Effective Formative Assessment

Formative assessments can be quite effective with following attributes

Define, Share, Clarify and Understand Learning Goals and Criteria for Success

Learning goals and criteria for success should be clearly identified and communicated to students.

Pupils cannot take more responsibility for their own learning unless they know what they are expected to learn and how they will know that they have been successful.

To help promote effective self-assessment, teachers need to go beyond simply telling pupils what to do and how to do it (the task or activity) and making clear what is to be learned (the learning intention or objective) and how to recognise success (the success criteria)

  • In the formative assessment model, teachers are responsible for identifying and communicating instructional goals to students in order to help them achieve intended learning outcomes.
  • Teachers should also communicate these goals in learner-friendly language, so students can understand and participate in the completion of these goals.
  • There are a number of ways teachers can begin the process of clarifying and sharing learning goals and success criteria. Many teachers specify the learning goals for the lesson at the beginning of the lesson, but in doing so, many teachers fail to distinguish between the learning goals and the activities that will lead to the required learning. When teachers start from what it is they want students to know and design their instruction backward from that goal, then instruction is far more likely to be effective (Wiggins and McTighe 2000).
  • Wiggins and McTighe also advocate a two-stage process of first clarifying the learning goals themselves (what is worthy and requiring understanding?), which is then followed by establishing success criteria (what would count as evidence of understanding?). Only then should the teacher move on to exploring activities that will lead to the required understanding.

Learning Progressions

Learning progressions should clearly articulate the sub-goals of the ultimate learning goal.

    • These learning progressions show the course students should follow to achieve goals within the “big picture” of the discipline.
    • Teachers should help students set short-term goals within these learning progressions in order to track progress.

    Descriptive Feedback

    Students should be provided with evidence-based feedback that is linked to the intended instructional outcomes and criteria for success.

    • “Descriptive feedback should be about the particular qualities of student learning with discussion or suggestions about what the student can do to improve.”
    • Feedback should be learner-specific and answer the questions above.
    • The research on feedback shows that much of the feedback that students receive has, at best, no impact on learning and can actually be counterproductive. The principal feature of these studies was that feedback was, in the psychological jargon, “ego-involving.” In other words, the feedback focused attention on the person rather than on the quality of the work by giving scores, grades, or other forms of report that encouraged comparison with others. The studies where feedback was most effective were those in which the feedback told participants not just what to do to improve but also how to go about it
    • The important point is that after receiving the feedback, besides “putting the ball back in the students’ court,” the teacher also needs to set aside time for students to read, respond to, and act on feedback.

    Self- and Peer-Assessment

    Both self- and peer-assessment are important for providing students an opportunity to think metacognitively about their learning

    Self- Assessment - Activating students as owners of their own learning

    When teachers are told they are responsible for making sure that their students do well, the quality of their teaching deteriorates, as does their students’ learning (Deci et al. 1982). In contrast, when students take an active part in monitoring and regulating their learning, then the rate of their learning is dramatically increased. Indeed, it is common to find studies in which the rate of students’ learning is doubled, so that students learn in six months what students in control groups take a year to learn (Fontana and Fernandes 1994; Mevarech and Kramarski 1997).

    • Teachers must assist students in the development of metacognitive thinking about their own learning. This enables students to take responsibility for learning and evaluating their own progress in the learning process.
    • Teachers should provide opportunities and instruction that models how students can participate in this reflective process for meaningful and constructive feedback.
    • Student- and peer-assessment should not be used in the formal grading process.

    Peer-Assessment - Activating students as learning resources for one another

    Slavin, Hurley, and Chamberlain (2003) have shown that activating students as learning resources for one another produces some of the largest gains seen in any educational interventions, provided two conditions are met. The first is that the learning environment must provide for group goals, so that students are working as a group instead of just working in a group. The second condition is individual accountability, so that each student is responsible for his or her contribution to the group, so there can be no “passengers.”

    • To learn effectively, pupils require good quality, continuous feedback, tailored to the pupils’ individual needs. If the source of all the feedback in a classroom is the teacher, there will inevitably be bottlenecks in this provision. Providing learners with the framework and skills for peer and self-assessment reduces the burden on the teacher.


    • Peer and self-assessment promotes metacognition in learners. It helps them to develop a deeper awareness of how they learn and this promotes better learning.
    • Research shows that pupil assessment can be more effective than traditional teacher-based marking. Pupils often listen more actively to the observations of learning partners and accord higher status to their evaluations.



    A classroom culture in which teachers and students are partners in learning should be established.

    • Teachers must create an environment where students feel that they are partners in the learning process.
    • The teacher should establish trust and mutual respectful spaces where all students feel safe to provide constructive feedback.

    Assessment encourages collaboration among students while they are learning. To achieve this collaboration, the learning goals and success criteria must be accessible to the students and the teacher must support the students as they learn how to help one another improve their work

    1. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)  -  “Five Attributes of Effective Formative Assessment”  (http://www.ccsso.org)
    2. Inside the Black Box - Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam
    3. Learning and Teaching Scotland  (http://www.ltscotland.org.uk)
    4. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics  - Five “Key Strategies” for Effective Formative Assessment (http://www.nctm.org)
    5. Formative assessment – By Heather Coffey (http://www.learnnc.org)
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