Why use formative assessment?

The focus of this project is on formative uses of assessment. Formative assessment has been high on the educational agenda particularly since the work of the Assessment Reform Group in the United Kingdom (Assessment Reform Group 2002). Their definition of formative assessment is “the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers, to identify where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there” (Assessment Reform Group 2002, p. 2). The same group also coined the term Assessment for learning (Vurdering for læring) to stress the learning dimension, since not all assessments lead to further learning. There is considerable research evidence that formative assessment practices, when integrated in a proper manner in a day-to-day classroom activities of teachers, have a substantial impact on student learning (see Wiliam 2011 for an overview of research literature). John Hattie conducted a large meta-analysis to establish the relative effect of various instructional interventions on student achievement and found that ‘providing formative evaluation’ was one of the top five strategies teachers could use (see Hattie 2012). In addition to this evidence of the impact of formative assessment, we also know from the results of the 2015 national student survey in Norway (Studiebarometer) that students in higher education are overall not satisfied with assessment practices and the quality and amount of feedback they recieve. In light of these considerations, a stonger focus on formative assessment can enhance the educational experience of higher education students in Norway.

Wiliam (2011) highlights that in order to be effective formative assessment has to be integrated into teachers’ daily teaching. The interplay between different formative activities is crucial for obtaining effective formative assessment. He outlines five key strategies for implementing formative assessment:

1. Clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success

2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities, and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning

3. Providing feedback that moves learning forward

4. Activating learners as instructional resources for one another

5. Activating learners as the owners of their own learning.

These strategies can be supported by various classroom practices, such as collaborative learning, peer- and self-assessment, making curriculum aims and assessment criteria explicit to students, well-designed assessment tasks, and useful and timely feedback. It is evident from the range of these activities that formative assessment involves more than just a shift in evaluation practicies. It requires a reconsideration of traditional roles of the teacher and learner and a more active involvement of students in the learning process.