Leading teaching improvement: Taking a closer look at formative assessment

Year: 2019

Author: Bond, Elizabeth, Woolcott, Geoff

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Assessment is a key element of teaching and learning frameworks, with over 30 years of research indicating that formative assessment is a crucial aspect of teacher practice and that improving its application leads to gains in student learning outcomes. Yet, despite the considerable evidence that formative assessment significantly enhances educational attainment, formative assessment in practice has failed to achieve the outcomes suggested in research. This presentation offers a theoretical investigation of the three main reasons for the lack of effective implementation of formative assessment in practice. First, teachers’ understanding of formative assessment is still in its infancy, with studies revealing that formative assessment is not well understood by teachers and that current teacher practice of formative assessment is weak. Second, research trials of formative assessment have failed to adequately create processes that allow for the sustainability of formative assessment practice in classrooms. Third, researchers themselves do not agree on a clear conceptualisation of formative assessment, with formative assessment having the potential to be operationalised in a myriad of ways due to a lack of a clear definition of the field. Together, these issues have resulted in little available to assist teachers to develop their knowledge and skills of formative assessment, and their capacity to actually implement achievable formative assessment processes in the classroom. Although there are reports of successful formative assessment practice within studies, some researchers question the quality of these studies, with many of them generally not giving a clear account of the actual classroom methods adopted or the experiences of the teachers involved. This presentation discusses an emerging body of research that has begun to take a closer look at formative assessment and its benefits, challenges and practices. While there seems to be a large body of knowledge concerning what types of classrooms and teaching practice best promote learning and how formative assessment is positioned within this practice, we seem to know much less about how to make this happen, particularly on a sustainable and wide spread scale.