Doing More with Formative Assessments

Formative Assessments
Authors Kulasegaram and Rangachari propose moving beyond our understanding of formative assessments as “interim measures” that lead to the real, final assessments—the ones that generate the all-important grades. They suggest we stop calling them formative assessments and start thinking about them as assessments for learning. “We contend that assessment for meaningful learning should prepare students not just to get good grades and meet the requirements of a specific course, but give them the training, the skills, and the enthusiasm for the long haul.” (p. 5)

To continue reading, you must be a Teaching Professor Subscriber. Please log in or sign up for full access.

Related Articles

Love ’em or hate ’em, student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are here to stay. Parts <a href="https://www.teachingprofessor.com/free-article/its-time-to-discuss-student-evaluations-bias-with-our-students-seriously/" target="_blank"...

Since January, I have led multiple faculty development sessions on generative AI for faculty at my university. Attitudes...
Does your class end with a bang or a whimper? Many of us spend a lot of time crafting...

Faculty have recently been bombarded with a dizzying array of apps, platforms, and other widgets that...

The rapid rise of livestream content development and consumption has been nothing short of remarkable. According to Ceci...

Feedback on performance has proven to be one of the most important influences on learning, but students consistently...

Authors Kulasegaram and Rangachari propose moving beyond our understanding of formative assessments as “interim measures” that lead to the real, final assessments—the ones that generate the all-important grades. They suggest we stop calling them formative assessments and start thinking about them as assessments for learning. “We contend that assessment for meaningful learning should prepare students not just to get good grades and meet the requirements of a specific course, but give them the training, the skills, and the enthusiasm for the long haul.” (p. 5) They support this new vision of formative assessment by pointing out how inadequately most summative assessments measure competence. Their context is medical education, but the points they make relate to the preparation of all kinds of professionals. Testing factual recall is easy and its methods are objective, but there are pedagogical costs. “Important learning outcomes, such as the ability of students to extrapolate their knowledge or apply it to novel problems. . .are lost. Moreover, poor learning behaviors are reinforced in students, including the tendency to gorge on knowledge immediately before assessment and followed by a quick purge as the students move on to the next assessment.” (p. 6) Assessments for learning should accomplish a “judicious mix” (p. 9) of the following: 1) help learners see where they are in meeting course objectives; 2) identify what they haven't learned or still need to learn; 3) enable them to transfer their knowledge and skills to novel situations; 4) promote a deeper understanding of the material; and 5) provide them an opportunity to personalize their learning. These assessments can take place at several different levels in an educational experience. They can happen in the classroom, at the level of the course (meaning they build individual class sessions and course topics into a coherent integrated whole), and at the programmatic level. Interesting points are made about the need for rigor in assessment for learning. Formative assessments are often referred to as “low-stakes” and that's fine, but that shouldn't be conflated with “low quality.” If an assessment is to promote learning it must reinforce what's being learned, provide feedback on both the content and the learning, and direct the learner to resources that can be helpful with improvement. Feedback that promotes learning is “actionable.” It offers the learner things they can do that respond to what they have done. Receiving feedback, particularly if it's critical, can cause learners to self-protect. This means those delivering the feedback must be concerned about the content, how the feedback is delivered, and what's identified as in need of improvement. Although this discussion of assessment for learning is abstract, it does include a number of concrete examples, among them some not often considered, like oral exams. If students are permitted to select the topics, oral exams offer a powerful way for individualizing learning. Student knowledge can be probed in ways not possible on paper exams. And the oral exam makes cheating and plagiarism moot. The primary objective of learning assessments is not grade generation. The feedback enables the student to monitor where they are on the way to meeting the course objectives. So, if the oral exam is something more like an oral review session, it might not be as anxiety-provoking. Moreover, the authors are aware that factors like class size, faculty-student ratios in a program, the layout of classrooms, and the available time all have implications in terms of what can be accomplished. Assessment for learning at its best is a time-consuming endeavor. However, the benefits of assessment for learning are worth accomplishing even in bits. If oral exams are not feasible, a collection or even a few individualized exam questions, possibly selected from a question set proposed by the student, can provide the student a novel learning experience. “Meaningful learning can be significantly enhanced if students were given an opportunity to personalize their learning.” (p. 6) It's an interesting article that does propose a different and definitely more substantive way of thinking about formative assessment. Not only does it require a change of attitude and understanding on the part of the teacher, it would require considerable re-ordering in how students think about assessment. Considering it makes sense when we remember that assessment drives learning—how learning is assessed determines what students will learn and how they will learn it. Reference: Kulasegaram, K. and Rangachari, P. (2018). Beyond “formative”: Assessment to enrich student learning. Advances in Physiology Education, 42 (1), 5-14.