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Formative Evaluation of Student Learning

What is Formative Evaluation? 

Formative evaluation includes any form of classroom interaction that generates information on student learning, which is then used by faculty and students to fine-tune their teaching and learning strategies, respectively, during the teaching-learning process. 

Methods of formative evaluation include: 

Faculty use formative evaluation to identify gaps between what students understand and/or skills they possess relative to expected learning objectives for a course, unit of content, and/or activity and then offer feedback to help students close these gaps, before they confront high-stakes tests and assignments.

This information can also enable the faculty member to objectively evaluate any assumptions they hold concerning what and how students are learning. In turn, students can benefit from frequent and thoughtful feedback that promotes their own self-awareness (metacognition) and self-regulation of the learning process.

Formative evaluations differ from summative exams, reports, and related assignments which provide a static picture of student learning (typically at the end of curricular units) and do not afford students low-stakes opportunities to correct mistakes and/or adjust their study habits. It follows that summative assessments can be formative when accompanied by instructional feedback that enables students to make learning adjustments and improve future work within a course.

Formative evaluations encourage an ongoing, reciprocal exchange between faculty and student(s) that can move students toward expert self-monitoring of their work and intellectual persistence. It can also move them from risk-avoidance behaviors toward a mastery goal orientation. Research on formative assessment practices also point to gains in student motivation and achievement in the classroom.

Benefits of formative evaluation are more likely when: 

  1. evaluation techniques provide appropriate 1:1 measure for stated learning objectives that are accompanied by clear criteria for success 
  2. evaluation encourages students to learn from mistakes and is not linked to grading practice or other forms of judgment 
  3. faculty encourage a mastery goal orientation (growth focus) over a performance goal orientation (competition focus) 
  4. faculty provide models and instruction to help students connect formative feedback with metacognitive practice 

A complex mix of factors act upon, and are embedded in, evaluation strategies and student-faculty interactions. As a result, the use of formative evaluation practices does not guarantee measurable benefits in student learning, motivation, and self-awareness. Opportunities to document these outcomes may be further confounded by decisions and compromises made in formulating classroom research. 

For example: 

  • how can instructors help students transfer newly acquired learning behaviors to new situations? 
  • what effect size(s) should researchers use to reliably gauge benefits of formative evaluation on student learning outcomes?

Support References 

Anderman, E.M., C.C. Austin., and D.M. Johnson. (2002). The development of goal orientation. In: The Development of Achievement Motivation, ed. A. Wigfield and J.S. Eccles, 197-220. New York Academy Press

Black, P. and D. William. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practices, 5(1), 7-74

Butler, R. (1988). Enhancing and undermining intrinsic motivation; the effects of different feedback conditions on motivational perceptions, interest and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 58(1), 1-14.

Filsecker, M. and M. Kerres. (2012). Repositioning formative assessment from an educational assessment perspective: a response to Dunn & Mulvenon (2009). Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 17(16), 2-9

Kingston, N and B. Nash. (2011). Formative Assessment: A meta-analysis and call for research. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 30(4). 28-37

Meece, J.L., Anderman, E.M., and L.H., Anderman. (2006). Classroom goal structure, student motivation, and academic achievement. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 487-503.

Shepard, L.A. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Education Researcher, 29(7), 4-14.