Informal assessments rarely receive the attention that high-stakes, formal assessments do in discussions about student learning. While formal, standardized exams give pertinent data on a child's overall academic performance and comprehension of grade-level appropriate content, as well as comparisons between a child and the average child of that grade level, the main purpose of informal assessments is to inform day-to-day instruction, so teachers can see progress and where students are struggling in the curriculum. Knowing this, teachers and school administrators alike should take a closer look at the importance of informal assessments and how they are used and regarded within the classroom.
Opportunity to Give Feedback
Using informal assessments, also referred to as formative assessments, gives teachers an opportunity to provide feedback to students on an individual basis. Although most lessons are taught in a group setting, informal assessments such as classwork, wrap-up exercises or homework assignments create a safe, non-threatening space for students to get individualized suggestions and written guidance from the instructor. Teachers can give simple feedback via one-on-one conferencing, or by providing step-by-step corrections on work that is graded and returned to students.
Concrete Daily Information
Formative assessments should not be designed to punish students for their lack of understanding subject matter. Instead, they are an opportunity to obtain information on student progress. The low-pressure nature of these assessments presents a more accurate account of what the students actually know versus the scores they may achieve when faced with the possible effect of the anxiety often associated with more high-stakes testing. For example, if a student performs poorly on an informal assessment, the teacher will have concrete, tangible data detailing where the student is falling short individually and where multiple students are having trouble with a concept while there is still time to adjust the instruction to help the student or students understand.
Informal assessments take the guess work out of instruction and allow the teacher to target exact deficiencies that exist rather than reteaching an entire lesson or unit. Furthermore, this method of assessment allows instructors to determine whether the breakdown in comprehension is isolated to a few students or is an issue for the class a whole. Teachers can use the information gathered through informal assessments to identify the exact gaps between what students actually understand and the identified learning goals, long before the end of a unit of study. They can then use this information to decide the best instructional course of action going forward.
Finding Everyday Meaning
Grades from assignments such as homework, classwork, projects and group work must be recorded in the grade book as a job requirement for most teachers. Since this requirement is already in place, effectively using this task to improve instructional practice can make everyday work life more meaningful for an instructor. Instead of simply creating assignments strictly for the purpose of placing a grade in the grade book, crafting well thought out informal assessments can polish the instructional skill of all teachers from the novice to veteran educator as they adapt their instruction to the needs of their specific students.
Based in Houston, C.P. Brown is a writer with experience in children's fiction, poetry, the arts and education. Her work has appeared in the "Houston Chronicle" and various poetry publications. Brown is the founder of a nonprofit organization that promotes fine arts and a former charter school administrator. She holds a Master of Education from Harvard University.