How Does Formative Assessment Help in Learning
In a paper published in the American Educational Research Journal, a group of German researchers has shown the important relationship between formative assessments and the more general features of quality teaching. The study involves 28 teachers and 551 third grade students from 18 public elementary schools in Germany who are learning a specific topic in science, floating versus sinking. The research is a randomized controlled study that measures the effect of formative assessments on students' learning outcomes with a careful consideration of the following general features of quality teaching:
- Cognitive Activation or Instructional Support - How well does a teacher choose or develop strategies that specifically address students' current understanding
- Supportive Climate or Emotional Support - How positive is the relationship does the teacher try to foster with students
- Classroom Management or Classroom Organization - How clear are the procedures and rules inside the classroom
The results indicate that formative assessment provides benefits to student learning with Cognitive Activation and a Supportive Climate:
"It should be noted that in our study the diagnostic tests and semistructured student feedback sheets given to the teachers had been designed for implementation in the curriculum. The standardized materials for the use of embedded formative assessment in class had been developed to examine students’ current level of conceptual understanding and to guide future teaching and learning. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the intervention varied with the quality of classroom processes. Thus, it can be speculated that training teachers in the use of embedded formative assessment in class and providing them with high-quality materials is necessary but not sufficient to ensure appropriate use in the classroom. Rather, our results indicate that the effectiveness of embedded formative assessment for student learning depends on how the teacher supports students and how he or she keeps them cognitively active during lessons... These global factors of classroom process quality are not necessarily improved by providing assessment tools and teacher training in formative assessment practices...."Formative assessments can work but they do require good teachers. The authors also add the fact that in this study, content is defined and made uniform in all classes. Without doubt, content-related factors likewise play a very important role. A teacher who is able to stretch and extend the subject matter to specifically address the needs and and take advantage of the strengths of the students can bring even greater effectiveness to formative assessments.