Formative Assessment: Assessing for the sake of learning (2023)

In a nutshell:

  • Formative Assessment (FA) means targeted, criteria-based individual assessment, which is used by the learner for the further learning process.

  • FA has implications for the form of performance assessment, feedback culture, teacher role and individualized learning.

  • In the future, teachers should rather be seen as companions and coaches and say goodbye to the idea that learning success takes place in step.

social development

Our students are growing up in a society increasingly characterized by pervasive judgment. This often comes in simple forms, such as asterisks, likes and followers in social networks, scales from 1 to 6 or 10 or something similar. "Ratings and rankings, scoring and screenings teach us patterns of perception, thought and assessment that are increasingly based on data and indicators."

In many areas (health care, science, tourism, partner search, job performance, economy, etc.), an evaluation society is formed, which naturally reaches the group most receptive and willing to develop the fastest: the young people. The social media they use disproportionately are "pioneer places for the implementation and dissemination of quantifying forms of evaluation".

There is a risk that young people will strive too much for likes, shares and followers and base their life satisfaction on them. The school should make its contribution to promoting the maturity of its pupils in the face of these social tendencies. Because "Filtering and Assigning Meaning"

become everyday requirements for everyone in the assessment society and are not reserved for the respective specialists. In this context, the school, which traditionally functions within the social code of selection

, which determines progression to the next grade, qualifications and possible place in society, also ensure that students are equipped with skills for reflection, appraisal and self-evaluation. The traditional form of performance evaluation and its social selection function, in which the administration still fervently believes, are subject to a high level of error. Keep in mind the relevant types of error in traditional performance evaluation (i.e. summative assessment): halo effect, tendency towards the middle, alignment error or Pygmalion effect – to name just a few.

Types of errors at a glance

Halo Effect:In the case of the halo effect, a global impression or a special feature (positive or negative) outshines the perception of other features, which are usually not directly observable. Example: Politeness = assumption of high efficiency. (Cf. Ready, D.D. & Wright, D.L. (2011): Accuracy and inaccuracy in teachers' perceptions of young children's cognitive abilities: The role of child background and classroom context. American Journal of Education Research (48), pp. 335- 360.)

Tendency towards the middle:This assessment error can lead to a disproportionately high number of results in the middle performance segment, because the assessing teacher - consciously or unconsciously - assumes the so-called "bell shape" or Gaussian distribution as the correct form of grade distribution.

misalignment:Many studies have shown that the order of corrected work has a significant impact on the grade value. In oral exams, for example, a poorly performing candidate is judged even worse if he follows a very good candidate - and vice versa. This assessment error was also intensively researched in written work.

Pygmalion Effect:Studies have repeatedly shown that teacher expectations influence actual student performance to such an extent that, over time, it actually turns out as expected - even when the expectations were completely inappropriate and based on false assumptions.

How can schools react to the social relevance of self-determined and external evaluation and the high error rate of traditional evaluation? One way to do this is Formative Assessment (FA). This term is on everyone's lips in the international discussion on education. In many cases, however, the associated ideas differ, which creates confusion and arbitrariness. I will first explain what distinguishes FA from the common, administratively standardized form of performance evaluation (summative assessment), before I examine four fields that are directly connected to the idea of ​​FA: feedback culture, the changed teacher role, individualized learning and the changed performance evaluation .

Explanation of terms and impact dimensions

FA is the goal-oriented, criteria-driven individual assessment that is used by the learner (and by the teacher) for their further own learning process. In contrast to Summative Assessment, FA takes place during the learning process and not at the end. The purpose of FA is therefore not the most objective possible assessment of a level of performance in comparison to an assessment standard (technical norm) or to the learning group (social norm), but rather the feedback to the individual learner based on the learning progress, who thus promotes reflection and the progress of their own learning . In English, this distinction is also defined as "assessment FOR learning" instead of "assessment OF learning".

. Based on Dylan Wiliam, one of the theoretical founders of the FA, the evaluation principle can be described in three dimensions (see Fig. 1):

  1. Feed-Up (Zieldimension):The goal of the learning process must be clear to the learning group and each individual learner and must also appear meaningful, relevant and challenging. Maintaining this claim for every learner requires a high level of didactic ability. In theExternal link:Mathematica-ProjectAt the Voltaire School in Potsdam, for example, there is a voluntary, ungraded entrance test before each content-related section, which conveys the learning objectives directly to the students.

  2. Feed-Back (Diagnosedimension):At this level, taking into account the success criteria for feedback (see below) and making it clear to each individual learner where he or she currently stands in relation to the learning objective (feed-up) (methodical examples: see below).

  3. Feed-Forward:What does the individual learner need in order to continue working or thinking in the direction of the learning goal? It is possible, for example, to put individual stickers on written work that assign the pupils to follow-up tasks with which they can improve their work results. This point makes the difference to the Summative Assessment and makes it clear that it is difficult to combine FA with a grade, as this reduces the motivation to continue working. The culture of revision in IA-oriented teaching means that the students work more intensively on a smaller number of tasks overall. In concrete terms, this can mean in German lessons that the students produce fewer texts, which are then written in a higher quality in the end.

On the levels of feedback and feed-forward, the entire learning group can be activated as a mutual resource. The aim is to give the individual learner responsibility for their own learning process. So he can reflect and control it himself.

Features of Formative Assessment

FA has several purposes: It generates and uses information to adjust and steer the learning process in the right direction. For clarification I use an image from space travel: Just as Apollo 11 regularly received small course corrections from the ground station in order to end up landing exactly at the planned place on the moon, FA provides the learners with feedback to successfully achieve their own learning path bring to. It is even more successful when the Apollo crew (the learner) makes course corrections and next steps themselves. Another function is to steer the focus away from extrinsically motivating grades and towards the self-responsible learning process. To do this, the students need metacognitive strategies, i.e. they should evaluate, control and advance their own learning process. Dylan Wiliam, who has already been quoted, has now distanced himself from his own concept. "Responsive teaching" is actually the more appropriate term, as "assessment" sounds too much like an assessment of performance and has been misinterpreted.

Feedback culture and indicators

Feedback is an essential part of FA. An established, constructive feedback culture is one of the prerequisites for successful FA. The following indicators make for effective feedback:

  • student-appropriate criteria and forms of expression

  • concrete observations

  • reasonable scope

  • suitable time

  • timely evaluation

  • recognizable consequences in the form of instructions for further work or changes in the learning setting

  • Clarity about sender and addressee (who gives feedback to whom, when and with what intention?)

Given the importance of feedback in general, it is advisable to practice the procedure intensively with students (feedback on feedback). Giving feedback as well as dealing with and processing feedback can also be made the subject of performance evaluation. In the video example of "External link:Austin’s butterfly", it becomes clear that feedback can not only benefit the learner, but - if it is in the spirit of Susan Brookhart

is used in a target-oriented and effective way - also has enormous learning potential for the classmates as a feedback provider. The mechanisms that are shown in the film using elementary school students can be transferred to all age groups.

Changed teacher role

The success of FA is linked to a teacher's role, which sees the teacher as a companion, coach and "enabler" (enabler) and not just as an instructor, imparter of knowledge and performer. The focus of lesson planning must be the learning of the individual pupils and not the course of a teacher-centred teaching process. For the teacher, this also means a farewell to the idea of ​​progress in step and a reduction in hierarchy through the inclusion of all students as feedback authorities and the transfer of responsibility for the learning process to the individual learner. This also includes a productive error culture

, because mistakes should not only be tolerated, but can even accelerate learning if they are meaningfully provoked and reflected upon.

Individual learning

The concept of the FA takes into account the demands for individual learning, in that every student (even if only for a certain time) takes an individual learning path based on personalized feedback with the same learning goal. The learning paths can be the same for several learners. However, the perception of the individual learner is characterized by the fact that he takes his own path to learning success, which increases acceptance and motivation. Individual support takes place, for example, through audio or video feedback, which is easy to implement thanks to the current technical possibilities. TheExternal link:Example from an Australian colleagueillustrates this. In addition to the individually appropriate feedback information, this form also motivates people to continue working, in my experience, thanks to the individual coupling with voice and/or video. The correcting teacher concentrates on key points and gives more differentiated feedback than in the usual form of short side notes.

Changed performance evaluation and "individual norm"

FA fits in seamlessly with the currently discussed ideas for changed performance evaluation, the main focus of which is less on billable, comparable performance determination and more on motivating, individual performance development. School trials are currently being carried out across Germany to determine whether, for example, an individually selectable point in time and/or the selectable form of performance assessment has a positive effect on learning behavior. Possible or mandatory revisions play a role here, as does the tendency to demand more complex services in what is known as requirement area III (AFB III

). The provision of reproductive performance (i.e. AFB I: learning basic knowledge) does not require an FA, but can be meaningfully assessed using conventional methods of performance assessment.

FA can also help to reduce the dominance of the social norm, i.e. the evaluation of a performance in comparison with the rest of the learning group. In its school law, the federal state of Brandenburg expressly states that the individual norm (in addition to social and material norms) is decisive for the "principles of performance evaluation" as a special feature.

out of. Consequently, the learning development of the student should be taken into account here: a legal legitimation for FA.

Methodical examples

With the applicationExternal link:FormativeTeachers can create tasks in very different forms (multiple choice, enter texts, edit materials such as images and videos, create the correct sequence, voice recordings in foreign language lessons, etc.), which the students can work on digitally individually. The special feature: The teacher sees the resulting individual results live in the work process and can give digital feedback (visually or with a text comment) and tips for further work. The situation is similar with collaborative text programs such asEtherpads

or offers from commercial providers such asGoogleDocs. Here, the students can use different devices to create texts or presentations together and the teacher can give feedback during the process that makes further work or corrections easier. Students can also get feedback from each other. In terms of work efficiency, the digital variants have some advantages over analogue methods, such as attaching Post-Its to texts or other products for revision. The idea that originated in Great BritainYellow Box("Yellow box") ensures a dynamic approach to correcting written work. An area of ​​the work that is to be revised is marked with a yellow highlighter or a particularly relevant revision task is formulated in a yellow box under the work. Correcting becomes more effective because the entire work is not commented on in detail, but a specific aspect is focused on which is subsequently worked on in concrete terms. All errors are taken into account for the grade evaluation, but the time-consuming commenting is limited to a particularly relevant area, which is then also revised.

The conventional correction of written work can be enriched with an FA element, in which the teacher enters a number or aQR-Codewrite or stick in the margin. Students scan the QR code or find theirsNumberon a prepared website to carry out an online exercise there, for example an exercise on "that/that", one of the most common spelling mistakes

. Playful forms ofQuiz-Appslike Kahoot! (free), Socrative (free basic functions)

can be used by the teachers to gain information about the learning progress of individuals in order to adapt the further learning paths.

But FA does not necessarily have to be implemented digitally, as the following non-digital learning setting shows: First, the teacher introduces a new topic in a lecture. All learners then determine their ability to perform on the topic in an ungraded test (diagnosis). With their test result, the learners choose the appropriate exercise station. In the foreign languages, for example, this can be the future tense for one student, for another the linking of subordinate clauses. Variants are of course also possible here: Exercises can be carried out alone, in pairs or in groups and in different exercise forms. This is followed by a second test, which is similar or identical to the diagnostic test, but now involves a grade assessment. The students now determine their learning progress and reflect on the strategy of their revision ("Is it better to practice alone next time?" or similar). The tests and practice procedures can be performed non-digitally. However, the effort for the teacher is also reduced here if the tests are carried out digitally, for example with a form query such asGoogleFormsis carried out.

The method "Fault & Fixes" activates classmates for feedback within the group and forces revisions. After completing a task, all students receive a kind of sample solution as well as the work result of a classmate. The "faults", i.e. errors or unsuccessful ones, are shown in a table on the left Passages entered, in the right column the respective "fixes", i.e. suitable suggestions for improvement or further development.Each student now receives the table for their own work results and decides at which points they revise their own text.

difficulties and realization

Several examples made it clear that FA can also be implemented as a supplement or non-digitally. So a teacher does not have to change their entire approach if they endorse this approach. I see the following difficulties with the implementation:

  • Role understanding:Moving away from "control" and the role of "assessor" in the direction of "accompaniment" and diagnosis is difficult due to subjectively anchored patterns.

  • Data protection:Regulations in individual federal states differ, sensitive handling of personal data also means communicating with colleagues, parents and learners about dangers and limits. Time for discussing accounts, passwords, etc. must be allowed for in class.

  • The teacher as learner:As a teacher, I have to want to follow the digital paths presented, even at the risk that the first units will never go perfectly. A prescribed mission will not be successful.

  • Technical requirements:WLAN, Hardware,External link:BYOD - In the network between legal requirements, school administration, the situation of the study group and parents' homes and their own commitment, the teacher must make sensible cost-benefit decisions.

Despite these difficulties, I would like to encourage every interested teacher, based on my experience, to embark on the FA path - because the own workload decreases and the motivation and learning success of the students increase once FA methods have gained a foothold in the classroom.


Brookhart, Susan M.: How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students. 2. Auflage. Alexandria 2017

Dodge, Judith: 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom. Easy, Low-Prep Assessments That Help You Pinpoint Students‘ Needs and Reach All Learners. New York 2017

Fisher, Douglas und Frey, Nancy: The Formative Assessment Action Plan: Practical Steps to More Successful Teaching and Learning. London 2015

Heritage, Margaret: Formative Assessment. Make It Happen in the Classroom. Thousand Oaks 2010

Mau, Steffen: The metric we. About the quantification of the social. Berlin 2017

Spendlove, David: Assessment for Learning (100 Ideas for Teachers). London 2015

Stalder, Felix: Culture of Digitality. Berlin 2016

Wiliam, Dylan: Embedding Formative Assessment. Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms. London 2015

All students on the radar - learning progress monitoring and feedback in real time

Formative assessment in practice: With the Formative platform, information on the learning progress can be understood in real time, so that teachers can respond faster and more specifically to the individual needs in the class and work more efficiently.

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