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Formative Assessment for Learning

Updated on January 17, 2019
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul has spent many years teaching EFL and ESL. He taught EFL in Taiwan during the 70s, ESL in the U.S., and most recently EFL in Thailand.



Formative Testing or Formative Assessment?

In 2008, I encountered the term formative test when I started teaching EFL at a private school in the Bangkok area of Thailand. As new math and English teacher for students in the English Program (EP), I was expected to evaluate primary and secondary kids with two formative tests, one midterm test, desirable characteristics, and a final test each semester. I wondered what a formative test was. Was it a non-graded assessment of how well my students were learning subject matter? No, it wasn't. It was a graded test given roughly halfway between the first day of class and the mid-term test. As a benchmark, it was an interim assessment, with a grade attached, of how much and how well my students had learned during the first five weeks of the semester. Forty percent of the student's final grade that semester came from two formative tests. Unfortunately, the school did not allow feedback to the students regarding the results of the tests.

Why Use Formative Assessment?

A formative assessment is both a subjective and objective determination that a teacher makes about the progress of a student's learning. This assessment is made prior to summative testing which measures how much a student has learned after the instruction is finished. Formative assessment should be designed to diagnose problems in teaching and learning and to give both the student and teacher constructive feedback. This feedback will hopefully help the teacher in designing alternative beneficial instruction to meet the individual needs of his or her students. It will also aid the student in correcting his or her mistakes. The important thing is that the feedback must be specific, personalized, and timely.

Tips For Better Formative Assessment

Formative assessment of EFL students is essential in ensuring that they are making adequate progress in learning English according to their ability. Let me suggest the following tips for better formative assessment:

1. Specific, Personalized, and Timely Feedback: Each student needs to know immediately exactly how he or she is progressing in a study. Formative tests as part of formative assessment are fine as long as the results of the tests are communicated to the student. The student must know what mistakes he or she made and how to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

2. Don't Limit Assessment to Benchmark Testing: Some teachers that I know only give a formative test to their students to check progress. No other formative assessment tool such as homework or quizzes are given to the kids. The teachers undoubtedly do this because they are lazy and don't want the extra burden of writing and grading quizzes and grading homework. This is wrong because the results of one benchmark test alone do not really tell you how well a student is learning. Some students have bad days taking tests, and others learn through aural and kinesthetic ways.

3. Use Quizzes and Homework: Daily homework and weekly quizzes are good vehicles for checking on a student's progress. The homework should be meaningful and not too long. For example, to check reading comprehension, the teacher could assign one or two paragraphs of an article for a student to read and then answer 5-8 comprehension questions. As a check of vocabulary learning, the teacher could give a quiz in which the student has to define keywords that appeared in the reading comprehension homework.

4. Make Use Of Projects and Role Plays: These are excellent ways to measure how well a student is learning how to apply reading and writing and listening and speaking skills. It also measures how well a student has progressed in utilizing multiple intelligence skills.

5. Note Student Participation in Class Discussions: This is a good method of measuring a student's progress in listening and speaking skills. It will also help the teacher identify the students who are doing better in thinking skills such as making inferences and thinking outside of the box.

6. Make Use of Student Portfolios: A Student portfolio is nothing more than a collection of all of a student's work. For my reading and writing students, it will include their self-written profile, daily reading, and writing assignments, quizzes, formative tests, book reports, and projects.

A very good teacher will be able to think of many other things to do for formative assessment. I have listed what I think are only the most important tips. If formative assessment is done very well, summative testing results will become much more meaningful.

Learning Assessment

EFL Formative Assessment

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© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn


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