Formative assessment is crucial for real-time identification of student needs, enabling immediate interventions and supporting accelerated learning outcomes.
Effective teachers notice, observe and test students’ proficiency as they learn, to identify gaps in their learning and also to gauge the efficacy of their own teaching strategies and make informed adjustments to ensure that every student makes progress.
In this article, we explore the why and how of formative assessment and showcase how our digital tools and PLD support effective teaching practice by embracing a mindset that values data-driven decision-making.
Why Formative Assessment
Traditionally, assessment has been seen as the evaluative device that is used by teachers, not learners, to determine how much learning has been done, and what standard the learner has achieved, often relative to their age group peers. It serves to confirm a student’s comparative position in relation to other students but arrives too late to make adjustments.
By way of contrast, formative assessment involves three key instructional processes, namely establishing where learners are, where they are going, and how to get there (Groff, 2012; Leahy & Wiliam, 2011; Moss & Brookhart, 2009).
Bill Lucas, in “Rethinking Assessment in Education” (2021) makes the bold assertion that educational jurisdictions are placing too much reliance on high-stakes, standardised testing, and having a damaging impact on the health and wellbeing of students and is out of sync with curriculum and pedagogy. He claims that we need a "paradigm shift” in how to create assessment systems that use more effective ways of evidencing the full range of student progress.
Roles in Formative Assessment
The benefits of formative assessment depend on a shared understanding of how to use assessment to support learning by the various roles involved, namely teachers, students, parents, administrators, and leaders (DeLuca et al., 2015; Dixon & Hawe, 2015).
● Teachers can be seen monitoring progress, setting clear objectives and learning goals tailored to individual student needs, utilising a range of assessment techniques including peer assessments, quizzes, and strategic questioning to capture a holistic view of student learning, regularly engaging in 1-on-1 discussions with students about their learning, and personalising learning.
● Students can be seen utilsing opportunities to evaluate the quality of their own work, engaging in peer assessment, providing feedback to teachers about their learning experience, setting learning goals and modifying these in response to assessment information
● Parents and families can be seen having relevant conversations with their children based on a deep understanding of their current learning and their next steps
● School Leaders and Administrators can be seen monitoring learning progress trends to identify and amplify effective teaching practice and also where additional professional development is required to support teachers.
Summative assessments remain useful to provide policy makers and parents with insight into student achievement and to enable valid and reliable comparisons between student achievement and age-related expectations. On its own, however, standardised testing does not make much difference to the learning outcome of students.
The key features of formative assessment
➢ Fostering a Positive Learning Culture
Trust, partnership, and a low-stakes environment are the foundation for effective learning rather than judgement.
The research is overwhelming: learning relationships are critical elements of a learning culture and arguably the most important component of effective learning (Bishop, 2019; Robertson, 2005, Hallgarten et al., 2015; Ministry of Education, 2011a). Teachers are required to be relationship masters; forming and maintaining high quality reciprocal relationships - the quality of the relationship translates directly to academic outcomes (Borderless, 2019). Educators who nurture teacher-student relationships are more likely to see students thrive academically (Hinton et al., 2012)
Formative assessment is not just about the students but also about creating a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration among teachers. Robinson and Lai (2005) emphasise the importance of schools conducting context specific, teacher-led research (inquiries) to inform teaching practice. Effective pedagogical leadership creates the culture of inquiry which ultimately ensures that quality teaching is happening in every classroom (Robinson and Lai 2005, MoE 2015).
➢ Active Student Engagement
Students are motivated to actively participate in the assessment process through reflecting on their own learning, as well as providing feedback and setting learning goals. Formative assessment practices involve students in their learning journey, promoting self-regulation and ownership of their educational process.
➢ Personalised Learning
Formative assessment provides deep insight into every learner’s progress based on curriculum knowledge, capability strengths, interests, needs, identities, languages and cultures. This understanding in turn enables teachers to tailor and adapt learning opportunities to address each
student's unique learning profile, pace of learning and specific gaps in their learning, ensuring rich and relevant educational experiences. Progress data also supports dynamic grouping of learners who share the same learning goals or interests rather than confining students to long term streamed groupings.
Regular, constructive feedback is an essential part of formative assessment. It should be carefully crafted to be actionable, detailed, and positively framed, delivered in a regular and prompt manner.
Students are encouraged to understand, respond to, and integrate feedback into their learning. They are also supported to reflect on their own learning and provide feedback to teachers on how their learning can be enhanced.
Coherent formative assessment practice is critically dependant on the existence of a structured set of progressions (progress steps) across the whole curriculum. The curriculum should be supported by explicit descriptions of each high level achievement objectives and supplemented
with assessment and teaching resources for each transition point.(Absolum et al, Reviving the Flames of Excellence 2023) This provides teachers with clarity about what is to be taught and how to assess proficiency at each step. Students (and their parents) need the same level of clarity about how they are progressing and where they are headed.
Amplifying Formative Assessment through Digital Tools
Te Kete Hono has developed a number of digital tools to support formative assessment:
Engagement Sliders formative assessment tool enables immediate feedback from students about the extent to which they have enjoyed and been challenged by their learning. This informs instructional adjustments and enables teachers to personalize teaching. It supports continuous improvement in teaching strategies and fosters an interactive, student-centered learning environment. Incorporating Engagement Sliders into the assessment process is not just about adopting a new tool; it's about committing to an educational philosophy that sees each piece of student feedback as a stepping stone towards learning progress.
SchoolTalk sets out to enhance teaching efficacy by synthesising across all learners in a class or hub, a view of their progress, learning gaps and next steps, so that learners can be grouped in an agile way to target requisite learning. The app replaces all the disparate data sets, observations and notes about learners' progress, planning books, and reporting mechanisms, with a more integrated and coherent system. SchoolTalk contains a structured set of progressions that can be customised for different jurisdictions and languages of learning. Learner progress is tracked with reference to these progressions, so that learners can see what they have accomplished and where they are going next.
Learning is differentiated and personalised through scheduling learning events that are targeted at specific learners. The system is agentic in that it allows learners to view their current goals, upload evidence of learning, self assess their progress, seek feedback from teachers, access relevant resources, and use a personal calendar with specific learning tagged to them. (Bradbeer, 2020).
The Top Six Considerations for Effective Formative Assessment:
The following questions for reflection and discussion provide insights into the practice of effective formative assessment. In formulating your responses, you might consider adapting your own practice or reaching out to a trusted colleague for further support.
1. How do I know whether students are engaged in their learning?
a. Is the learning sufficiently demanding of these students?
b. Are these students enjoying the learning design?
c. To what extent are students engaged in different learning activities, areas, subjects, contexts?
d. What does engagement over time look like for individual students/
2. How do I know whether students are making progress?
A. What is sufficient progress and what is accelerated progress?
B. How do I know what is having an impact on this student, group or cohort’s progress?
C. How is the data./evidence informing me of the progress of students and what story am I able to tell alongside the progress/data?
3. How do I know whether every student is getting what they need to progress? How should I redesign this learning for some students?
a. What does impact look like and how do I know I am causing an impact on this student’s learning?
b. In what ways am I checking in with students, am I comfortable and confident to have learning focussed conversations with students?
c. What changes would I/ should I/ could I make to the learning design in light of….?
4. Is evidence of learning being captured?
a. How might we use these records of learning as an alternative to traditional assessment measures?
b. Is there a balance between qualitative and quantitative measures/ evidence
c. How, who, when, where and why is evidence captured, collected, collated and shared?
5. What assessment approaches and tools are most informative for my teaching at this point in time?
a. What data is missing or not accounted for? Are their opportunities for
b. Who am I collecting this data for?
6. Are we capturing the information required to support learners’ learning journeys ?
a. Are there systems and processes supporting and informing us in regards to what’s next for each learner?
b. Are feedback loops enabled?
c. Are there processes for sharing relevant information with all involved in the learning process?
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