Within education, assessment is of considerable importance (Murchan and
Shiel, 2017). Summative
assessment – which refers to a judgement that ‘encapsulates’ all evidence of
learning after a given point (e.g. tests, and interim assessments) – has been
criticised, as it has been known to increase pupil disengagement, whilst not
suiting the full range of learning outcomes of the pupils (Taras, 2005; ARG,
2002). Earl (2013) emphasises
that this type of assessment is inadequate.
Therefore, in many schools, formative assessment is a more suited
alternative, as it is more of a continuous process that allows pupils and
teachers to intently monitor learning, and inform any future instruction (Cummings et al. 2012).
In accordance with the ideas of Black (et al. 2010) formative assessment is used to accumulate
evidence of pupils’ work, which can be used as feedback by teachers, to help
the pupils. Formative assessment allows teachers to adapt future lessons, as a
means of catering to the pupils’ needs, which should have been highlighted in
their work (Alber, 2014).
This is in line with the ideas of Boston (2002), who claims
that in order for it to be classed as formative,
the assessments simply must be used
to adapt future lessons. Similarly, in
the words of Harlen (2000), formative assessment should progress to an action
that aids further learning. Additionally,
Black (et al. 2010) suggests that formative
assessment should provide pupils with feedback on their performance, in order
to improve their learning, which is in agreement with the likes of Sadler (1998)
and Wiliam (1999).
Research has highlighted that formative assessment is often
referred to synonymously with Assessment for Learning (AfL). Interestingly, in accordance with QCA (2003) and
Weeden et al. (2002), most authors treat the terms as
‘essentially interchangeable’. However, Gardner (2009)
emphasises that AfL refers specifically to the collection teachniques and
approaches that are associated with formative assessment. Quite simply, AfL is an ‘umbrella’ term, which
formative assessment is placed under (Gavriel, 2015).
AfL has been described by the ARG (2002) as the process of
“seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide
where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to
get there”. Stobart (2008) has extended
upon this, and describes AfL as pupils being able to expand their skills
through ‘learning to learn’. The ARG
(2002) explain that AfL includes involving the learner in the assessment process. This can either be formally – by
setting targets or writing success criteria, or informally – through oral and
written feedback, questioning, and self and peer-assessments. Effective use of AfL should lead to higher
quality learning by pupils (Laveault and Allal, 2016). However, the imperative word within that
claim is ‘effective’. Harrison (2013)
explains that many teachers lack training in the approaches to AfL, and therefore
find it difficult to implement effectively.