The Research Base for Formative Assessment

Mary Ryerse and Susan Brookhart, writing for Getting Smart, recently analyzed the research base for formative assessment. Excerpts from their piece appear below:

The original research base on formative assessment is most typically traced back to the 1998 publication Assessment and Classroom Learning (Black & Wiliam, 1998), the first widely cited review of literature on formative assessment in the English language.  The researchers found “firm evidence” that formative assessment can work. In the Black and Wiliam review, the authors cited prior studies reporting effect sizes that ranged from 0.40 and 0.70 for formative assessment practice, a relatively strong indicator. Evidence for those numbers came mostly from a 1986 review of formative assessment in special education titled Effects of Systematic Formative Evaluation: A Meta-Analysis (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1986).

More recently, Formative Assessment: A Meta-Analysis and a Call for Research, (Kingston & Nash, 2011) estimated the effect size in the 0.20 to 0.30 range. Regardless, the findings point to a significant level of impact.

In Formative Assessment and Writing (Graham, Hiebert, & Harris, 2015), a review of formative assessment specifically assessing the effects on students learning to write, was conducted and found average effect sizes of 0.87, 0.62, 0.58, and 0.38 for feedback from adults, self, peers, and computers, respectively.  These effect sizes point to the importance of emphasizing specific content area feedback and assessment.

Additionally, evidence for the effects of formative assessment also comes from the much larger literature on the effects of feedback. Feedback is one of the foundational aspects of formative assessment.  Recent reviews of the feedback literature include the following:

  • The Power of Feedback (Hattie & Timperley,  2007). Summarizing previous meta-analyses of the effects of feedback, this review found an overall effect size of 0.79, which placed it among the top 5 or 10 influences of any kind on achievement.
  • Effects of Feedback in a Computer-Based Learning Environment on Students’ Learning Outcomes (Van der Kleij, Feskens, & Eggen, 2015). This review reported effect sizes of 0.49 for elaborated feedback (feedback that includes explanations, additional material, and/or suggestions for next steps) in the context of computer-based instruction.
  • Focus on Formative Feedback (Shute, 2008). This report provided a more descriptive review of the literature on task-level, formative feedback, and four summary tables of recommendations for practice based on the research reviewed.

It has been demonstrated that students become active agents in their educational process as they learn how to use feedback, set goals, monitor their own progress and select strategies that move their own learning forward. According to Formative Assessment: Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms, formative assessment practice has been shown to be highly effective in raising the level of student attainment, increasing equity of student outcomes and improving students’ ability to learn.

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