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Assessments are incredibly important for instruction.

In fact, they should 

be the driving force behind instruction. In order to plan a lesson, a teacher must 
always begin with the end in mind. Think, ​What do I want my students to know and 
how will they show they know the content? ​When considering assessments, it is 
important to understanding the following: informal vs. formal assessments and 
their relationship to formative and summative assessments. 

In order to understand formative and summative assessments, it’s 

important to first understand the difference between informal and formal 
assessments. Informal assessments are ongoing chances to determine whether 
or not a student understands the learning objective(s). There are many different 
types of informal assessments such as teacher observations, brainstorming, 
discussions (teacher-to-student or student-to-student), quick writes, checklists, 
and running records. For example, a teacher can use observations to 
systematically watch a student’s behavior (individually or in a group) to document 
their performance. This procedure allows the teacher to take notes to help make 
future decisions about instruction. For checklists, it lists out behaviors that 
identify a student’s knowledge and skills. A teacher can use this by observing a 
student and checking off what the student knows and the skill performed. These 
informal assessments are not meant to be graded; however, they are meant to 
gather data about student’s academic and language performance. These types 
of assessments need to be ongoing; meaning they are used throughout lessons 
in the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. They need to match the 
purpose of the assessment and be used to inform instruction. Teachers should 
use informal assessments to learn which objectives were attained and use 
strategies to re-teach any objectives that were not reached. 

Formal assessments, on the other hand, are tests that show whether or not 
a student has mastered a learning outcome. Types of formal assessments 
include standardized tests (such as the CAASPP, a criterion-referenced test which 
measures student performance to desired academic content skills or objectives), 
norm-referenced tests (such as MAPs testing, which compares students’ scores to 
a norm-referenced score), program tests, or essay tests. They can be used to 
start off the year (in order to see incoming students' performance) or at the end 
of the year as a summative assessment (to measure student progress over time). 
They can also be used at the end of a unit (such as a test, quiz, project, or 
essay).They are pre-planned and data-driven. Also, they are typically used to 
determine a grade in a course. While informal assessments are used by the 
teachers in the classroom, formal assessments can be used by teachers, schools, 
and districts to observe academic trends over time. They are used to determine 
groups of students who exceed standards, meet standards, or have not yet 
reached standards. Some challenges students might face from this type of 
assessment is the language. It is important to prepare students for the type of 
language and vocabulary they will see on a formal assessment by teaching, 
assessing, and reviewing testing terminology. 

It is important to understand the difference between informal and formal 

assessments because a formative and summative assessments can be executed 
formally or informally. The purpose of a formative assessment is to monitor 
student’s learning and provide ongoing feedback. This monitoring and feedback 
process allows instructors the ability to adapt and improve their teaching so 
students can improve their knowledge of content and language objectives. 
Examples of formative assessments that can be used in the classroom for English 
Learners include graphic organizers (such as bubble maps that describe a topic), 
writing a couple sentences that paraphrase the main point of a lesson, or turning 
in potential writing topics for early feedback. This is the most powerful 
assessment within the classroom because it allows the teacher to understand 
when and how to make lesson adjustments by teaching, assessing, reviewing, 
adjusting, and reteaching. 

Unlike the low-stakes formative assessments, summative assessments are 

high-stakes. Summative assessments are used to evaluate learning at the end of 
a unit to see whether or not the students understood a standard or skill. 
Summative assessments include midterm exams, final papers, final projects, or 
presentations. It doesn’t assess the process of learning, it only assesses the 
product according to set standards. 

The most important thing to know about assessments, especially with 

English Learners, is that students must showcase content knowledge and get 
experience with the assessment ahead of time. Whether the assessment is given 
through a rubric, peer, teacher observation, portfolio or cloze activity, it is 
essential to begin with the end in mind and understand the end learning goals. 
Once a teacher understands the desired goals from the formative and 
summative assessments, they must design lessons that use scaffolding 
techniques, comprehension strategies, and vocabulary study to promote 
meaningful learning, growth, and success for each student.