Formative Assessment and Differentiated Instruction in TK

Formative Assessment is like GPS

Formative assessment can be thought of like a GPS for the year-long instructional journey with your TK children. Teachers complete initial assessments to determine the developmental levels and knowledge of their children. Teachers also know their destination/goal: to lay a strong foundation to prepare children to successfully meet or exceed the kindergarten standards at the end of their traditional kindergarten year.

When we prepare for a long road trip, we know our current location, we assess the condition of our vehicle, we select a destination and we plot our general route. As we travel, we use the GPS to ensure that we are still on our course, have not made a wrong turn or missed an off-ramp. If we do get off course, our GPS will “recalculate” and get us back on track.

Similar to a GPS, effective formative assessment alerts us to gaps in children’s academic and social-emotional conceptual understanding, knowledge, and skills in a timely manner allowing us to avoid costly delays in acquiring critical knowledge and “recalculate” our instruction to get back on-track.

Formative assessment complements and enhances the summative assessment information used to evaluate program effectiveness, and is a powerful instrument for teachers to plan differentiated instruction for children in their transitional kindergarten classrooms. It reveals gaps in student knowledge and conceptual misunderstandings in a timely manner so that teachers can proactively scaffold their young students’ learning and build a strong foundation that will ultimately prepare them for meeting the kindergarten standards.

Formative assessment provides the information teachers need to monitor their students’ academic and social-emotional development on an ongoing basis, and is well aligned with developmentally appropriate transitional kindergarten instruction. TK provides a unique opportunity to embed assessment in daily instruction in a playful, low-stress setting, which will in turn help teachers sequence future instruction to provide the next instructional step for each child. Evidence from formative assessments will help teachers orchestrate daily instruction in such a way that they can immediately gauge student progress and adjust daily instruction to meet the ongoing needs of their students.

As teacher proficiency in using evidence from formative assessment to plan differentiated instruction grows, students become more confident learners, creating a positive feedback loop.1 When teachers begin to see their children as successful learners, their efficacy strengthens. This reciprocal relationship benefits everyone.

Supporting Teachers’ Use of Formative Assessment
and Differentiated Instruction

  • Clarify definitions and expectations. Establishing a common vocabulary for discussing formative assessment is critical. Many authors, researchers, publishers, etc. have varied definitions for formative assessment and use a variety of terms to describe the process of monitoring the impact of instruction on a daily basis. When providing leadership at a site or within a district, consider seeking agreement on your definitions and expectations related to formative assessment. This will enable your team to more effectively conduct meaningful, productive discussions, evaluate resources, adapt promising practices, and clarify expectations.
  • Provide professional development. As you consider professional development that supports TK teachers as they adopt or refine their formative assessment and differentiated instruction strategies, you might focus on translating evidence into action.
      • Topics for TK professional development might include:
  • Provide opportunities for articulation: Both horizontal (between and among TK staff at site or within the region/district) and vertical articulation (between TK teachers and teachers at other grade levels at the site) provide powerful professional development opportunities for supporting teachers as they adopt new strategies or refine their current instructional practice. Teachers can more readily embrace the process of adopting new practices with articulation meetings that encourage them to share effective strategies and provide opportunities to examine student work or evidence of student progress and to discuss challenges.
“In this time of high standards for all children, the concept of teacher efficacy – from the standpoint of individual teachers and of the faculty as a whole – is critically important. Teachers who believe they can teach all children in ways that enable them to meet these high standards are more likely to exhibit teaching behaviors that support this goal. Thus, principals must intentionally help teachers develop a sense of efficacy.”

Source: Teacher Efficacy: What Is It and Does It Matter?
(Protheroe in Principal 2008)

Teachers with a strong sense of efficacy:
  • tend to exhibit greater levels of planning and organization;
  • are more open to new ideas and are more willing to experiment with new methods to better meet the needs of their students;
  • are more persistent and resilient when things do not go smoothly; and,
  • are less critical of students when they make errors.
“Teachers must examine the evidence from the perspective of what it shows about student conceptions, misconceptions, skills and knowledge… they need to infer the gap between the students’ current learning and desired instructional goals, identifying students’ emerging understanding or skills so that they can build on these by modifying instruction to facilitate growth.”

Source: From Evidence to Action: A Seamless Process
in Formative Assessment, National Center for Research
on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST)

The Teacher’s Toolbox for Differentiated Instruction

Below is a list of just some of the tools teachers have that enable them to guide students in acquiring the skills and strategies that will provide a strong foundation for future learning and success. Because each child’s path to successful learning is unique, the teacher’s toolbox might include:

  • Resources that assist in setting goals for students, sequencing developmentally appropriate instruction, and providing an enriching and engaging environment to support successful learning (Preschool Learning Foundations and Kindergarten Standards)
  • A full range of assessment information related to both program quality and individual student progress
  • Formative assessment tools that provide evidence of student progress and inform instruction on a daily basis
  • Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching strategies, including differentiated instruction necessary to close gaps, correct misconceptions, modify pace, extend learning, etc.
  • Scaffolding strategies to support new learning as it emerges

1 Stiggins, Richard J.  Assessment, student confidence, and school success. Phi Delta Kappan, 89, No.2. August 2002.