Welcome to Day 1!
Today, we will look at the history and current meaning of the term “formative assessment”. How has it been used and how is it used today?
Formative assessment has probably always been used by teachers both formally and informally, for their own information on how their students are progressing and how effective their teaching has been. At times in the history of the concept, it has been narrowed down to measurement of progress according to defined outcomes and reduced to a metrics exercise for tracking achievements at student, teacher and institutional level. However, overall, the concept has evolved to broaden out its meaning to encompass constructivist and developmental theories of teaching and learning (Anrade et al, 2019, p. 8).
Discussion: How do you use this term?
Do you use formative assessment in your courses? Let us know if you do, and what forms this takes.
While informally some types of formative assessment such as checking for students’ knowledge and for teaching effectiveness have probably always been part of teaching, the theoretical development of the concept started in earnest in the 1960s. Scriven (1963) discussed the concept of interim evaluation of student learning as “formative evaluation.” Bloom developed the idea further, along with his taxonomies of educational objectives (1971). (Cited by Anrade et al, 2019, p. 6). Definitions were originally around data on student progress for the teacher to adjust their teaching or the curriculum to ensure any weaknesses in student learning were addressed, and to provide feedback to students.
More recently, researchers reviewing papers on formative assessment have found no real consistency in the meaning and use of the term. Definitions can include one or more of the following elements in addition to those mentioned above:
- A planned process
- Evidence-gathering of student status/performance/learning
- Evidence to be interpreted by teachers and students to set learning goals for improvement
- Diagnosis of weaknesses and strengths to modify and customise student learning activities
- A process while instruction is occurring
- Collaboration between educators and students to ensure student learning
- Preparation for life in a profession or workplace, beyond graduation.
The Anrade et al reference provides a comprehensive definition of formative assessment that includes elements of self-regulated learning, inference and disciplinary specificity, all of which are relevant to current theories of higher education.
“As part of a planned assessment system, formative assessment supports teachers’ and students’ inferences about strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvements in learning. It is a source of information that educators can use in instructional planning and students can use in deepening their understandings, improving their achievement, taking responsibility for, and self-regulating, their learning. Formative assessment includes both general principles, and discipline-specific elements that comprise the formal and informal materials, collaborative processes, ways of knowing, and habits of mind particular to a content domain.” (Cisek et al, 2019, in Anrade et al, p. 14)
A central factor in defining “formative assessment” is to distinguish it from “summative assessment.” For many years, this distinction was regarded as important, and can be summarised as follows:
Formative assessment is for the teacher to find out how effective the teaching has been, and to provide feedback to the student. Formative assessment is active, collaborative, and two-way, with the student involved in setting goals.
Summative assessment is at the end of a learning segment or unit and is used to judge the accomplishment of the student, and can also be used to judge the teaching and the institution. Summative assessment is regarded as one-way, with the student in a passive role. (Cisek et al, 2019, in Anrade et al, p. 4-5).
Nowadays, this distinction is often characterised as “assessment for learning” vs “assessment of learning.” (ibid, p. 5) However with more emphasis on things like work-integrated learning and assessment, authentic assessment and eportfolios for assessment, the distinction is becoming blurred.
We will be teasing out some of the elements mentioned in this historical background, in the coming days.
Discussion: Did you recognise these?
Do you recognise any of the concepts and elements relating to formative assessment in the background information and definitions provided here? Are any of them a part of your understanding and use of formative assessment of students? Do you differentiate between formative and summative assessment, and if so, how is this distinction made?
Anrade, H., Bennett, R. E. & Cizek, G.J., (2019) “Formative Assessment: History, Definition, and Progress” in Handbook of Formataive Assessment in the Disciplines, Routledge. – Available in ANU Library as an e-book: https://library.anu.edu.au/record=b6210760
Nicol, David J. & Macfarlane‐Dick Debra (2006) “Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice,” Studies in Higher Education, 31:2, 199-218, DOI: 10.1080/03075070600572090