Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Formative Assessment and the Contemporary Classroom: Synergies and Tensions between Research and Practice

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Formative Assessment and the Contemporary Classroom: Synergies and Tensions between Research and Practice

Article excerpt


Twenty teachers working in elementary and secondary schools were interviewed from 2 school districts in southern Ontario, Canada about their understanding and use of particular formative assessment strategies. Analysis of the interviews followed a constant comparison method and revealed a variety of emerging themes. Results suggested an imbalance in the use of formative assessment methods associated with improvements in student learning and achievement. Many teachers noted tensions in using particular formative assessment strategies such as peer assessment and self-assessment. The discussion focuses on the implications for teacher education reform and in- service professional development so that greater synergy between formative assessment research and practice can be obtained in contemporary classrooms.

Descriptors: Formative assessment; teacher knowledge; professional development.


Vingt enseignants travaillant dans des ecoles primaires et secondaires, de 2 districts scolaires dans le sud de l'Ontario au Canada, ont ete interroges au sujet de leur comprehension et de leur utilisation de strategies particulieres d'evaluation formative. L'analyse des entrevues a suivi une methode de comparaison constante eta reve1e une variete de themes emergents. Les resultats suggerent un desequilibre dans rutilisation de methodes d'evaluation formative associe a l'ame1ioration de l'apprentissage des e1eves et a leur reussite. De nombreux enseignants ont remarque des tensions en utilisant notamment des strategies d'evaluation formative telles que revaluation par les pairs et l'autoevaluation. Le debat se concentre sur les implications d'une reforme de la formation des enseignants et du developpement professionnel des enseignants en service, afin qu'une plus grande synergie entre la recherche et la pratique de l'evaluation formative puisse etre obtenue dans les salles de classe contemporaine.

Descripteurs: evaluation formative, connaissances des enseignants, developpement professionnel.

Author's Note

This research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Formative assessment and the contemporary classroom: Synergies and tensions between research and practice

In recent years, research has highlighted the importance of different phases of assessment and a divergence from the "teach, test, and hope for the best" model that has dominated schools (Earl, 2003; Harlen, 2007; Stiggins, 2008; Volante, 2010). The rationale for this shift has been coupled with many hopeful signs that improvements in classroom assessment will contribute to the improvement of student learning (Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall, & Wiliam, 2004). Nevertheless, it is only the consistent use of formative assessment (also known as assessment for learning) that has shown promise in improving student learning and achievement (Black & Wiliam, 2006; Earl & Katz, 2006; Assessment Reform Group, 2002). Formative assessment practices are ongoing and take place during a lesson or unit of study. Examples might include a student completing a journal reflection, self-assessment of a performance, or submission for a draft of a final assignment. Conversely, summative assessment strategies (also known as assessment of learning) are those that primarily serve an evaluative function at the end of a unit or term. Summative assessment methods are typically traditional paper-and-pencil measures such as quizzes, tests, exams, essays, or projects that form a portion of a student's final grade. For example, many secondary students in North America complete a final exam that is worth a significant portion of their final grade. These final exams are used to determine the degree of achievement of specific competencies in particular subject areas such as science, mathematics, geography, history, or English.

Although both forms of assessment serve specific and separate functions, summative and formative assessments are not mutually exclusive in practice. …

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