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Why Math Teachers Should Prioritize Formative Assessment

What is formative assessment?

Why Formative Assessment Is So Important in Math

“When many people think about mathematics, they often think of tests, quizzes, and drills. Memorizing math facts, trying to get the right answer, or doing the “right steps” to an algorithm can sometimes overshadow the true fun of mathematics. As educators, we’re in an exciting position: we can actually bring out the excitement and joy in mathematics by approaching math assessment in a creative way that’s both enjoyable for students, and useful for educators.”

  • Learning loss has made it more important than ever to know exactly what students need. If your classroom is like many others in a post-pandemic environment, you may find yourself attempting to differentiate for a widening range of proficiencies, even multiple grade levels apart. To meet students where they are when they’re all over the map, you need more real-time, actionable information about their needs than ever before.
  • Just as you need real-time data, students need real-time responses. Many students may lack the resources to respond to feedback meaningfully at home, and interacting with teachers in groups or in 1:1 settings is truly invaluable. Formative assessment can create an outlet for dialogue between students and teachers, allowing students to ask follow-up questions and correct misconceptions quickly.
  • Formative assessments support summative assessments. Summative assessments in math can be anxiety-inducing for students. Now that many states have returned to high-stakes testing after a pandemic hiatus, that testing anxiety may be more intense than ever for some learners. Formative assessments can help prepare your class for end-of-year assessments by building on students’ background knowledge, giving you the information you need to adjust instruction to address critical gaps in real time, and simply by building students’ confidence in their abilities. (Try educator Christine’s game for a high-energy test prep formative assessment activity!)

Characteristics of Effective Formative Assessment in Math

  • Formative assessment should include a follow-up or action plan. Implementing the assessment activity itself is only the first piece of the formative assessment process. Assessment tools can be used for any purpose — when they are used for formative assessment, they are used to inform instruction. The most important work begins when you review the data and act on it, either through adjusting your whole-class instruction, providing differentiated in-class activities, assigning personalized homework, or conferencing with students one-on-one.
  • Formative assessment should be ongoing and adaptable. Formative assessment exists to help you better understand where your students are in their learning journeys — but these journeys are long and winding roads! Continuously engage in the formative assessment process to track the curves in the road, overcome the setbacks, and always adjust your formative assessment strategy to gather the intel you need.
  • Allow students to demonstrate learning in more than one outlet, context, and measure. Consider how the activities students do that feed into your formative assessment process allow students to demonstrate their understanding. Do they capture how all of your students best express their learning? Do they account for gaps in resources at home or disabilities and accessibility factors? Your data will be far more accurate if they allow students to demonstrate their understanding in a context that works for them.
  • Formative assessment must be implemented with purpose. Exit tickets and opening discussion questions all provide great structure to your lesson routines — but they must serve a specific purpose within your formative assessment process. Always consider what you need to know about student learning and how you plan to iterate instruction based on what you learn.

Formative Assessment in Reveal Math

  • The Ignite! activity opens each unit with new information to kickstart students’ exploration. The teacher can use this activity to assess student knowledge prior to instruction and tie their findings to the Practice and Reflect part of the lesson model, in which students practice the application of the skill taught that day.
  • Exit Tickets allow teachers to react to student learning in real-time by providing recommended differentiation strategies. Reveal Math even uses digital autoscoring for Exit Tickets to ease teachers’ workflow.
  • Math Probes target common misconceptions and allow teachers to see what students need in real-time.
  • The Bring it Together activity, featured in the Teacher’s Edition of Reveal Math, provides teachers with questions to check for student understanding, along with common misconceptions and how a teacher could address them.



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McGraw Hill

McGraw Hill


Helping educators and students find their path to what’s possible. No matter where the starting point may be.