Low-Stakes Formative Assessments

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Weekly Tip: Low-Stakes Formative Assessments

Don’t miss this week’s accompanying Inclusive Access Approach, at bottom

Today we will revisit a previous post about low-stakes formative assessments.  Low-stakes formative assessments evaluate students with little to no effect on final grades.  They ensure that midterms are not the first communication of performance level for students providing students with rich and frequent feedback. Some examples can include: 

  • Peer assessment using rubrics
  • Self-assessment using rubrics
  • Quick-response activities (iClicker, Kahoot, Socrative, Top Hat, etc.)
  • Group discussions
  • Weekly quizzes
  • In-class problem solving
  • 1-minute reflections
  • Homework assignments
  • Surveys
  • Student-generated test questions
  • Journaling
  • Online discussion forums
  • Breaking down larger assignments for review

The Value in Using Low-Stakes Formative Feedback

Using low-stakes formative assessments ensure that mid-terms and exams are not the first measurements and communications of performance level. By providing detailed, meaningful, and timely feedback through formative assessments, students are:

  • actively involved in the learning process.
  • more accurately aware of their performance at many points in the semester.
  • given opportunities for improvement and reflection.
  • more likely to attend class and be actively engaged.
  • able to seek specific resources for additional support.
  • more inclined to ask for help.
  • more prepared for exams or high-stakes assessments.

Students learn better through retrieval-enhanced learning which can be practiced with smaller quizzes, daily questions, opportunities for reflection, and personalized oral quizzes.

—Geoff Richman, Edutopia

By providing detailed, meaningful, and timely feedback through formative assessments, instructors can:

  • analyze data to guide exam creation and course revisions.
  • use data to prepare class lessons.
  • develop effective groups.
  • address gaps in student learning.
  • create supplemental activities.

Learn more about Creating Impactful Student Experiences.


Inclusive Access Approach

This section emphasizes how this week’s tip can help nurture an equitable student experience by providing an inclusively accessible course to a diverse student population. This population includes students who have varying characteristics and qualities. These may include, but are not limited to, physical and mental abilities, gender, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic background, life experiences, geographic location, religious beliefs and values.

Using low-stakes formative assessments and feedback throughout a course allows a diverse student population to actively engage with the course content, connect with their own learning development, and be a part of an inclusive learning community with their peers and instructors.  

  • All learners do not perceive and comprehend information the same way, so offering only one type of low-stakes formative assessment (e.g., homework assignments) during a course may not be optimal for all learners and their abilities. Providing a variety of low-stakes formative assessments (e.g., peer review, self-assessments, quick response activities, etc.) allow alternative opportunities for a diverse student population to engage with course content, see the connections between and within learning concepts, and more accurately demonstrate their level of understanding of the course content.
  • Low-stakes formative assessments and feedback provide a means for all learners to be more aware of their learning progress and to invest in the overall learning process. Learners can more effectively monitor their levels of understanding of course content, recognize and articulate their strengths and weaknesses, and use the assessment and feedback information to guide their learning efforts towards improvement.
  • Low-stakes formative assessments and feedback encourage an inclusive community of diverse learning, and they reduce students feeling alone in the learning process. When feedback is provided regularly, it allows a diverse student population to have frequent contact with the instructor and with each other. Since the instructor and students are continually monitoring student performance and levels of understanding, there are more opportunities to find and address learning gaps. Feedback can be catered, and instruction and learning can be modified at any time to best meet students’ individual learning needs.

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