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As teachers we want to move low performing students to solid- and high-performing and move (more) solid-performers to high performers. This means as teachers we want to become better and better every day so that we can move student performance, that is, increase student performance.

Becoming better and better teachers means we align instruction to Common Core State Standards which includes writing measureable learning targets and aligning them with learning tasks and feedback strategies. This blog’s focus is on one of these: providing 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.

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.

Pilcher, Janet K. (2012). Who’s Engaged? Climb the Learning Ladder to See. More information online here.

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