How do we measure student success? With tests, of course!

There’s a lot more to it than you may think that goes into testing. It’s an art form itself, and teachers are the artists. 

The most common (or, at least, well known) form of testing is the “standardized test”. Within its reigns, we attempt to measure a student’s academic skills based on a set of standards created for a subject area. For a more detailed outline of the benefits of standardized testing, see our article on Why We Should Switch to Standards-Based Grading.

The intent of standardized testing is to determine national averages and gather a sample of high and low performers based on common core principles. From there, a district or school board is able to identify individual student capabilities and needs. We call this form of testing summative assessment or assessment of learning. You can learn more about these forms of testing in our article on Teaching to the Test vs. Testing What You Teach: Mastery-Based Evaluations.

But, outside of the final test or cumulative assignment, what alternative means do teachers have to assess their students’ capabilities within the classroom?


With today’s growing class sizes, varying learning levels and abilities of each child, it can be difficult for teachers to find ways to assess student progress (or lack thereof). It is because of the individuality of each child, and the differences in how we all learn, that standardized testing isn’t always the most appropriate or practical way to examine student achievement. Teachers also need ways to have frequent “check-ins” on their students’ learning to assess their current understanding of a lesson, a unit or concept.

The most common term for these check-ins is formative assessment or assessment for learning. When we incorporate this into classroom practice, “the formative assessment process provides information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are still happening” – West Virginia Department of Education (source).

One could argue that this type of assessment is the most vital because it allows teachers to identify both high and low performers on an ongoing basis. The point is to evaluate student abilities and understanding throughout the year in order to better prepare them for that dreaded end of the unit test or summative project.

Student to Teacher Feedback

Do teachers need to gather student feedback to improve? Well in short, yes, because it helps teachers do better and connect the content with the students effectively.

Times are not the same, and students have evolved as individuals. Students are exposed to the world at their fingertips, and they have a lot of questions. To make sure you keep relevant, asking for feedback from students is an important aspect of your job. Not only that, but more engaged students give feedback, meaning higher rates of student success.

Take a “Ticket-Out-the-Door” or “Exit-Slip”, for example. This is one form of formative assessment which is as simple as having students answer a question concerning that day’s lesson before lunch break or their next class. This is a useful tool because the teacher doesn’t have to grade an entire test and is a quick means to identify the students who “get it” and those who need that extra bit of assistance. And the results can be put into practice immediately.

Now that the teacher has now identified the students who need more help, the next day they may choose to:

  1. Divide students into groups
  2. Pair classmates up with one another
  3. Sit down with individual students
  4. Reintroduce a concept to the entire class in a new way to enhance understanding

By actively integrating formative assessment into our classrooms, educators can guarantee that there are fewer students slipping through the cracks just because they didn’t understand or weren’t there for a certain day’s lesson. It also means teachers are actively assessing and adapting their own teaching strategies based on the results of these check-ins.

What’s Next?

But, what’s the takeaway? Do we drop the final exam all-together? Well, no…But, by using summative and formative testing in tandem, educators can promote everyday engagement in the classroom and encourage students to remain involved in the learning process to ensure student success. 

An exit slip is one of the various ways to track and gather observations of what your students know. What formative assessment strategies do you use in your own classroom to “check-in” on students?

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