In A Nutshell: Formative Assessment

Although formative assessment has been around for many years, I frequently encounter teachers who don’t have a firm grasp of it or see it as something old hat, out of date or unworkable.


We need to demand assessment literacy and make it a key part of getting into teaching. It needs to be something that is regularly assessed too.

As Gregory Cizek (2016) points out, it is embarrassing that our knowledge, understanding and training in assessment is so hit and miss. He says,

It is hard to imagine that fundamental competence in assessment is not mandatory in today’s environment where assessment information is so prevalent, so necessary for ensuring student success, and so fundamental to sound, evidence-based decision- and policy-making at all levels.

There are of course many definitions of formative assessment but as a really useful synthesis, Cizek (2010) has collected together ten characteristics. So, in a nutshell, formative assessment:

1. Requires students to take responsibility for their own learning
2. Communicates clear, specific learning goals
3. Focuses on goals that represent valuable educational outcomes with applicability beyond the learning context
4. Identifies the student’s current knowledge or skills and the necessary steps for reaching the desired goals
5. Requires developments of plans for attaining desired goals
6. Encourages students to self-monitor progress towards the learning goals.
7. Provides examples of learning goals including, when relevant, the specific grading criteria or rubrics that will be used to evaluate the student’s work.
8. Provides frequent assessment, including peer and student self-assessment and assessment embedded within learning activities
9. Includes feedback that is non-evaluative [=non-judgemental], specific, timely and related to learning goals and provides opportunities for the student to revise and improve work products and deepen understandings
10. Promotes metacognition and reflection by students on their work.

And how about this view on assessment from Fred Emery who says,

School pokes your eyes out. University teaches you Braille. Postgraduate Education is speed reading in Braille.

That sounds familiar doesn’t it?!

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