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Wow, hot off the press.   Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation surveyed 40,000 of America’s public school teachers for their thoughts on American Education.


This is a very interesting report.  Its too bad that they didn’t go into more detail about assessment.

At least, the survey is favorable to  formative assessment. Are we surprised?

“Ninety-two percent of teachers say ongoing in-classroom assessment is either very important or absolutely essential in measuring student performance”

“Teachers indicate that formative, ongoing assessments during class, along with class participation and performance on class assignments, are the most important measures of student achievement. “

Nice Slides Show

Formative Assessment – Meeting Expectations


The role of assessment is directly linked to meeting expectations and there is a lot to be learned from the field of quality management.

The manufacturing and services sector have managed to increase quality levels significantly over the last 20 years.  Many have reached the zero-defect level.

Things in the manufacturing and services sector weren’t always as they are today.

Quality Control  (Summative)
The initial role of quality control was to catch defects before they made it out of the factory. Products not passing the control mark were either marked as defective or graded as inferior.

High stakes testing and summative assessment are quality control functions.

Quality Assurance (Formative)
With time, personnel assigned to quality functions, realized that they had to go beyond “Control”.   Something was missing.  How could we ensure quality by reducing the number of defects. Couldn’t we fix problems at the source before the defects got created.  Shouldn’t our goal be zero defects.  Quality Assurance was born and quality levels increased.

Formative assessment is a Quality Assurance function.  We are still far from the level of quality assurance seen in manufacturing and service sectors.

We learn from the field of Quality Management that Quality Control is the detection of defects whereas Quality Assurance is the prevention of defects.

Total Quality Management
Then,  quality practitioners realized that Quality Control and Quality Assurance still wasn’t enough.  The employees would often identify solutions that could improve quality but didn’t have sufficient authority to implement. Other times the organizational changes were required to ensure quality crossed departments.    People came to realize that Quality didn’t just happen.   You had to make it happen.  If we really wanted quality we would have to plan, organize, lead, train people and continuously manage the quality related processes.  Quality Management was born and quality increased.

We will eventually see this type of evolution in the educational sector.

Zero-Defect  (No Child Left Behind)
Phil Cosby in his 1979 Quality is Free book introduced the concept of Zer0-Defect, doing right the first time.   At that time North America was in a Quality Crisis and losing grounds to Japanese companies who were into quality management. The book was very popular.

If we want formative assessment to work we should take a good look at what is being done in the field of Quality Assurance and learn from it.

Our efforts to meet expectations in education are trivial when compared to what other sectors have achieved.   So lets learn from the other sectors and lets move away from our addiction to quality control.

Assessment for Learning

From Formative Assessment to Assessment FOR Learning:
A Path to Success in Standards-Based Schools

Recent articles, particularly those by Rick Stiggins, are highlighting the need to actively involve the students in the formative assessment process. 

Although the Assessment for Learning approach still is far from really bringing the student into the FA process, Assessment for Learning is an important step in the right direction.

In the Assessment for Learning approach, students are made aware of expected achiements from the beginning.    Students partner with their teacher to continuously monitor their levels of attainment and students play a role in communicating evidence of learning to peers, to their teacher, and to their families.  This approach really focuses on informing students about their own learning.

Bloom understood how important student involvement was but he didn’t spend enough time explaining it.  We feel that the article is a step in the right direction and well worth the read.

Formative Assessment – Bloom's Contribution

Benjamin S. Bloom, yes the guy who brought us Bloom’s Taxonomy, played a big role in the science of formative assessment.

Much of his research was on the study of educational objectives and educational assessment. Bloom’s taxonomy can help teachers better prepare objectives and derive appropriate assessments.

Bloom’s Mastery Learning methodology encourages teachers to first organize the concepts and skills they want students to learn into short units. After delivering instruction on the unit, teachers administer an assessment based on the unit’s learning goals. Bloom recommended calling this a formative assessment.

Bloom borrowed the expression “formative assessment” from Scriven (1967). Scriven had used the terms summative and formative to differentiate different types of evaluations.

Bloom, Hasting and Madaus produced the Handbook of Formative and Summative Evaluation in 1971. According to the handbood formative assessment helps students and teachers identify specifically what has been learned well to that point and what has not.

The following article covers Mastery Learning quite well.


Formative Assessment – Inside the Black Box

Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom
Assessment by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam

This article constitutes an important milestone in the history of formative assessment.

Following an extensive survey of research litterature, Black and William’s concluded that formative assessment was one of the best ways of raising standards.

“The main plank of our argument is that standards
can be raised only by changes that are put into direct effect by teachers and pupils in classrooms.  There is a body of firm evidence that formative assessment is an essential component of classroom work and that its development can raise standards of achievement. We know of no other way of raising standards for which such a strong prima facie case can be made. Our plea is that national and state policy makers will grasp this opportunity and take the lead in this direction.”

Our definition of formative assessment is greatly influenced by the following sentence from that article.

“assessment becomes formative assessment when the
evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet student needs”

The article can be found at:


What is Formative Assessment – Definition

No one really agrees on what the definition of formative assessment should be but here is our shot at definition.

Assessment is a process of gathering and analysing information from multiple sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do.

Assessment can be done at various times during a school year and an assessment strategy will include both formative assessment and summative assessment.

The point at which the assessment occurs determines if an assessment is formative or summative.

Summative assessments are designed to allocate grades. They happen at the end of a teaching/learning cycle.

Formative assessments, on the other hand, are not designed to allocate grades and they happen during a teaching/learning cycle.

The main purpose of formative assessment is to  help teachers monitor their students’ progress and to modify the instruction accordingly. It is used to detect if the teaching/learning is working or not.  It usually also helps students to monitor their own progress.

We often will classify assessments as “Summative” or “Formative” which is a bit tricky because most assessments can be summative but only some can be formative.  An assessmentitem  is only formative or summative because of the way it is used.

If an assessment is done to collect evidence in view of adjusting instruction, while learning is in progress,  it is formative.

The following article contains examples of when assessment is formative and when it is not. (Click on Download )