Teachers describe challenges of developing formative assessment tasks

iStock_000019142594XSmallMany teachers lack a clear understanding of the differences between formative and summative assessment, according to a recent study in Assessment in Education. This shaky understanding is one of the challenges teachers face when they try to develop formative assessment tasks for their classrooms, write the authors of this study of 12 UK teachers developing assessments tasks for geography.

Study: “Exploring the role of assessment tasks to promote formative assessment in Key Stage 3 Geography: Evidence from twelve teachers,” by Yonca Tiknaz and Alan Sutton, Assessment in Education, November 2006, Volume 13, Number 3, pp. 327-343.

Conclusion: With the introduction of the National Curriculum in England, teachers had to change their assessment practices to assess pupils against national standards. In order to plan formative assessment tasks, teachers needed to have a working map of progression in geographical learning throughout the key stages. Among the challenges in developing formative assessments for the classroom were: communicating the differences in levels of achievement to students and developing differentiated tasks for students of varying abilities.

Main research questions: How do teachers devise assessment tasks that evaluate differentiation and progression? How are assessment tasks, feedback, feedforward (target setting) and pupil self- and peer-assessment related? How do teachers respond to level descriptions in interim assessment activities?

Participants: Heads of geography and humanities departments

Method: Observations and pupil and teacher interviews with a semi-structured framework. Teachers were expected to refer to levels of achievement in geography to assess students based on four distinct progression strands in geography: inquiry and skills, place, patterns and processes, and environmental change and sustainable development.

LESSONS LEARNED: • One of the key concepts of formative assessment is teacher feedback and feedforward, which works in two ways–to help the pupil improve learning and enable teachers to make adjustments to their teaching. Feedback is designed to close the gap between pupils’ current and desired level of learning and performance.• If information about a gap in learning is just recorded, then the action is not formative. Active involvement of the pupils in assessment of their learning is needed with a particular emphasis on how they are progressing.• Teachers reported using checklists to provide feedback and feedforward. The checklists helped pupils understand what they were expected to achieve and how they were going to be judged.• When they reviewed their written comments to students, teachers found that providing positive reinforcement, especially to low-achieving students, detracted from the quality of the formative assessment.

Findings: Among the challenges teachers reported were:

• Providing differentiated tasks, especially for higher-achieving students. Differentiation is defined as planned intervention to enable pupils with different learning needs to achieve their highest levels. It was easier for teachers to provide differentiated tasks for students at lower ability levels.

• Eight of 12 teachers found it difficult to articulate progression, or what might be meant by increasing depth in pupils’ understanding.

• Target setting was used by teachers for communicating to their pupils the next steps in their learning. Nine of 12 teachers used assessment checklists for target setting and to guide self- and peer assessments.

• Teachers found it difficult to translate the assessment criteria into language their pupils could understand and also to communicate the levels of achievement.

From Assessment for Learning: 12 recent studies on formative assessment and aligning assessments with learning goals, published by Educational Research Newsletter August 2007

Download report here

One Response to “Teachers describe challenges of developing formative assessment tasks”

  1. June Sherman

    Are there any websites with common formative assessments aligned to World Geography TEKS?


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