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SERVE Center - The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Formative & Diagnostic Assessment Approaches

clssroom Formative and Diagnostic Assessment Approaches in Math & Science and Implications for Classroom Teachers

SERVE Center held four Webinars in Spring 2010 designed to help educators understand emerging research in the area of formative and diagnostic assessment approaches in mathematics and science and implications for elementary through high school teachers and students. Educators learned about the research and development on several diagnostic tools designed to track and support student learning and provide timely feedback to teachers. 

question mark  Read responses to questions posed by attendees prior to and during the Webinar.

Part I: A Free Web-Based Diagnostic System for Math Teachers of Grades 4-10: ASSISTments - March 10, 2010

Learn about research involving a free web-based math tutoring system, ASSISTments, and how it is used to support the formative assessment process in real classrooms. In this Webinar you will hear from: Neil Heffernan, the computer science professor about his research using this tool; Courtney Mulcahy, an 8th grade math teacher who uses ASSISTments in her formative assessment process every day; Cristina Heffernan, who trains teachers to use the system and incorporate it into their classrooms; and Matt Militello, a professor of school leadership on how school leaders can use such a system.

Neil HeffernanAfter Neil Heffernan graduated from Amherst College, he taught middle school in inner-city Baltimore, Maryland. Two years later he wanted something easier to do, so he got a PhD in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University building intelligent tutoring systems. Neil currently works with teams of researchers, graduate students, and teachers to build the ASSISTment System, a web-based intelligent tutor that over 3,000 students use as part of their normal math class. Neil has over 50 peer-reviewed publications. He has received over $8 million in funding through over a dozen different grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department or Education, the US Army, the Spencer Foundation, the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center, and the Office of Naval Research.


Matt MilitelloMatthew Militello is an assistant professor in the Leadership, Policy, and Adult and Higher Education Department at North Carolina State University. He held a similar position at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he was also the educational administration program coordinator. At both universities, he was involved in restructuring principal certification courses that included creating new courses such as “Making sense of school data.” Prior to his academic career, Militello was a middle and high school public school teacher, assistant principal, and principal in Michigan. He received his undergraduate degree and teaching certification from the University of Michigan and his MEd (with principal certification) and PhD from Michigan State University. His research focuses on developing principals’ knowledge and skills in the areas of school law, school data, and collective leadership. 

Related resources:

presentation A Free Web-Based Diagnostic System for Math Teachers of Grades 4-10: ASSISTments presentation

PDF Which One is "Just Right"? What Every Educator Should Know About Formative Assessment Systems 

PDF A Comparison of Traditional Homework to Computer-Supported Homework 

PDF ASSISTments Fact Sheet

Website ASSISTments Website 

Website ASSISTments Teacher Wiki - Resources for NCDPI

Part II: Formative and Diagnostic Assessment Approaches in Math & Science - March 22, 2010

Dr. Caroline Wylie and colleagues in the Learning and Teaching Research Center at ETS investigated the impact of using diagnostic questions on student learning in mathematics and science. In this webinar she will explain how the use of diagnostic questions fits within the larger framework of formative assessment, will describe the research project and outcomes, and will illustrate how teachers used these questions in the classroom to identify and address students’ mathematical and scientific misconceptions. She will share a sample of questions and describe how teachers approached the writing of their own questions.

E. Caroline Wylie is a research scientist in the Learning and Teaching Research Center at Educational Testing Service. Her current research centers around issues of teaching quality and the use of formative assessment to improve classroom teaching and learning. She is involved in projects that are focused on the creation of effective, scalable and sustainable teacher professional development. Related research projects have focused on the formative use of diagnostic questions for classroom-based assessment, and the impact that the sustained use of such questions has on classroom instruction and student learning. She holds a postgraduate certificate in teaching mathematics and information technology and a doctorate in educational assessment, both from Queen’s University, Belfast.

Related resources:

Presentation Putting Research into Practice: Diagnostic Questions to Improve Classroom Instruction presentation

 Supporting Teachers' Use of Individual Diagnostic Items

PDF Using Diagnostic Classroom Assessment: One Question at a Time 

PDF DIMS Exemplar Set of Items - Fourth Grade Science

PDF DIMS Exemplar Set of Items - Fourth Grade Math

PDF DIMS Exemplar Set of Items - Eighth Grade Science

PDF DIMS Exemplar Set of Items - Eighth Grade Math

PDF Where Misconceptions Come From 

PDF Some Study Group recommendations from Caroline

video camera  View the Keeping Learning on Track video on the ETS Website.

Part III: Using Simulations to Support the Formative and Diagnostic Assessment of Complex Science Learning - April 13, 2010

Dr. Edys Quellmalz, will present research on technology-based student learning environments and assessments on using simulations to assess complex science learning. Participants will examine a range of diagnostic assessment approaches and tools, and learn how to embed diagnostic assessment in teaching.

E Quellmalz A national leader in the field of technology supported performance assessment; Edys Quellmalz serves as Director of WestEd's Technology Enhanced Assessments and Learning Systems. She directs research, development, and evaluation projects related to the designs of technology-based student learning environments and assessments. She is Principal Investigator of Calipers II: Using Simulations to Assess Complex Science Learning, a five-year assessment project funded by the Discovery Research K–12 program at the National Science Foundation (NSF). She also is leading the design of embedded assessments for the NSF-funded Rutgers Bioinformatics project. Both of these projects will produce technology-based assessments of challenging science knowledge and inquiry skills.

Related resources:

PDF Using Science Simulations to Support Powerful Formative Assessments of Complex Science Learning 

PDF Presentation handout

Formative Assessment in Science Webinar - May 17, 2010

Join Dr. Erin Furtak in a teacher-friendly discussion of formative assessment in middle school science classrooms.  Dr. Furtak will give an overview of the research on formative assessment and the implications for classroom teachers and students.  She will share practical examples of formative assessment questions aligned to the Next Generation Science Sunshine State Standards, Grades 6 to 8, based on ideas presented in her book, Formative Assessment for Secondary Science Teachers, published in 2009 by Corwin Press.

Dr. Erin FurtakDr. Erin Marie Furtak
, a former high school biology and earth science teacher and district administrator, is an Assistant Professor of Education specializing in Science Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her struggles to successfully implement inquiry-based teaching methods inspired her to pursue a career in educational research to make reforms more attainable for science teachers. Her areas of research focus on formative assessment and inquiry-based teaching, which she has pursued since her doctoral work at Stanford University.

presentation Formative Assessment for Science Teachers presentation.

pdf Ball & Ramp video transcript.

Additional Resources

Key Terms:

  • Formative assessment is a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students' achievement of intended instructional outcomes (Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) definition of formative assessment).
  • A diagnostic assessment is an assessment designed to uncover any misconceptions or gaps in knowledge or skills of individual students so that teachers can base their instruction on the current state of students’ knowledge, skills, or understanding.
PDF Attributes of Formative Assessment

Website To learn more about formative assessment in North Carolina schools, visit the NC DPI Accountability Services Website.

Website Visit North Carolina's Formative Assessment Learning Community's Online Network (NC FALCON) to access additional resources and online professional development opportunities