Formative Assessment

Most established formative assessment is not good (Black and Wiliam, 1998), and tends to be too close to summative assessment. When used properly formative assessment has the greatest effect on the weakest learners and generates an effect of up to two grades at GCSE. Formative assessment has a bigger effect even over prior learning (Black and Wiliam, 1998).

Against Grading

Grading demotivates low attainers. It makes high attainers satisfied with their mark. So it has a double negative effect. Black and Wiliam (1998) show that with a grade shown students look at the grade and not the comments.
So often marking offers little guidance to the student. It also has little effect on what is taught. Marks vary even with the same teacher, and there are inconsistencies of being generous.
Marking with grades often encourages rote learning and memorising; understanding is consequently not developed. Quantity of information rather than quality becomes the key, as marks given are the fact-fest equivalent of picking apples (my phrase).

Giving a Grade is Not Learning

Giving grades creates comparison between students so that some see themselves as failing compared with others, or above average compared with the rest.
Grading is about recording and management rather than learning. The produce statistics. There is the appearance of success rather than success itself. Time is taken recording these grades, and they are often produced by the student's work for the main purpose of recording.
Feedback to students, based on the grading, follows on from the management process. Students are related to the institution and its demands.
Prediction of grades by students puts students into ready made boxes, and prediction is set against the test rather than the student's development.
With grading students avoid difficult tasks. Their own strategies include the easiest and quickest way to get the grade. They do not focus as such on their learning but on processes of mark manipulation.

Non-Graded Self Assessment

The basic method is to reward someone for the effort so far, set a new goal, reward again and set another goal (and so on). Assignments can be handed out with the assessment method ready-attached. This gives the end product of self-assessment to the learner before even beginning the work and contains the criteria. These criteria can be negotiated with students; they should in their goals follow Bloom's cognitive, aesthetic and psychomotor principles as relevant. Certain criteria can then be repeated throughout the course, if so desired, and this gives regularity.
Criteria can involve the desired goals, the present student position, and how to close the gap between the two in the future. The goals must be very clear, with examples. A mastery task allows each student to achieve what they can do through basic tests on key points and allows for positive assessment. Students who fail can retake. It is better to have frequent short tests than infrequent long ones.
Other tasks for self assessment must be justified in terms of aims and objectives, and related to present understanding (the context into which new ideas are put and built upon).
Then follows student self-assessment against criteria and exemplary work. Self assessment is useful because it suggests responsibility for one's own learning and therefore effort towards actual goals and it can generate an action plan.
The teacher then offers non-judgmental feedback that compares work with the criteria and with the students own work in the past (and no one else's). Comment should be based on the task and not the person, looking ahead in a positive and constructive manner and, with praise, a new goal is set. A praise sandwich is a method of giving praise, constructive criticism and then praise again.
The process is to in part find faults, fix them, and follow up.

Problems with Self-Assessment

One is a belief in the lack of reliability and trust in the process. It does need clear criteria for the assessment. Students are basically honest and can even over criticise themselves.
The student is likely to be actively involved but some do prefer the quiet life of fed notes, handouts, revision pieces and a mark. Students work slowly and without confidence, knowing that the "correct" handout is on the way.
Some students will resist change to routine, as change is uncomfortable, and thinking for oneself beyond rote learning can disturb.
The teacher also may resist change. The jug and mug approach to learning from an expert, where understanding comes later regarding the imput of facts, does not encourage formative assessment. Neither does the view that a student has a ready existing IQ hardly affected by assessment. Teaching that is more interactive, with questioning and deeper thinking, through discussions and open questions leads on to formative assessment practices. This means removing obstacles to learning including institutional conflicts and demands that affect teachers and their performance.

Criteria for an Essay - for every essay:

In a separate .PDF document called essaycriteria.pdf for ease of use.


Black, I., Wiliam, D. (1998) 'Assessment and Classroom Learning' in Assessment in Education.

Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam (1998) (Professor Emeritus in the School of Education, and then Head of School with Professor of Educational Assessment, respectively, both at King's College London) spent four years looking through 700 studies of classroom research and extracted those that were well designed and showed large effects from formative assessment used in the experimental group over the control group.

Petty, G. (2004) Teaching Today: A Practical Guide, 3rd edition, Nelson Thomas [sections and resources Online: Available World Wide Web], URL: [Last Accessed: 30 October 2005].

Other Reading

Black, Wiliam D. (1998), 'Assessment and Classroom Learning,' Assessment in Education, March 1998, pp. 7-74.

Neill D. M. (1997), 'Transforming Student Assessment," Phi Delta Kappan, September 1997, pp. 35-36.

Perrenoud, P (1991), 'Towards a Pragmatic Approach to Formative Evaluation,' in Weston, P. ed., (1991) Assessment of Pupils' Achievement: Motivation and School Success (Amsterdam: Swets and Zeitlinger, 1991), p. 92.

Wiliam, D., Black, P. (1996), 'Meanings and Consequences: A Basis for Distinguishing Formative and Summative Functions of Assessment,' British Educational Research Journal, vol. 22, 1996, pp. 537-48.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful