, and holistic and intrinsically motivated learning could take place.

“College students want to be part of a different and better world, but they don’t know how,” he said. “Unless teachers are very intentional with our goals, we play into the system in place.”


Note that this article has sparked a lot of conversation about this topic. Take a look at the many replies in the comments section.