Formative assessment: Patterns, personal practice assessment theories and impact on student achievement and motivation in science
Formative assessment is a powerful educational tool that has the potential to raise student achievement if used appropriately in the classroom. Its first priority is to serve the purpose of promoting learning, in other words, it is assessment for learning, rather than assessment of learning. Formative assessment has potential to promote learning if it provides evidence used as feedback by teachers and by their students in assessing themselves and each other, to modify the teaching or learning activity in which they are engaged (Black and Wiliam, 1998). The power of formative assessment to raise achievement is often overlooked in the current culture of high-stakes summative testing and accountability. This top-down approach to educational reform neglects one of the most important factors that affects learning - the teacher as facilitator of change. Teachers make instructional and assessment decisions based on experiences, knowledge, and beliefs, termed their personal practice assessment theories. However, those internally constructed elements are not alone in shaping their assessment decisions. Other external contextual elements have a profound effect on their decisions as well. Those internally constructed and externally imposed contextual elements influence the purpose, planning, and implementation of assessment, and subsequently impact student achievement and motivation to learn. The purpose of this research study was threefold: first, to investigate the formative assessment practices of three biology teachers in context of their personal practice assessment theories. Second, to illuminate contextual elements that constrain or facilitate the use of formative assessment. These goals were accomplished through a collective instrumental case study and cross-case analysis. The third purpose of the research was to determine the effect of formative assessment on student achievement and motivation, and was accomplished through quantitative measures. The study showed distinct differences among the three teachers in the study regarding their personal practice assessment theories and use of formative assessment. Their theories developed through personal and professional experiences, were influenced by their beliefs about learners and learning, and were based on propositional, theoretical or strategic knowledge that played a critical role in converting theories about assessment into actual classroom practice. Several other factors were identified that facilitated or constrained the use of formative assessment. Student achievement and motivation was higher, and in many cases significantly higher in the class that embraced formative assessment compared to classes that did not.