HealthFebruary 26, 2017

How formative assessment helps nursing students succeed in the classroom

Formative assessment is a bridge between learning and teaching. It allows instructors to gather real data about students as they work, then adjust their instruction to better serve students at their current learning level. In nursing education, formative assessment has been proven to be highly effective not only for student learning, but for faculty teaching and, as a result, increases the overall quality of learning.

Research has concluded that nursing instructors regard students more as partners in the learning process when formative assessment is practiced; both parties agree that feedback is an integral part of the learning cycle. But the benefits of formative assessment go far beyond the classroom. In fact, research shows that because nursing students are rarely directly observed, assessed and given feedback during their clinical placements, there has been an increased interest in recent years in formative assessment methods that require observation and feedback.

Today's students are hungry for the feedback that can make them better nurses. So why not give it to them?

Examples of formative assessment

By implementing formative assessment and evaluating students along the way, constantly providing feedback, nursing instructors can interpret outcomes to meet class-wide or individual learning needs and adjust teaching. During these types of assessments, instructors use results to identify gaps and adjust teaching to help students reach learning goals, and students actually become more self-motivated.

Examples of formative assessments in nursing education may include asking students to:

  • Draw a concept map to represent their understanding of a topic
  • Submit a few sentences identifying the main point of a lecture
  • Turn in a research proposal for early feedback
  • Use platforms like Lippincott's PrepUan adaptive, formative quizzing program designed to improve student's content knowledge

Encouraging the use of formative assessment is one of Lippincott's Top 10 Strategies for building clinical reasoning skills in nursing students. Preparing students to become competent, confidence nurses requires instructors to provide learning experience that teach them to think on their feet and use their clinical reasoning skills so that they can make sound decisions on the job. Formative assessment allows nursing instructors to gain insight into their students" performance and make just-in-time course revisions.

Formative vs. Summative

Let's compare this approach of formative assessment to its frequently cited counterpart, summative assessment.

Formative assessment

Summative assessment

 The goal is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback during the learning process that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and to help students to improve.  The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit
More diagnostic in nature
More evaluative in nature
Considered an assessment for learning Considered an assessment of learning
Tends to measure how well student is learning along the way
Tends to measure student’s overall progress and/or competency
 Helps students identify their strengths and weaknesses and immediately target areas that need work Types of summative assessments include: midterm exam, a final project or paper, senior concert
 Formative feedback presents information, rather than judgment, and is in integral part of the learning process to help students reach their goals Information can be used formatively when students or faculty use it to guide their activities in subsequent courses

Like peanut butter & jelly

Much like the winning combination of peanut butter and jelly go extremely well together and the tastes complement each other, so does adaptive learning and formative assessment when it comes to nursing education.

The power of adaptive learning has been proven over and over again to increase student engagement, retention, and critical thinking both in the classroom and later on the job. When students learn with tools that adapt to their answer in real-time, and let them know where they are veering off track, so they can gain a better grasp of areas in which they need to improve. Both adaptive learning and formative assessment determines what students know as they are learning - and students get performance feedback while instructors can track class data to gauge the level of understanding. It provides better insight into student performance while there is still time to adapt.

Many nursing programs use standardized testing to implement benchmark scores and determine whether or not a student is eligible to sit for the NCLEX. But since standardized tests only report on summative data, they do little to improve a student's testing performance over time, or to keep students engaged and instill in them a desire to improve. As a result of an increasing number of nursing schools and educators realizing the power of adaptive learning and formative assessment, they"re making more of a shift in that direction.

Adaptive learning solutions - adaptive quizzing systems, in particular - are a game changer. For example, Wolters Kluwer's adaptive quizzing system, PrepU, helps students learn more and gives instructors the data they need to monitor each student's progress, weaknesses and strengths.PrepU is a central component of Lippincott CoursePoint and Lippincott PassPoint, and has vast power to increase student retention and engagement. It is also now linked to the following measureable results, according to Nurse Educator:

  •  The mastery level in PrepU adaptive quizzing can statistically significantly predict final course grades
  • Adaptive mastery level is positively correlated to a student's Exit Exam performance
  • Programs utilizing PrepU adaptive quizzing saw a significant positive increase in on-time graduation (11.4% increase) and program retention rate (5.5% increase) over five years
  • 82.8% of students reported that PrepU adaptive quizzing improved their course performance; 87.9% prefer it to preset test banks, and 98.3% would opt to use it in other courses if available
  • 93.9% of students using PrepU adaptive quizzing in the study passed the NCLEX

The research finds that a low-stakes, formative learning strategy such as PrepU adaptive quizzing can “œpay off significantly with respect to high-stakes educational outcomes and reduce the likelihood of course failure and repetition.”

See for yourself how the adaptive learning power of PrepU can work hand-in-hand with formative assessment in helping educate tomorrow's nurses. Read white paper

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