Assessments for learning encourage a growth mindset


  • Summative assessments = end of unit assessments showing performance.
  • Formative assessments = assessments that inform learning for both students and teachers - also known as assessments for learning. In formative assessments, students should have a full and clear sense of their learning path:
    • Where they are in the course.
    • Where they need to be.
    • How to close the gap between a and b.
  • Students who receive diagnostic feedback outperform students who receive grades. Diagnostic feedback without a grade attached helps students focus on how to improve.
  • For some ideas on giving formative assessments, visit
  • To see similar videos about growth mindset in math, sign up for Professor Jo Boaler’s course, How to Learn Math, and check out

The feedback we give students through assessments influences their mindsets. In many classrooms, student take a test at the end of the unit to see if they've learned the material or not, which can lead students to focus on their performance. However, assessments are critical during learning, to shed lights on students' learning progress, what they have learned and what they haven't learned yet. These types of assessments, called assessments for learning or formative assessments, help students develop a growth mindset by focusing them on their learning and understanding instead of just the final grade.

Feedback for students is descriptive and emphasizes their strengths, identifies challenges, and points to next steps. Let's hear more about the impact of assessments for learning from Jo Boaler:

Professor Jo Boaler, Mathematics Education Expert, Stanford University: So assessment for learning is based on the principle that students have a full and clear sense of where they're going and of what they have to do to be successful. That may sound obvious, but I found that students in math classrooms rarely know where they are in their learning power, either what they're learning beyond the chapter title. Sometimes I go to students in math classes, and I say, “Tell me what you're working on,” and they'll say, “Oh, Chapter 3,” and I'll say, “Oh, what are you working on exactly.” They'll say, “I'm sorry, Question 4,” and they really can't tell me more than that.

So assessment for learning is for helping students know where they are and also how they can be successful. So it's really about communicating three things: where students are, where they need to be, and a way to close the gap between the two.

Most students in math classrooms really get nothing from an assessment result other than a rank or an evaluative statement about where they are compared to others, like a grade, such as B or D. That information for students, particularly for those who are getting Ds and are underperforming is really damaging for them. It's constantly knocking their self esteem. So a really interesting experimental study was conducted by Butler, and he compared three conditions—well, first of all, he compared just two conditions. He gave students grades, and in the other condition, he gave students diagnostic feedback. And what they found was the students who had no grades, but they got diagnostic feedback did significantly better in the future.

Then they added a third group. They said, “Why don't we give them both?” So they gave grades, grades and feedback and just feedback, and they found that, again, it was the students who only got feedback who outperformed the others, and those who got grades and feedback did the same as those who just got grades. It turned out that once you give a grade, the student just looks at that. They thought it might be the best of both worlds to get both, but they found that the very best thing you can do for students is ditch the grade and give them diagnostic feedback. That feedback helps them understand how they can improve.

Sources: Butler, R. (1988). Enhancing and undermining intrinsic motivation: The effects of task-involving and ego-involving evaluation on interest and performance. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 58, 1-14.
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