Formative Assessment Strategy: How To Deal With Learning Loss In The Classroom

Every teacher has to handle learning loss. If you feel your students lost a lot of their skills and knowledge during their pandemic time away from the classroom, you’re not alone. Or maybe you have difficulty getting students back on track after the long summer break; that’s pretty normal, too.

This phenomenon is called learning loss, when students seem to backslide in their skills or knowledge after a long time away from the classroom. Learning loss can impact the academic and social skills associated with classroom learning. 

While learning loss does pose some serious challenges, there is good news! Effective formative assessment and consistent feedback throughout the school year can help undo the effects of learning loss and set students on a trajectory for learning success.

formative assessment strategy

What Is Learning Loss?

An excellent four-word summary of learning loss is “use it or lose it.” When students go a long time without being in the classroom and without getting instruction and feedback on their learning materials, their existing skills and knowledge of those materials erode. They aren’t using their skills and knowledge, so it gets lost. 

Learning Loss Can’t Be Cured In One School Year, But You Can Make Gains.

Learning loss is a phenomenon that spans years, and it’s cyclical. Students risk learning loss when they spend an extended amount of time away from the structure and schedule of classroom learning. 

Combating learning loss is an ongoing process that requires vigilance and consistency in teaching and instructional design. A clear and effective formative assessment strategy is one element of classroom teaching that can mitigate the effects of learning loss.

Components Of An Effective Formative Assessment Strategy

Formative assessment helps you target exactly what your students know and what they still need to learn or practice. It can be a great tool for combating learning loss throughout the school year. Here are some key components that make up an effective formative assessment strategy.


Before you start teaching, you can use pre-tests to gauge your students’ skill level or understanding. Using the pre-test results, you can optimize your instructional design for exactly what the students need.

Frequent formative assessment

Frequency and consistency are the oil in the machine of formative assessment. Students should be able to predict and expect when the formative assessment is coming, how it will be delivered, and what kind of feedback they’ll receive. Frequency and consistency keep the cycle of effective feedback rolling consistently and effectively. 

Remediation and practice

Based on the formative assessment results, you might need to rewind and try again with some skills or materials. Formative assessment can show you exactly what needs to be reviewed and practiced more. This can lead to more efficient and effective learning overall. 

Summative assessment that measures learning targets and growth

Finally, it’s important to remember that formative assessment ultimately leads to summative assessment, which measures larger, overarching learning goals. Summative assessment — usually in the form of a unit test or standardized exam — should measure the skills and knowledge that students have learned and practiced throughout formative assessment during the school year. 

Incorporating More Formative Assessments Into Your Classroom (And Keeping Your Sanity!)

If you’re eager to help students mitigate learning loss by implementing formative assessment into your lesson plans, here are a few options and tips for success. 

Have a bellwork routine

One consistent way to work formative assessment into every lesson plan is bellwork. Bellwork refers to short activities that students complete as soon as they’ve arrived to class, as the bell is ringing. These activities usually take a maximum of 10 minutes to complete. The key to effective bellwork for formative assessment is limiting the scope of each bellwork activity to cover only one skill or set of applicable information. 

Exit ticket or homework every day

An exit ticket is a short quiz or survey that requires the learner to recall, reflect on, and apply the skill or information from class. This is an effective way to see what each student gleaned from the day’s lesson and a great tool to help you know what topics need reviewing. The key to effective exit tickets for formative assessment is sticking to what you covered in class.

Homework is another effective way to assess how students learn daily. It’s a great option to evaluate skills built and drilled over several classes, allowing you to see how well students are retaining and applying information. The key to effective homework for formative assessment is variety in the application and high frequency of practicing the target knowledge and skills.

Make digital online formative assessments that are auto-graded

The key to effective digital formative assessment is offering immediate (automated) feedback, including correct answers and explanations whenever possible. TeacherMade is a tool for teachers that:

  • Converts PDFs into online digital worksheets
  • Combats learning loss by creating frequent formative assessments to measure growth
  • Auto-grades assignments to free up time for remediation and academic coaching