Evidence on formative classroom assessment for learning

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A literature review on research, evidence and programmatic approaches on formative classroom assessment for learning.

Summary:

Formative assessments, also known as classroom assessment, continuous assessment or assessment for learning, are those carried out by teachers and students as part of day-to-day activity (Clarke, 2012a). There are multiple interpretations of formative assessment, but most literature takes the broad definition offered by Black and Wiliam (1998, cited in Pryor, 2015: 208): “encompassing all those activities undertaken by teachers, and/or by students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged”. Examples are oral questioning, homework, student presentations, and quizzes (Clarke, 2012a), and any and all other activities which provide the teacher with information on the students’ learning.

This light-touch review of literature on classroom assessments (CA) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia finds that they are rarely implemented effectively. It is extremely common to find references to CA in policy documents but find that teachers do not use CA in the classroom. Sometimes this is because there is little institutional support for CA, few example materials, and no training, and sometimes this is because teachers do not understand or see the purpose of CA and continue to teach in a top-down manner. Most schooling systems in developing countries have a crippling emphasis on summative exams, and teachers often end up ‘teaching to the test’ whether they want to or not.

Parental pressure plays some part in teaching styles, as teachers are under pressure to show parents that they are preparing their children to pass important exams which open the door to the next level of education. Teacher training chronically underprepares teachers for CA; in some cases not giving any training and in others only explaining how to fill in the government-mandated forms. On the other hand, there are examples in the literature of teachers intuitively using CA methods such as questioning, observation and homework, but not naming it as CA.

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