A Position of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Question: What is the role of formative assessments in mathematics education?
Formative assessment is an essential process that supports students in developing the reasoning and sense-making skills that they need to reach specific learning targets and move toward mastery of the mathematical practices set out in the Common Core State Standards. It serves to inform both the teacher and the learner, enabling the teacher to change what he or she is doing and the student to understand where he or she is in relation to the learning goal. In other words, formative assessment provides information that changes what both the teacher and the learner are doing. The United Kingdom Assessment Reform Group has laid out five requirements for assessment to improve learning (Hattie, 2012):
Linking assessment to everyday classroom instruction requires teachers to make a shift in both their thinking and their practice. When assessment focuses on evidence of student learning, teachers must plan and work in new and different ways. Their planning must be flexible enough to allow them to adjust their instruction to take into account the results of assessment. They must also plan for the provision of effective feedback to students that will move them forward in their learning, and then they must offer their students opportunities to use this feedback to improve their performance. The feedback should tell students what they are doing well, where they need to improve, and what to do next. It should also assist the teacher in making sound instructional decisions.
In 2008, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel cited research to support the position that the use of formative assessment in mathematics classrooms directly correlates with improvement in student achievement. “A review of practice by the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] across eight countries defined formative assessment as frequent, interactive assessments of students’ progress and understanding to identify learning needs and adjust teaching appropriately” (Wiliam, 2011, p. 37). Formative strategies embedded in instruction provide opportunities for students to make conjectures, incorporate multiple representations in their problem solving, and discuss their mathematical thinking with their peers. Effective formative assessment has a positive impact on student achievement and how they perceive themselves as learners.
NCTM position statements define a particular problem, issue, or need and describe its relevance to mathematics education. Each statement defines the Council's position or answers a question central to the issue. The NCTM Board of Directors approves position statements.