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Formative assessment

Formative assessment is a self-reflective process that intends to promote student attainment [1]. Cowie and Bell [2] define it as the bidirectional process between teacher and student to enhance, recognise and respond to the learning. Black and Wiliam [3] consider an assessment ‘formative’ when the feedback from learning activities is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet the learner's needs. Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick[4] have re-interpreting research on formative assessment and feedback and shown how these processes can help students take control of their own learning (self-regulated learning).

In the training field, formative assessment is described as assessing the formation of the student. Facilitators do this by observing students as they:

  • Respond to questions
  • Ask questions
  • Interact with other students during activities, etc.

This enables the facilitator to evaluate own delivery, fog index and relevance of content.


Formative Assessment in K-12

Formative assessment is more valuable for day-to-day teaching when it is used to adapt the teaching to meet students’ needs. Formative assessment helps teachers to monitor their students’ progress and to modify the instruction accordingly. It also helps students to monitor their own progress as they get feedback form their peers and the teacher. Students also find opportunity to revise and refine their thinking by means of formative assessment. Formative assessment is also called as educative assessment and classroom assessment.

Methods of Formative Assessment: There are many ways to integrate formative assessment into K-12 classrooms. Although the key concepts of formative assessment such as constant feedback, modifying the instruction, and information about students' progress do not vary among different disciplines or levels, the methods or strategies may differ. For example, researchers developed generative activities (Stroup et al., 2004)[5] and model-eliciting activities (Lesh et al., 2000)[6] that can be used as formative assessment tools in mathematics and science classrooms. Others developed strategies computer-supported collaborative learning environments (Wang et al., 2004b)[7]. More information about implication of formative assessment in specific areas is given below.

Purpose of Formative Assessment: The following are examples of application of formative assessment to content areas:

Formative Assessment in Math Education:

In math education, it is really important for teachers to see how their students approach the problems and how much mathematical knowledge and at what level students use when solving the problems. That is, knowing how students think in the process of learning or problem solving makes it possible for teachers to help their students overcome conceptual difficulties and, in turn, improve learning. In that sense, formative assessment is diagnostic. To employ formative assessment in the classrooms, a teacher has to make sure that each student participates in the learning process by expressing their ideas; there is a trustful environment -in which students can provide each other with feedback; s/he (the teacher) provides students with feedback; and the instruction is modified according to students' needs. In math classes, thought revealing activities such as model-eliciting activities (MEAs) and generative activities provide good opportunities for covering these aspects of formative assessment.

Formative assessment in Second/ Foreign Language Education:

As an ongoing assessment and it focus on process, it helps teachers to check the current status of their students’ language ability, that is, they can know what the students know and what the students do not know. It also gives chances to students to participate in modifying or replanning the upcoming classes (Bachman & Palmer, 1996)[8]. Participation in their learning grows students’ motivation to learn the target language. It also raises students’ awareness on their target languages, which results in resetting their own goals. In consequence, it helps students to achieve their goals successfully as well as teachers be the facilitators to foster students’ target language ability.

In classroom, short quizzes, reflectional journals, or portfolios could be used as a formative assessment (Cohen, 1994)[9].

Formative Assessment in Elementary Education:

In primary schools, Formative Assessmentis used to inform the next steps of learning. Teacher and students both use Formative Assessments as a tool to make decisions based on data. Formative assessment occurs when teachers feed information back to students in ways that enable the student to learn better, or when students can engage in a similar, self- reflective process. The evidence shows that high quality formative assessment does have a powerful impact on student learning. Black and Wiliam (1998) report that studies of formative assessment show an effect size on Standardized Tests of between 0.4 and 0.7, larger than most known educational interventions. (The effect size is the ratio of the average improvement in test scores in the innovation to the range of scores of typical groups of pupils on the same tests; Black and Wiliam recognize that standardized tests are very limited measures of learning.) Formative assessment is particularly effective for students who have not done well in school, thus narrowing the gap between low and high achievers while raising overall achievement. Research examined by Black and Wiliam supports the conclusion that summative assessments tend to have a negative effect on student learning.

Example of Formative Assessment in an Elementary Classroom

Activities that can be used as Formative Assessment Tools in Mathematics and Science Classrooms

Model-eliciting Activities (MEAs):

Model-eliciting activities are based on real-life situations where students, working in small groups, present a mathematical model as a solution to a client’s need (Zawojewski & Carmona, 2001)[10]. The problem design enable students to evaluate their solutions according to the needs of a client identified in the problem situation and sustain themselves in productive, progressively effective cycles of conceptualizing and problem solving. Model-eliciting activities (MEAs) are ideally structured to help students build their real-world sense of problem solving towards increasingly powerful mathematical constructs. What is especially useful for mathematics educators and researchers is the capacity of MEAs to make students’ thinking visible through their models and modeling cycles. Teachers do not prompt the use of particular mathematical concepts or their representational counterparts when presenting the problems. Instead, they choose activities that maximize the potential for students to develop the concepts that are the focal point in the curriculum by building on their early and intuitive ideas. The mathematical models emerge from the students’ interactions with the problem situation and learning is assessed via these emergent behaviors.

Generative Activities:

In a generative activity, students are asked to come up with outcomes that are mathematically same. Students can arrive at the responses or build responses from this sameness in a wide range of ways. The sameness gives coherence to the task and allows it to be an "organizational unit for performing a specific function." (Stroup et al., 2004)

Other activities can also be used as the means of formative assessment as long as they ensure the participation of every student, make students' thoughts visible to each other and to the teacher, promote feedback to revise and refine thinking. In addition, as a complementary to all of these is to modify and adapt instruction through the information gathered by those activities.

Formative Assessment in Computer Supported Learning

Six strategies for web-based formative assessment

Many academics are seeking to diversify assessment tasks, broaden the range of skills assessed and provide students with more timely and informative feedback on their progress. Others are wishing to meet student expectations for more flexible delivery and to generate efficiencies in assessment that can ease academic staff workloads. The move to on-line and computer based assessment is a natural outcome of the increasing use of information and communication technologies to enhance learning. As more students seek flexibility in their courses, it seems inevitable there will be growing expectations for flexible assessment as well.

Wang et al. (2004b), developed the Formative Assessment Module of the Web-based Assessment and Test Analysis System (FAM-WATA), to help address this problem. This research not only applied FAM-WATA to assist teachers in giving feedback and interacting with students in an e-learning environment but also explored the effectiveness of FAM-WATA in facilitating student e-learning effectiveness. FAM-WATA offers six main strategies:

Strategy 1–3: ‘Repeat the test’, ‘correct answers are not given’, and ‘ask questions’ strategies

The combination of two strategies, ‘repeat the test’ and ‘correct answers are not given’, in web-based formative assessment will increase e-learning effectiveness (Buchanan, 2000)[11]. The major purpose of these strategies is to provide students with opportunities to revise the mistakes they have made. In addition to these two strategies, the FAM-WATA tries to stimulate student interest and desire for new challenges through the design of the Web environment, as explained next.

When learners log in and perform a self-assessment, FAM-WATA will automatically choose some questions randomly from the database. The order of questions and options are randomly arranged. This is to prevent learner boredom with repeated tests. A given test item will not show up on the following test if a learner correctly answers the test item three times consecutively. Thus, the number of test items gradually decreases with each iteration of the test. At some point, all questions will be answered correctly, and the system will tag the successful learner with a ‘pass the test’ mark. By the same token, if learners cannot answer the test item correctly three times consecutively, then the answer count will be reset to zero and begun again. Answering a test item correctly three times consecutively is necessary because the system judges that the learners may answer the question correctly simply by guessing. The purpose of this design is for learners to actively take on the challenge of learning, not passively guess their way through.

In the above design, ‘timely feedback’ is combined to form the strategy of ‘correct answers are not given’. After learners submit their test papers, FAM-WATA will immediately give scores and present references to learners without directly giving the correct answers of the questions. Meanwhile, learners may also asynchronously interact with teachers by asking questions online. As for the function of ‘timely feedback’, the system offers learners reference materials to help them find correct answers.

Strategy 4: ‘Monitor answering history’ strategy

FAM-WATA provides an interface to check the answering history of the user and others who have taken the test, available to learners after they pass the test. Through understanding their own progress, learners are expected to take the initiative in monitoring their learning.

Strategy 5: ‘Query scores’ strategy

FAM-WATA provides an interface for learners to look up peer scores and see the progress of others, to encourage the learner to learn from peers, and motivate learning. Students may find out whether others have passed the test and how many tries are required for others to answer and to pass the test. Students can query the answering history of other students. The main purpose of these designs is to add the stimulus of competition. Those who perform well or pass the test will be marked by special signs, increasing their sense of achievement.

Strategy 6: ‘All pass and then reward’ strategy

FAM-WATA will generate a flash (Adobe Systems Inc., CA, USA) animation to congratulate learners on passing the test. Animation effects can stimulate learner interest (Mayer & Moreno, 2002)[12]. This type of positive feedback can also be regarded as a form of encouragement for learners who pass a task, creating a sense of achievement.

Benefits of Formative Assessments (Boston, 2002)


  • Teachers are able to determine what standards students already know and to what degree.
  • Teachers can decide what minor modifications or major changes in instruction they need to makes so that all students can succeed in upcoming instruction and on subsequent assessments.
  • Teachers can create appropriate lessons and activities for groups of learners or individual students
  • Teachers can inform students about their current progress in order to help them set goals for improvement.

See also


  1. ^ Crooks, T. (2001), The Validity of Formative Assessments, Paper presented to the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Leeds, 13-15 September
  2. ^ Cowie, B., & Bell, B. (1999), A model of formative assessment in science education, Assessment in Education, 6: 101-116
  3. ^ Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998), Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2): 139-149
  4. ^ Nicol, D.J. & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, Vol 31(2), pp.199-218
  5. ^ Stroup, W. M., Ares, N., & Hurford, A. C. (2004). A taxonomy of generative activity design supported by next generation classroom networks. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the twenty-sixth annual meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
  6. ^ Lesh, R., Hoover, M., Hole, B., Kelly, E., & Post, T. (2000). Principles for developing thought-revealing activities for students and teachers. In A. E. Kelly & R. A. Lesh (Eds.), Handbook of research design in mathematics and science education (pp. 591-645). Mahaway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  7. ^ Wang, T.H. (2007). What strategies are effective for formative assessment in an e-learning environment? Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 23(3), 171–186.
  8. ^ Bachman. L.F. & Palmer A.S. (1996). Language Testing in Practice. Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ Cohen. A. (1994). Assessing Language Ability in the Classroom. Heinle & Heinle Publishers.
  10. ^ Zawojewski, J., & Carmona, G. (2001). A developmental and social perspective on problem solving strategies. In R. Speiser & C. Walter (Eds.), Proceedings of the twenty-third annual meeting of the North American chapter of the international group for the psychology of mathematics education. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education.
  11. ^ Buchanan, T. (1998) Using the World Wide Web for formative assessment. Journal of Educational Technology Systems 27, 71–79.
  12. ^ Mayer, R. E. & Moreno, R. (2002). Aids to computer-based multimedia learning. Learning and Instruction. 12. 107–119.
  13. ^ Boston, Carol (2002). The concept of formative assessment. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 8(9).

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Categories: Educational assessment and evaluation | Educational psychology | Evaluation methods | Evaluation | School terminology

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