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The ‘Whys’ and ‘Hows’ of Incorporating Formative Assessments

9.11.2021 | BY SHU XIN

In order to prepare students for the modern world, there is a growing need for formative assessments that allow teachers to develop students’ motivation and self-regulation through purposeful interaction with students around their learning process. But how can we encourage formative assessment across the globe? HundrED and the Jacobs Foundation have partnered up to identify innovations that promote the systematic use of formative assessments to inform teaching and help every child to flourish in life.

Formative assessments are assessments for learning while summative assessments are assessments of learning.

We invited three leading experts, Heidi Andrade, professor of educational psychology and Methodology, Joseph Ghartey Ampiah, professor of science education at the University of Cape Coast, and Margaret Heritage, an education consultant, to have a conversation with us. They shared the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ on incorporating formative assessments globally.


Why should we encourage formative assessment?


1. It promotes self-regulated learning among students

Heidi: Self-assessment gives students the opportunity to provide feedback for themselves from themselves, and is followed by opportunities for revision and improvement. It can take many forms including self-testing, judgements of progress towards specific learning targets, and comparing your own work to the criteria for it on a checklist or rubric. Eventually, this systematically develops learners' capacity for self-regulation and self-efficacy for the task.

"Teachers are not the only source of feedback and information in the classroom. Under the right conditions, students themselves can learn more and become more self-regulated learners by engaging in self-assessment."


2. It allows teachers to be active educators, and students to be active learners

Margaret: I’ve seen some changes in teacher practice over the last several years. Here’s a quote from a teacher of 13-year-olds who'd been changing his practice to incorporate formative assessment.

"I used to do a lot of explaining but now I do a lot of questioning; I used to do a lot of talking but now I do a lot of listening; I used to think about teaching the curriculum but now I think about teaching the students."

What we see there is a real shift in his thinking about his role as a teacher. Now he's trying to find out what the students are thinking, listening to students’ responses and emphasising on teaching the individual student.

Formative assessment changes teachers where they rethink what their role as the teacher is in the classroom, and it also changes students as learners. Students no longer are passive learners who are being spoon-fed, instead, they are actively involved in their own learning and develop the self-regulated learning processes which is important as part of calls worldwide to be part of broader educational goals.

3. Overall, we should strike a balance between summative and formative assessments

Joseph: Summative assessment shouldn’t be discounted as it has its own purposes. Therefore, before conducting summative assessments, there's a need for teachers to re-engage students so that they understand what they are learning and get clarifications. Then, formative assessment will provide a bridge between assessment and teaching, where children can get to know where they are and a desired level of achievement that excites them in their learning progress.


How can we transition from summative assessments towards formative assessments?

In most countries, summative assessments are still widely practised as a tool to measure students’ academic ability. But, what can be done by the education ecosystem to transition towards formative assessments?


Ministry Level 


Policy changes and education reform 

Joseph: There has to be some policy in formative assessments for the teachers to rearrange their minds around what formative assessments can be. It is the nature of the curriculum which is overloaded and is geared towards finally assessing the students that makes the root of the problem. So, education ministries should also revise the curriculum content.

Margaret: It's a matter of policy that leaders have to implement. Looking at the formative assessment in New Zealand and how effective it's been there, it's all because the government has had a policy since 1984 that promotes formative assessment as an essential classroom practice and similarly, in the United States, it is successful due to its policy, leadership and professional learning.

Teacher Training 

Joseph: When we train the teachers to hammer on formative assessment, they can help the children in the classroom to learn better.

Margaret: Teachers have to fundamentally understand how to use the tools and tests in teaching and supporting students’ learning. Where it's been very successful in the United States, it has been due to professional learning where teachers understand formative assessment and how it fits as an essential part of their pedagogy.


School Level 

Use practise-based testing

Heidi: I highly recommend starting by using practice-based testing that Benjamin Bloom had introduced to the world years ago. By having students talk about whether or not they agree about the answers that they gave on the practice test, and discussing with them if they disagree, they'll get the opportunity to engage with the content. When students think about what they know and don't know based on preparation for the summative test, they will learn more and that's a formative process because they get feedback and fill in the gaps. Once teachers embrace this process, then we can do all kinds of other peer and self-assessment.

“Learning is a consequence of thinking.” - David Perkins


How does the culture of observation and supervision impact the possibilities for the teachers?


Joseph: In Ghana, the supervisors visit schools and classrooms to supervise what teachers do. In the supervision, due to the emphasis of the supervisors on the number of tests or classwork given to the children, teachers tend to think that simply giving work to the students will help them achieve something during summative assessment. Eventually, this becomes a problem where the observed teachers are not given the freedom to conduct formative assessments. Another problem faced is the large class size which makes it almost impossible to engage with students and ensure the quality of formative assessments.

Heidi: Although it's difficult for a teacher to be totally in control of formative assessment with a large class size, this is when it becomes crucially important to teach students how to self and peer-assess. When students are empowered to self and peer-assess in a formative way, it will transform the classroom into a culture of critique and of thinking.


Ultimately, what are we assessing when we're doing formative assessment?


Heidi: If you want students to get good at self-regulated learning, then have them set goals for it, have them monitor their development of self-regulated learning and have them reflect on their self-regulated learning.

“You get what you assess.” - Lauren Resnick

Margaret: Formative assessment is not just about academic skills. You have to understand the child's thinking, focus on what the students are doing and learning, how they're approaching the learning, what they're doing with that learning. It's a more expanded version of assessment that brings your knowledge of the whole student into the thinking about formative assessment.


Do you feel passionate about formative assessment and have a solution to share? Please share your innovation with HundrED and Jacobs Foundation. The call is open until the 15th of November: https://hundred.org/en/collections/formative-assessment-improving-learning-for-every-child

The above excerpts are from a webinar hosted by HundrED and Jacobs Foundation on the 21st of October. Please watch the full conversation here.

ABOUT AUTHOR
Shu Xin Ho