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In this lesson, teachers will learn about using formative assessments in the special education classroom. This lesson also will cover special considerations for students with learning disabilities and provide examples of formative assessments.

Formative Assessments

When most people think of assessments, they imagine a big test at the end of a unit, a major project, or a research paper. However, there is another type of assessment that occurs regularly throughout the school year, and most of the time, students don’t even know about it. A formative assessment is a checkpoint that occurs during the learning process to gauge students’ understanding. Formative assessments often are not graded.

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Rather, their purpose is to check for understanding and help inform instruction.For example, when you have finished lecturing about a topic, you might give your students a checklist to assess how well they understood it. This quick, informal procedure will give you authentic feedback about your students’ knowledge and understanding. You might decide to revise your lesson plans for the next day to build in more practice and extra support for students who are struggling.

Special Considerations

Special education students are required by law to have an individualized education plan, commonly known as an IEP. This plan is created and then updated annually to determine students’ instructional and testing accommodations.

The IEP team consists of parents, regular and special education teachers, school counselors and administrators, and sometimes the student.The IEP outlines the accommodations that teachers are expected to offer the student on a regular basis, including during assessments. When you administer formative assessments, you should be diligent about providing special education students with their accommodations so they have an equal opportunity to demonstrate their learning.Some common accommodations you may need to provide students based on their IEP include:

  • Extended time to complete work or tests
  • Use of an electronic spellchecker
  • A quiet area to work that is free from distractions
  • Use of a calculator
  • Having the test read aloud
  • Responses dictated to a scribe

Examples `

Here are some specific examples of formative assessments that can be used regularly in your classroom.

Just be sure to provide special education students with their accommodations to get the most accurate feedback about their progress.A quick way to assess understanding during a lesson is to say ”fingers up!” The number of fingers students hold up corresponds to how well they understand the lesson. For example:

  • 1 finger up: I need a lot of help understanding
  • 2 fingers up: I need some help understanding
  • 3 fingers up: I mostly understand, but could use a little help
  • 4 fingers up: I understand the lesson
  • 5 fingers up: I understand the lesson very well and could teach it to another student

An exit ticket is distributed to students at the end of a lesson or class period.

The teacher poses a question about the lesson and asks students to respond on a piece of paper, sticky note, or note card. Sometimes the teacher provides the paper. Submission of students’ tickets means they are cleared to leave the room when the bell rings.

Here are some examples of questions that you might ask students to answer on their exit ticket:

  • What is one thing you learned today?
  • What is one question you have about this topic?
  • What is something you’d like to learn more about?
  • What is one task your group accomplished today?
  • What are three adjectives that describe your best friend?
  • What are the first two steps of the scientific method?

You can have students illustrate what they learned about a topic instead of writing it. This strategy is ideal for English learners who do not have the necessary language skills to write proficiently.Drawing is also a good way to decompress after a lesson while still checking for understanding. Students may be more engaged with a visual activity at the end of a rigorous lesson than they would be with a writing exercise.

A simple strategy that can provide you with feedback about students’ learning is the 3-2-1 strategy. Give students a note card or a piece of notebook paper. Ask them to write three things they learned from the lesson, two things they found interesting, and one question they still have.One of the most useful and informal methods of collecting data about student progress is to observe students as they work independently, with partners, or in a small group setting. You can keep a roster of students’ names on a clipboard and make brief notes as you circulate around the classroom.For example, if students are engaging in literature circles in small groups, you might wonder how much each student is contributing to the group discussion. You can walk around and listen in on students’ conversations, making brief notes on your roster.

You might simply put a checkmark next to a student’s name if he or she adequately contributed to the discussion, or a minus sign if not. You might want to focus on only one or two groups per class period to ensure that you have enough time to gather meaningful data on each student.At the end of this process, you can take a quick look at your roster and tally up the checkmarks and minus signs. This can help you make decisions about how to proceed with the literature circles.

Lesson Summary

Formative assessments help teachers check student understanding during the learning process. Special education students should receive the accommodations outlined in their individualized education plan (IEP) during all assessments. Examples of formative assessments that can be used with special education students include fingers up, exit tickets, draw it, 3-2-1, and teacher checklists.

These strategies can help ensure that you plan your instruction around students’ learning needs.

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