Many parents are familiar with two outgoing state tests – the High School Assessment program, also known as the exit exam, and PASS, the battery of tests taken by students in third through eighth grade each spring.

Such exams can be referred to as summative assessments – testing students to see what they learned over the past year or years.

Here’s another term – formative. Formative is an assessment of student performance on a daily basis.

Aiken County School District administrators are hosting a two-day workshop for their principals and assistant principals on formative assessment. In turn, the school-based administrators will take the information to teachers in work sessions over the next school year.

In a nutshell, formative assessment focuses on feedback – teachers “getting to know students’ needs better and meeting them where they are,” said Melissa Turner, the District’s lead curriculum specialist.

The practice is long-established in Aiken County classrooms. District officials and principals emphasize that this training program is not new.

District officials want to equip teachers with the same “language,” Turner said. Teachers at any grade level can have conversation about the process, using the same terminology. However, that doesn’t mean that formative assessment practices in one class will be the same as those in any other class.

“Teachers have different students and different content,” Turner said. “This is going to be a continual work in progress.”

Here’s the goal: There is an emphasis on learning objectives and essential questions that teachers can provide, said Joy Shealy, the District’s middle school academic officer. A specific lesson can begin with a teacher “modeling” her expectations for her students, but the process doesn’t stop there.

The teacher moves into guidance instruction as needed – moving students into collaborative actions and then independent work. The overall intent is that the students have an understanding of the information and how they accomplished it. Yet a wrong answer is just as important, Turner said – demonstrating to the teacher what aspect of the material the students are missing. The teacher can go back to that lesson immediately “without waiting until a final chapter test,” Shealy said.

Within two hours of the workshop’s first day, Callie Herlong, the Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary School principal, said she could already see some mistakes she had made in her 15 years as a teacher. She will acknowledge that constant learning is essential when she meets with her own teachers.

“I look forward to continuing our growth in classroom effectiveness,” Herlong said. “We want to give our students quality learning experiences.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter.