09 SES 06 C, Discussing Social Impact in Education Research and Assessment Related Education Policy and Research
The objective of this paper is to critically examine the conceptual understanding underpinning the formative/summative distinction since the concepts were coined by Michael Scriven (1967) in relation to curriculum program evaluation 50 years ago. The distinction has since been elaborated and its meaning expanded both within the area of educational evaluation and educational assessment (Cizek, 2010, p. 5). While acknowledging that the concepts originated from the area of (system level) educational evaluation, this paper focuses on the use of the distinction in relation to processes of determining individuals’ attainment.
Scriven’s 1967 paper was a philosophical account related to studies of effectiveness of schools’ curriculum programs. He suggested the concept formative evaluation to describe the role in the “on-going improvement of the curriculum” and summative evaluation to “enable administrators [to make decisions with respect to] the finished curriculum” (p. 41). Scriven’s definition of “formative” was later extended by Bloom, Hasting and Madaus (1971), who proposed that “formative tests” should be administrated after the completion of appropriate learning units “to determine the degree of mastery of a given learning task and to pinpoint the part of the task not mastered” (p. 61). For students who mastered the task, formative tests were to “reinforce the learning and assure him that his present mode of learning and approach to study is adequate”, while for students who lacked mastery of the unit “the formative test should reveal the particular points of difficulty” (p. 54). According to Cizek (2010, p. 5), this definition is foundational for how formative assessment is understood in the United States.
Black and Wiliam’s (1998) research review on formative assessment received tremendous attention globally and has been commonplace used in Europe to call for a shift from summative to formative assessment in policy as well as in the practices of educational assessment (Kirton, Hallam, Peffers, Robertson and Stobart, 2007). To further clarify the intentions of formative assessment, the Assessment Reform Group’s (ARG) in the United Kingdom introduced a set of principles known as Assessment for Learning (AFL), aiming to further emphasize the need of assessment practices to support, rather than undermine, learning and instruction (ARG, 1999).
There is however no consensual distinction between the formative assessment and AFL concepts, and between these concepts’ relationship with summative assessment and Assessment of Learning respectively. This causes confusion with respect to what we are talking about when we use the concepts formative and summative.
Based on the analysis of five different conceptual understandings of formative and summative assessment (outlined below), the paper critically discusses the way formative assessment has been emphasised in Assessment for Learning programs worldwide. As Bennett (2011) points out, one cannot be sure of these program’s effects unless adequate definitions of the meaning of formative assessment and AFL is applied. In recent years the theoretical definitions of formative assessment, and national states’ implementation of AFL programs, have been criticised (Baird et al 2014; Bennett, 2011; Hopfenbeck, Tolo, Florez & Masri, 2013; Hopfenbeck, Petour & Tolo, 2015; Newton, 2007; Jonsson, Lundahl & Holmgren, 2015; Taras, 2007, 2009). Baird et al (2014) conclude that conceptual problems makes it difficult to identify effects of AFL policies.
The paper contends that these conceptual problems cause problems both with respect to policymaking and research deliberations. Firstly, shallow conceptual understanding in policymakers and researchers’ deliberations may cause misunderstandings with respect to the premises of assessment reform in other countries. Secondly, it may be difficult – if not outright impossible – to interpret effects of intervention studies that addresses formative assessment and/or Assessment for Learning due the vastly different conceptual understanding underpinning research participants and researchers’ terminology.
Baird, J.-A., Hopfenbeck, T. N., Newton, P. E., Stobart, G., & Steen-Utheim, A. T. (2014). Assessment and Learning (No. 13/4697) (pp. 1–174). Norwegian Knowledge Centre for Education. Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2004). Working inside the black box: assessment for learning in the classroom.. Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2005). Lessons from around the world: how policies, politics and cultures constrain and afford assessment practices. Curriculum Journal, 16(2), 249–261. http://doi.org/10.1080/09585170500136218 Black, Paul & Wiliam, Dylan (1998). Assessment and Classroom Learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5:1. Bloom, B. S.; Engelhart, M. D.; Furst, E. J.; Hill, W. H.; Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company. Jonsson, A., Lundahl, C., & Holmgren, A. (2015). Evaluating a large-scale implementation of Assessment for Learning in Sweden. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 22(1), 104–121. http://doi.org/10.1080/0969594X.2014.970612 Kirton, A., Hallam, S., Peffers, J., Robertson, P., & Stobart, G. (2007). Revolution, evolution or a Trojan horse? Piloting assessment for learning in some Scottish primary schools. British Educational Research Journal, 33(4), 605–627. http://doi.org/10.1080/01411920701434136 Newton, P. E. (2007). Clarifying the purposes of educational assessment. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 14(2), 149–170. http://doi.org/10.1080/09695940701478321 Sadler, D.R. (1987). Specifying and Promulgating Achievement Standards Sadler, Royce (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science 18: 119-144. Scriven, M. (1967). The methodology of evaluation. In Stake, R. E. Curriculum evaluation. Chicago: Rand McNally. American Educational Research Association (monograph series on evaluation, no. 1. Scriven, M. 1986. Evaluation as a paradigm for educational research. In New directions in educational evaluation, ed. R. House, 53–67. New York: Falmer Press. Scriven, M. (1990). Beyound formative and summative evaluation. In M. McLaughlin & D. Phillips (Eds.), NSSE Yearkbook, Evaluation & Education. Stobart, G. (2008). Testing Time. The uses and abuses of assessment. London: Routledge. Taras, M. (2005). Assessment – Summative and Formative – Some Theoretical Reflections. British Journal of Educational Studies, 53(4), 466–478. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8527.2005.00307.x Taras, M. (2007). Assessment for learning: understanding theory to improve practice. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 31(4), 363–371. http://doi.org/10.1080/03098770701625746 Taras, M. (2009). Summative assessment: the missing link for formative assessment. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 33(1), 57–69. http://doi.org/10.1080/03098770802638671
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