Can Colleges Use Formative Assessment in Admissions?

Formative assessment is a pedagogical tool that is gaining popularity in schools to help students learn more effectively. But can higher education use some of the information from formative assessment to inform admissions or placement decisions? The short answer is maybeWith all the changes in admissions processes, especially the many schools that are going test-optional, colleges could use new tools to help them admit and enroll students to ensure they can succeed in classes. Let’s look at how schools use formative assessment and gather ideas about how this tool may be able to factor into the work of recruiting departments.

What is Formative Assessment?

Instructors usually utilize formative assessment during the process of education. It can be any activity where a teacher gauges learning formally or informally as a tool to direct educational actions in the future. This can be quizzes, drawing a concept map of a topic, writing a couple of sentences to describe a topic covered, or even an in-class discussion. As a low-stakes evaluative tool, it is responsive to student needs and allows educators to modify the teaching plans to encourage student achievement more effectively.

Summative assessment, on the other hand, is the formal evaluation of a student’s knowledge and skills. This can take the form of a mid-term or final exam, standardized testing, a final project, a term paper, and so on. These measurements are used in grading, deciding on the entrance to advanced classes, or as one factor in admissions decisions on college applications.

Forming a Plan for Learning

Many schools already do this if you consider formative assessment a tool to help monitor student progress and place students in appropriate classes. Placement exams are one way to enroll incoming students most accurately in various courses like English, mathematics, foreign languages, etc. Once a student has been admitted, enrolling them in suitable classes for their goals and their current level of competence is standard practice. While admissions departments struggle to keep their enrollment numbers up, successfully enrolling students is part of the process, and accurate placement may be crucial to getting students enrolled.

Just as formative assessments help enroll students in classes that will best serve them, students can gain self-knowledge through this process to help them form their educational goals. As part of a study skills curriculum, students can learn to assess their own knowledge frequently to judge what material they need to study further before a test or project. The continual feedback process of evaluating and adjusting study activities to maximize learning can be a vital tool, yet not all students know how to do this. With the range of incoming students that colleges now see, holding study skills workshops as part of orientation or embedded in the general education requirements can bolster student success.

Is Prior Formative Assessment Information Relevant?

Usually, colleges will not have access to the formative assessments from students’ prior education. The whole point of formative assessment is to monitor learning without negative consequences for the student. Formative assessment can help educators see where deficits exist and modify plans so that learning occurs. Student records may sometimes include some formative assessment information, especially for home-schooled students or those who went to less traditional high school programs. In these cases, transcripts may consist of some formative evaluations. Using information not generally part of a student’s formal record in admissions decisions is problematic. Still, it is more likely to help figure out what support services an incoming student may need to succeed in college.

Credit for Prior Learning

Another way colleges are increasingly using formative assessment is in evaluating prior learning that may allow students to receive college credits and skip classes where they already have competence. For example, some programs require a student to develop a portfolio to demonstrate proficiency in a subject area which professors can then evaluate.

There are also tests that colleges can use to grant college credit for knowledge. The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) from the College Board is one set of tests that covers multiple subjects. Developed by the military, the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) evaluate learning outside the traditional classroom, yet they are now also available for other students to take.

To graduate as many enter students as possible, using a wide array of credit for prior learning methods can allow entering students to save money and time as they work towards their degree. In addition, this encourages students by validating their competencies and keeps them interested in learning since they will not need to sit through material they already know. Finally, formative assessments that grant credits and allow students to advance towards a degree more quickly are crucial for attracting and retaining non-traditional students, who are an increasing percentage of enrollment for many schools.

The Value of Formative Assessment for Colleges

With a student-centered approach to education, formative assessment is a popular and effective way to manage learning. Colleges already employ formal and informal formative assessments in many situations. Continuing these efforts can help schools best support students and direct them to courses and programs where they can succeed. As a tool for making admissions decisions, formative assessment is less likely to be practical, but formative assessments of all types can be crucial for placement decisions. Whether by testing or conversing with professors and counselors, evaluating where a student’s current knowledge stands can help institutions shape educational goals in collaboration with students themselves, leading to better retention and graduation rates. And that is always a welcome outcome.

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