Assessment: formative and classroom-based

Nikki Booth | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Defining formative assessment

Sadler (1989) argued that the term “formative assessment” should be integrated within effective teaching. He stated:

[it] is concerned with how judgements about the quality of student responses (performances, pieces, or works) can be used to shape and improve the student’s competence by short-circuiting the randomness and inefficiency of trial-and-error learning (1989: 120).

He also makes us aware that formative assessment should not be the sole responsibility of the teacher, but also requires changes in learners, too:

The indispensable conditions for improvements are that the student comes to hold a concept of quality similar to that held by the teacher, is able to monitor continuously the quality of what is being produced during the act of production itself, and has a repertoire of alternative moves or strategies from which to draw at any given point. In other words, students have to be able to regulate what they are doing during the doing of it (1989: 121).    

Within the context of the United Kingdom, the term “formative assessment” tends to be built upon the work of Black and Wiliam (1998) as well as the Assessment Reform Group (1999). Having intended to research the effects of formative assessment practices Black and Wiliam defined formative assessment as:

all those activities undertaken by teachers and/or their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged (1998: 8).

Based on Black and Wiliam’s (1998) definition, it could be argued that for formative assessment to be effective two key ingredients are required: formative intention and formative action. Formative intention could relate to the strategies used by teachers in classrooms (for example, questioning, exit tickets, and the giving of comments to improve) with the intention that they will be used by the recipients, whereas formative action, then, is the actual active use of the information gathered or shared in order to make a difference to the teaching and learning cycle.