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Each new employee at Studer Education and Studer Group is asked to watch a video about the history of our company by the company’s founder. At one point in the video the founder talks about working with a survey group to understand what a specific survey is trying to measure; in the discussion the founder says that one thing he learned was the importance of moving satisfaction or service excellence responses from 4’s to 5’s (e.g., “good” or “very good” to “great” or “excellent”). This idea of “movement” within goals holds for students in our classrooms, that is, we want to move low performing students to middle- and high-performing and move (more) middle-performers to high performers. How do we get there? As teachers how do we become better and better teachers every day so that we can move student performance (increase student achievement)?

In last week’s blog we discussed the importance of aligning instruction to Common Core State Standards which included writing measureable learning targets and aligning them with learning tasks and feedback strategies. This blog’s focus is on one of these: formative assessment and consistent feedback using the work of Sadler (1989; 1998) and Black and Wiliam (1998).

Sadler (1989; 1998) suggests that students must be able to understand quality work and make good decisions about their work. Therefore, they must be able to compare their work to some sort of standard. Doing so, they can identify their learning gaps and know where they need to improve. Consequently, Sadler proposes that students become more motivated about learning and confident in their abilities.

Findings from Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment (Black and Wiliam, 1998) suggest that teachers who use formative assessments and provide consistent feedback to students increase student achievement. This meta-analysis of 250 articles found that students of teachers who used formative assessment practices significantly improved their performance on standardized tests. The highest gains occurred for lower performing students.

The practice for teachers, therefore, is to use the concept of a feedback loop which involves teachers and their students simultaneously collecting and analyzing student learning information to determine where students are and where they need to go (Sadler). Students’ progression from one learning target to another works best when students receive descriptive feedback to help them improve. Students rely on feedback and without it, their chance for remaining engaged learners spirals downward.

We will write more about the feedback loop in Friday’s blog when we focus on its application by one of our school partners. In the meantime, how well do you think you as a teacher generally perform the following actions (adapted from the Who’s Engaged? book):

I judge my ability to teach by how well my students learn rather than how well I teach content.
I do not blame students or their parents for my students failing to learn.
My students clearly see how one day of learning builds on the next day of learning.
I create opportunities where my students receive continuous and specific feedback that helps them improve.
I consistently recognize my students’ strengths.

When we ask teachers to self-assess on the full range of these items (see Who’s Engaged, p. 11) they tend to assign themselves and other teachers grades that produce a “C” average. Ironically, research over the years tells us that when teachers apply these actions in their classrooms, students achieve higher scores on standardized tests.


Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education. 5(1), 7-71.

Sadler, D. R. (1998) Formative assessment: revisiting the territory. Assessment in Education. 5(1), 77-84.

Sadler, D. R. (1989) Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science. 18, 119-144.

Studer Education works with institutions of higher education and school districts throughout the United States to assist leaders and employees with creating great places for people to work by achieving goals that help educational institutions achieve excellence.