Assessment: formative and classroom-based

Nikki Booth | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

What is assessment?

Assessment, according to Cronbach, can be described as a ‘procedure for making inferences’ (1971: 447).

This is an important concept because, for many years, formative and summative assessment have been discussed as descriptions of assessment as opposed to inferences. As descriptions, summative assessment would often be labelled as providing learners with a score or grade on a piece of work (or test), and formative assessment would often be described as the giving of comments to improve the work in some way. When formative and summative are thought of as inferences (as suggested by Black and Wiliam, 2018), we begin to think deeper about the types of conclusions we are making from the information gathered. 

For example, when listening to a student play a piece on the piano, a teacher could infer that a learner’s left-hand technique is secure but that they have particular difficulty with their right-hand scales. They might also give comments to improve this difficulty. Although comments have been given to the pupil, if this is the only inference made then this is probably better described as summative assessment (even though no score or grade has been given); it relates to the status of the pupil since it has been “summed up” that they are good at one thing, but not another. Where formative assessment would take place, then, is not only that a developmental point has been identified, but, more importantly, that opportunities have been provided for the pupil to practise and get better. In other words, for formative assessment to be truly formative, the information elicited has to be acted upon.