Why Formative Assessment is Important


The LinkIt! Team

Read time:

7 minutes

Classrooms filled with students at varying levels of readiness can be a challenge for educators when it comes to fully supporting each individual child in their respective academic journey. Over the past twenty years, there has been an increasing level of awareness that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to instruction may not be effective for many students, and perhaps especially those who are performing either well above or well below the academic level of the majority of their peers. 

Fortunately, a variety of tools and practices are available to address the challenges of providing truly differentiated instruction in the classroom. When we consider such approaches, formative assessment stands out as a critical practice. Simply put, formative assessment is a way for teachers to monitor and evaluate the efficacy of their instructional strategies in an ongoing and repeatable manner. When practiced with fidelity, this approach enables teachers to better understand which teaching methods, lessons, and activities are most effective, and for which specific students. Read further so we can explore this together.

What is the Goal of Formative Assessment?

One of the main purposes of formative assessment is to provide feedback to students on where they are on the spectrum of conceptual understanding. It acts as a literal checkpoint and aids them in the advancement of their education. The data provided through the assessment process is often informal, but may be used to set goals, provide student feedback, communicate to parents and guide professional development.

At LinkIt!, our flagship online platform offers an extensive content library that is used in the context of formative assessment as well as technology features to enable data from formative assessments to be captured and analyzed. Hundreds of schools use LinkIt! to support formative assessment initiatives. Clark Mills School in New Jersey is just one of these. Principal Jayme Orlando explains that LinkIt! has been the ultimate game changer around the overall success of student learning at Clark Mills. According to Principal Orlando, the LinkIt! platform does more than just inform instruction - it has created a common language around formative assessment data.

The Many Types of Formative Assessment

Powerful assessment software like LinkIt! has helped many educators manage the formative assessment process in an effective and efficient manner, from running reports on student performance to mapping progress and discovering potential obstacles to learning.

As the educational world increasingly migrates towards digital platforms, we are seeing a wave of products adopted that address the need for regularly occurring assessments, many of which are administered district-wide. These include technology-driven adaptive assessments such as NWEA’s MAP® , i-Ready®  and STAR Reading®  and Math®  from Renaissance Learning. While some educators would debate the degree to which these periodic “benchmark” assessments (typically administered in the fall, winter and spring) meet the formal definition of “formative assessment” given that they are more easily distinguished from day to day instructional practice, we believe that such assessments form a valuable part of the ecosystem of “assessment for learning.” While LinkIt! also offers a robust library of K–12 benchmark assessments that enable educators to collect granular data on student performance and monitor progress throughout the year, our school and district partners often ask us to upload and analyze data from a wide variety of other sources as well, including those mentioned above.

But it’s important to note that ongoing assessment of student learning comes in many forms besides commercially available benchmark assessments. Here are just a few of the other most commonly used examples of formative assessment:


One way to monitor students while they are working on various projects is for the teacher to roam around the room and observe them. This type of formative assessment is truly embedded in the instructional process and is a valuable tool for teachers looking to monitor the way students work together. Notes are taken on how students perform in groups and individually, and may indicate whether any modifications to instructions are necessary. Often, such observations are conducted on-the-fly and records may not be kept at all. While this approach may be practical for some educators, for others, documenting observational notes, perhaps with the aid of rubric, is extremely valuable. In recognition of this, LinkIt! has developed a specific tool to support teacher observation and performance task assessment called Data Locker. In short, this solution gives teachers the option to seamlessly enter data, notes, and even student artifacts from such observations into a friendly online user interface and retain this data to provide a more holistic view of their students’ performance and their own instructional efficacy.


Quizzes are an effective type of formative assessment. They are often unscheduled and come up at random times as a means to surprise the students so they don't have time to prepare and explicitly study for the test in advance. Though often dreaded by students, they can provide an accurate picture of each student’s understanding of the material in near real-time. Though students may perceive the practice as unfair, it is important to note that this method of assessment is not generally considered high-stakes. While quizzes may or may not be graded, their greatest value lies in helping to demonstrate the degree to which students are absorbing the instructional material being delivered without the need for intensive supplemental studying (i.e. test prep).


Small group discussions are a great form of self-assessment and can act as a team effort to lift everyone up to the highest levels of conceptual understanding. Hearing others’ ideas can naturally complement their own and bring a deeper comprehension of the topic being discussed. Such discussions may be observed informally, or, like observations, may be documented for later review and analysis using tools such as LinkIt!’s Data Locker.

Student Journals

Monitoring a student through their class journals assists teachers in formulating future instruction for each student’s individual needs. Over time, a journal becomes a report of progress and gives a very clear view of what the student’s needs are, both immediately and in the future. In effect, journal entries are self-documenting, but again, many teachers may find it a helpful discipline to establish a periodic review process in which key insights are documented in an online platform or database that offers the advantage of having multiple data sources consolidated in a single location. LinkIt! Data Locker can support this use case, but similar features may be available in Google Classroom or LMS platforms such as Canvas or Schoology.

The LinkIt! Advantage

When it comes to formative assessment solutions, nothing hits the mark more effectively than online software that enables educators to manage all aspects of the assessment process, from creating assessments to assessment administration and data capture and analytics. Over the past decade, technology-driven solutions in this area have proliferated, so how do you distinguish one product from all the others?  We believe that the power of a solution may best be measured via services and offerings that are unique to that solution as well as mission-critical to the end-user. Both of these criteria are necessary as all-too-often, schools and districts may make decisions based upon features that are unique, but ultimately, not very important. The bias of authorship aside, at LinkIt! we focus on creating powerful solutions and service offerings to solve complex problems that our competitors are unwilling to tackle because they believe it is the responsibility of the district, school or teacher to take on these challenges. At LinkIt!, we believe this is a shared responsibility and that is the “LinkIt! Advantage.”

More words from Principal Orlando: “I have to say, data is no longer a four-letter word in our district. It is embraced and it really tells the story of who we are as a school district.” She went on to acknowledge the very reason LinkIt! exists, explaining, “I think it goes back to teachers really coming to understand data and how they can use it to make a difference in a child’s life. LinkIt! has been an integral part of this. We really couldn’t have done it without them.”


In order to accurately measure a student’s academic progress, it is important to monitor their learning  over time, through a process of ongoing assessment. Developing and refining practices of formative assessment is crucial in achieving this aim. It greatly improves the teacher’s ability to monitor student progress and improve their own instructional efficacy. Moreover,  the students themselves can use the process to self-evaluate, set reasonable goals, and continue to improve their own learning.

We hope that this article has helped you understand more about the many benefits of using formative assessments when teaching your students. Our team here at LinkIt! would love to help you add formative assessment solutions into your classroom with our online platform or through consulting sessions tailored specifically for you and your school’s needs. Let’s chat!


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