Assessment Education Perspectives

Empowering Students with Formative Assessment

Empowering Students with Formative Assessment

Earlier this year, Andrew Miller continued his praise of formative assessment in an Edutopia post – Formative Assessment is Transformational. He discussed grading transformation, where “formative assessment leads to more equitable and fair grading practices.” He touched on teaching transformation, where “working smarter, not harder” is one of the natural outcomes from implementing formative assessment. And he also highlighted student learning transformation, where student learning becomes transparent to the student, and they are aware of where they are along the path to learning. What really hit home to me in his post was the final section on a “classroom of empowerment.”

As Andrew writes:

Students are empowered to take ownership of the learning process. They know where they are and can set goals for next steps. They are given the power to “fail forward” and know that it’s never too late to learn. Teachers are also empowered to make the right decisions in meeting the needs of their students.

Part of taking ownership of their learning process involves student self-assessment and peer-assessment. Research has shown that engaging students in self- and peer-assessment significantly improves student learning. Additionally, when students are provided with assessment (and success) criteria, their performance improves.

Fontana and Fernandes focused on self-assessment and found that students who used self-assessment strategies over a period of eight months improved at a faster rate than comparable students taught by conventional methods. (Fontana, D., & Fernandes, M. (1994). Improvements in the mathematics performance as a consequence of self-assessment in Portuguese primary school pupils. British Journal of Educational Psychology.)

In another study, primary school students who were given concrete structures and explicit guidance for peer-assessment, specifically in communicating, working, and thinking with others, had significantly higher achievement and reasoning scores (Mercer, N., Dawes, L., Wegerif, R., & Sams, C. (2004). Reasoning as a scientist: Ways of helping children to use language to learn science. British Educational Research Journal.).

In general, students in today’s classrooms are not given enough responsibility for their own learning. Often classrooms are organized around a lecture, and information is presented with little student involvement. To be successful, teachers need to find ways to not only share success criteria and to model quality work for their students, but also to help them take responsibility for moving toward those success criteria. Formative assessment is the perfect vehicle for instilling this classroom empowerment, and, as Andrew drives home in his post, is transformational.

To learn more about how to incorporate formative assessment in your classroom, check this post. Trying on formative assessment in your classroom – keep it simple. Have you given formative assessment a try yet? Tell us about it on Facebook or Twitter.


Kathy Dyer