The Importance of Formative Assessment

The joint AMTE and NCSM Formative Assessment Task Force share their work.

Formative assessment has long been recognized as a key process in effective instruction. Nevertheless, formative assessment has not been widely adopted by mathematics teachers. In fact, the importance of formative assessment is often overshadowed by an excessive focus on summative assessment.  Given the current ascendance of teacher effectiveness measures that are based on the performance of students on summative assessments, there is a critical need – for both rhetorical and tactical reasons – to emphasize the central role that formative assessment should be playing in guiding classroom instruction that can lead to high levels of student attainment.

The National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) and The Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) recognized that implementing formative assessment systematically and intentionally into classrooms would take a multifaceted, systematic approach. Consequently, a joint task force began working on this initiative in 2012. The task force developed a joint position paper on formative assessment, conducted a survey of AMTE’s and NCSM’s membership to gather information about the inclusion of formative assessment in their work with pre-service and in-service educators, hosted a panel session at AMTE regarding formative assessment, and supported the development of the Jump Start Formative Assessment professional learning modules. Based on preliminary data from the survey of the organizations’ membership, the task force received a National Science Foundation (NSF) to hold a small working meeting focused on how different math frameworks can support the effective use of formative assessment, which is more fully described below.

As mentioned above the Task Force held a working meeting in the fall of 2014 to explore how the different mathematics frameworks can support the effective use of formative assessment. Twenty mathematics educators and professional development specialists from around the United States gathered at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for two days to explore the relationship between formative assessment and several research-based frameworks, tools, and approaches (FTAs) that support efforts to improve mathematics instruction. Toward the goal of fostering greater coherence in our preparation and ongoing support of mathematics teachers, participants at the working meeting explored ways the FTAs could be connected with each other and also with the process of formative assessment. Five of the eight FTAs included on the earlier survey were considered at this meeting: Classroom Discourse Tools, Cognitively Guided Instruction, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, Mathematical Tasks Framework, and Response-to-Intervention.

The meeting provided insight into ways that formative assessment (FA) is embedded in these FTAs, and participants identified specific application to elementary and secondary pre-service and in-service teacher education. Though some participants had never explicitly considered naming formative assessment as an aspect of their FTAs in their work with teachers, they left the meeting with ideas about how this might be done and why it might be powerful to do so. End-of-meeting reflections revealed that the participating teacher educators and professional development specialists developed a perspective that integrating the explicit treatment of formative assessment into the use of an FTA with teachers has the potential to reduce redundancy and encourage a more focused and coherent use of formative assessment in mathematics classrooms. That is, many saw this as a way to counteract the tendency of schools to have teachers attend professional development oriented toward a particular FTA, and then also attend workshops on the generic use of formative assessment, without any overt attempt to link these two. Participants also indicated their desire to do more to exploit connections between and among several FTAs, and many suggested that this was an insight that they intended to carry into their practices.

More in-depth findings from this meeting will be shared after the Joint Task Force has an opportunity to analyze participant feedback and notes from the meeting. Also there will be presentations on formative assessment and work at the upcoming 2015 AMTE and NCSM annual meetings.

Please visit the Formative Assessment Resources and Position Statement page ( to view the Position Statement, members of the Task Force, and access the Jump Start Formative Assessment series. Jump Start is a series for mathematics teacher educators to use in professional learning (pre- and in-service) regarding formative assessment. We are also collecting resources related to formative assessment that will be posted on this page at a later date.

Formative Assessment Task Force Members

Wanda Audrict, Stone Mountain, GA

Megan Burton, Auburn, AL

Valerie Mills, Co-Chair, Ypsilanti, MI

Marge Petit, North Fayston, VT

Edward Silver, Co- Chair, Ann Arbor, MI

Marilyn Strutchens, Auburn, AL