I came across another article on formative assessment - it is pretty light, but I wanted to not only share the link, but quote one bit that I thought was relevant to our work here and reflects the spirit of action learning we are embracing (versus "perform to the grading requirements or the test")
"Assessing for Instruction
All of these data points and assessments should primarily drive instruction in the classroom, and they are all examples of powerful formative assessments. The intent of formative assessments is to feed forward in the instruction, and create learning activities that individual students need. Yes, this may mean whole-group instruction, but it often means small-group or individual instruction. When we use formative assessments carefully, we can discover whether students need a think-aloud or model, or if they are ready for independent practice and application. In addition, formative assessment can tell us if students need more collaborative learning. Whenever we plan instruction, we know it is never set in stone, and we use on-the-spot assessment to make immediate decisions for instruction, as well as using these assessments to feed forward for future instruction. If we use assessment to provide the right just-in-time instruction, we can increase student engagement in a more student-centered classroom."
This article linked to an earlier one ( http://www.edutopia.org/blog/formative-assessment-is-transformational-andrew-miller ) which also had a great quote:
"Another big transformation that occurs when teachers practice formative assessment is a classroom of empowerment. Students are empowered to take ownership of the learning process. They know where they are and can set goals for next steps. They are given the power to "fail forward" and know that it's never too late to learn. Teachers are also empowered to make the right decisions in meeting their needs of their students. In fact, I would take this a step further -- remember that a formative assessment isn't formative until you decide it is. Similarly, a summative assessment isn’t summative until you decide that it is. You, as the teacher, use your professional judgment and are empowered to make the right decisions for your students as individuals and your classroom of learners as a whole.
Remember, formative assessments look and sound different -- and frankly, they should. Formative assessment includes oral language and questions, projects or performance assessments, written components, movement and gesture activities, technology tools, and more. These assessments are not always intended to be large assignments, but rather can be quick and efficient ways to check for understanding. "