One Good Road Guide to the Mystery of Formative Assessment

My bright and brilliant granddaughter is taking driving lessons these days! Everyone knows the purpose of it; thank God. Her instructor knows how to teach it; more or less! And everyone knows what it means when she passes her final grade. Done. Every time she gets behind the wheel she will assess herself and be assessed by her performance! Fantastic. There are many lessons to be learned in education from teaching driving and our easy and no-nonsense assessment. The purpose of education must be about the outcome and an effective assessment has a lot to do with what we hope to achieve through the process of teaching. I feel for the poor teachers being put on the spot while chasing after an illusive outcome, they cannot put their hands on, like the wheel of a car. I see an assortment of confusing words for assessment such as affirmative, summative, or what I prefer, transformative!

  • One good thing about driving and the way we teach it is the shared experience of our learning and the fact that we all can talk about it.
  • The second good thing about teaching driving is that everyone agrees that we must focus on a method of teaching that produces a good driver, one who drives safely.
  • The third good thing about the way we teach driving is that the whole process is about the three main steps of accomplishment; Knowledge, Volition, and Action.
  • The fourth thing good about driving lessons is you have to prove your knowledge of driving by your act of safe and skillful driving.
  • The fifth good thing about driving lessons is that it has a concrete and meaningful outcome measurable by the students, the teacher, and the public. It is about performance.
  • The six good things about driving lessons is the ongoing assessment of the driver in the form of life. You will have an accident or get a ticket if you do not perform well.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we took the wisdom of producing good drivers and translate it into delivering good human beings who can make a difference in the theater of life? The bad thing about our process of education is that it is divorced from real-life meaning and goals except when it comes to the hope of making money and gaining power over others.

As to the Formative Assessment being confusing to most teachers, I would say it has to do with the fact that our education is disconnected from a tangible, immediate, and meaningful life purpose such as serving our families, our communities, mankind, aiming to produce not just smart but good people who get excited about a worthy cause, their post of honor. Every time we drive we achieve a goal, and we get somewhere. We have no clue what the purpose of studying math, chemistry, and day in and day out of years going to school. When the goal is vague, the assessment becomes illusive.


I like the following explanation and example of the process putting it in the context of driving lessons and how we assess the success or failure of a driving student by  Catherine Garrison, Michael Ehringhaus, Ph.D.

One distinction is to think of formative assessment as "practice." We do not hold students accountable in "grade book fashion" for skills and concepts they have just been introduced to or are learning. We must allow for practice. Formative assessment helps teachers determine next steps during the learning process as the instruction approaches the summative assessment of student learning. A good analogy for this is the road test that is required to receive a driver's license. What if, before getting your driver's license, you received a grade every time you sat behind the wheel to practice driving? What if your final grade for the driving test was the average of all of the grades you received while practicing? Because of the initial low grades you received during the process of learning to drive, your final grade would not accurately reflect your ability to drive a car. In the beginning of learning to drive, how confident or motivated to learn would you feel? Would any of the grades you received provide you with guidance on what you needed to do next to improve your driving skills? Your final driving test, or summative assessment, would be the accountability measure that establishes whether or not you have the driving skills necessary for a driver's license—not a reflection of all the driving practice that leads to it. The same holds true for classroom instruction, learning, and assessment.

I was pleased to see their example of the driving lessons and how we assess, adjust the way we teach, and pass or fail the student. Assessment of the students is not just about the assessment, it is about our vision and understanding of what education must do for humanity and touch our humanity.

A licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for over 20 years, specializes in using the Bahá’í Teachings to identify theories, techniques, and approaches that produce the best results for her clients. She is the founder and executive director of the Center for Global Integrated Education, a non-profit Bahá’í-inspired educational organization.


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