Formative Assessment Terms

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  • Assessment

    A process of collecting information about learning and instruction. Assessment is done on tasks, performances, products, or other activities in which students engage to both learn and demonstrate their skill and understanding. Assessments can be used by teachers to adjust instruction to better meet students’ learning needs, and by students to make adjustments to their learning processes and revisions to their work.


  • Checklist

    An assessment tool that lists process or product criteria. A checklist with process criteria lists steps, typically sequential, that are to be executed in order to successfully complete a task. A checklist with product criteria lists the qualities or characteristics of a high quality performance, activity, or other work once it is completed.

  • Co-generating Criteria

    A process involving both teachers and students in which the criteria for a task, performance, product, or other activity are mutually created and agreed upon. This typically involves modelling the end-product or activity students will engage in, discussing what high- and low-quality work looks like, and compiling those responses into descriptions of criteria and expectations.

  • Constructive process of critique

    A process of critiquing another’s work during which judgments about its quality are made in terms of a particular set of criteria, and then communicated with suggestions about how to improve the work so that it meets the specified criteria. Popular process are Two-stars-and-a-wish, and the ladder of feedback.

  • Criteria

    Descriptions of the characteristics and qualities of a particular task, performance, product, or other activity that will be assessed. Criteria describing high-quality work can be used to represent the standard students are expected to meet. Contrasted with learning goals or targets, criteria are narrower, and task-specific.


  • Formative assessment

    A process during which information on student learning is generated and used for the purpose of guiding and improving learning and/or adjusting teacher instruction. In formative assessment, students are typically involved in the assessment process through self- or peer assessment. Formative assessment is often referred to as assessment for learning.


  • Ladder of Feedback

    A constructive process of critique focused on producing feedback information on a particular task, performance, product, or other activity. David Perkins outlined four steps in the ladder of feedback: 1) questions of clarification: asking questions about the work to better understand it; 2) values: stating strong aspects of the work; 3) concerns: expressing areas in need of improvement; and 4) suggestions: offering ideas to modify the work so that it meets criteria and expectations. Criteria should be referred to at each step of the ladder.


  • Mantra of Formative Assessment

    A set of three questions designed to guide thinking when doing formative assessment: “Where am I going? Where am I now? How do I get there?” These questions represent the overarching process of formative assessment: setting goals, criteria, standards, and expectations (Where am I going?), reflecting on the current state of one’s work (Where am I now?), and determining determine what needs to be done to meet those targets (How do I get there?).

  • Modelling

    Communicating expectations by showing students a high-quality and/or low-quality example of the task, performance, product, or other activity in which they will engage.


  • Peer Assessment

    A feedback process in which students first judge the quality of a peer’s work in relation to a set of criteria or standards and then use those judgments to offer suggestions for revising the work so it meets expectations.


  • Revision

    A process where feedback information is generated from formative assessment to change and modify work to improve it and to move it closer to targeted criteria and expectations. In formative assessment, students typically repeat the revision process until their work is of sufficiently high-quality and meets criteria or standards.

  • Rubric

    A rubric lists the criteria for a task, performance, product, or other activity, as well as descriptions of levels of quality for each criterion, from high-quality to low-quality. Rubrics are typically used to assess less concrete, qualitative characteristics of student work and learning. Rubrics come in a variety of forms: a traditional rubric contains only text, a visual rubric communicates each criterion and levels of quality using pictures, an aural rubric does the same thing except with sound, and a physical rubric does this with objects.


  • Scaffolding

    Supporting students who are learning something new or solving a challenging problem by helping move their thinking forward using guidance or other instructional assistance. For example, a teacher can scaffold students who are learning to peer assess by demonstrating the peer assessment process and describing it to students as it occurs.

  • Self-assessment

    A process in which students judge the quality of their own work in relation to a set of criteria or standards, and then use those judgments to revise their work to meet expectations.

  • Standards

    Descriptions of the level of learning, achievement, or quality of work expected of students. The standard students are expected to meet can be represented by criteria describing high-quality work.

  • Summative assessment

    A process of evaluating student learning for the purpose of summarizing and reporting the level of achievement as a score or grade. Summative assessment is typically done at the end of a unit, grade level, etc. Summative assessment is often referred to as assessment of learning.