Formative evaluation: what is this method for testing learning?

The field of education has more and more research to develop the best models to use.

In them, that of formative evaluation includes methodologies with which to verify the effectiveness of teaching. We will discover in detail how these techniques work and their importance to ensure a good training of students.

    What is formative assessment?

    Formative assessment would refer to all the methods available to teachers to continuously check, throughout the educational process, that students are effectively assimilating the concepts taught. These tools are also known as assessment for learning. The process can also be a self-assessment by the student, through the practices they do in the classroom..

    Another benefit of formative assessment is that it provides a guide to action for the teacher so that he knows how to adapt his teaching in the future, changing some guidelines if the student assessment does not. has not been conducive to correct reception of content by students.

    The concept of formative assessment emerged thanks to American scholar Michael Scriven, In the Sixties, like the idea of ​​a method to check the effectiveness of a curriculum and to be able to modify it if one notices that there are aspects to improve. Scriven was followed by Benjamin Bloom, an American psychologist who went on to define the concept, stating that formative assessment was the mechanism to improve the cycle of teaching and learning that students receive.

    The key to the definition given by these two authors lies in the importance they give to the possible changes that the teacher can make based on the results obtained. In other words, the key to formative evaluation would be its potential to modify the curriculum organically based on the effectiveness detected. It is not a simple indicator of student performance, but it has a function far beyond.

    Differences from summative assessment

    Before formative evaluation is the concept of summative evaluation, which is much more frequent. In fact, Michael Scriven said that all assessments can be summative, but only a few hours can be considered formative. Let’s examine what are the criteria that differentiate them.

    1. When does it take place

    The first differentiation we see is when this assessment is done. In the case of summative evaluation, it will be done once the teaching activity has been completed. On the other hand, formative assessment requires that it take place throughout this activity, before it ends.

    2. What is the purpose

    The purpose of summative assessment is to be able to make a decision about the learning we believe students have had, that is, what they have learned from the proposed lesson. however, formative assessment aims to find areas for improvement in the teaching methodology used and therefore be more efficient each time.

    3. What comments are there

    In line with the previous point, feedback would play different roles in the two types of evaluation. For the summons, it would simply be the judgment that dictates the qualification of the student. On the other hand, in training, the purpose of feedback is to review the equipment and methods used to see how they can be rethought and thus obtain better results. from now on.

    4. What is the frame of reference

    The terms of reference used in the summative evaluation can be of two types. First of all, the normative type can be used, in which a comparison of each assessed student against all others is made. However, you can choose to use a standardized criterion that will be used for everyone. In the case of formative assessment this benchmark of criteria is always used, so all the students are evaluated on these parameters.

    The usefulness of formative assessment

    Since the term was coined, countless studies have been conducted on formative assessment, reaching various conclusions about the potential of using this methodology. It has been shown, first of all, that student performance is superior when we use this system. Students are more motivated because they perceive that they are an integral part of the education system and they are more than just a qualification.

    To achieve these benefits, certain principles should be followed when applying formative assessment. First, the learning objectives and the criteria by which it is considered successful must be defined from the start. In addition, class discussions should be generated to verify that students have understood the concepts. Students should be guided by instructions and commentary.

    Another point to be observed is that of to facilitate that the own pupils collaborate in the task of teaching others, So that those who have assimilated the knowledge more quickly help those who have had more difficulty to understand it, as a team. Finally, it will be necessary to encourage each of the students to be empowered to take the reins of their own learning process and not to be mere passive subjects in the classroom.

      Different strategies to follow

      In formative assessment methods, there is a range of strategies that teachers can choose to achieve their goals. We’ll take a look at some of them to familiarize ourselves with the most common ones.

      1. Understand the objectives

      We have already seen that one of the main rules of formative assessment is that students understand the objectives of the teaching that is taking place, so it is not surprising that the first strategy we find is in line with the verification of this criterion. The objectives to be achieved must be presented before starting each lesson, but in addition the teachers must explain to the students what will be the path they will follow to reach these objectives.

      There are studies that show that when students already have explanations of the objectives pursued and the more they are told the steps to follow to achieve them, they obtain better results as students who do not receive any information like this and are simply exposed directly to the content of the lesson.


      Other research shows that student reviews, i.e. give them feedback on how they do the job and how to improve their methodsBeyond a simple numeric score, it helps and motivates them to improve, providing better results than those who are simply skilled. Therefore, feedback is the second strategy to follow in formative assessment.

      These comments must be independent of the qualifications, that is, they must be executed as an independent process. The explanation is that in cases where a comment is attached next to the mark obtained in a test, students show a tendency to attend only the mark, completely ignoring the content of the comment found in the group.

      In these cases, students will be more busy comparing their notes with other peers instead of stopping to read the words and advice the teacher left in writing to try to guide them through the learning process. and improve them.

      3. Questions

      Asking is the easiest way to get information, so it is an essential strategy in formative assessment to know how effective we are in our teaching work. But just asking does not guarantee us the answers we are looking forSo the key will be to ask the right questions. These questions should encourage the student’s thinking process.

      It is necessary to orient the questions so that a debate is generated between the students so that everyone can reflect using the concepts learned. A good method would be to ask one of the pupils for his opinion on the explanations of another of them, or to draw common points or differences between the points of view of two of their companions. In this way, we will be able to obtain good indications on the degree of penetration of this knowledge.

      Another key is give students long waiting times to be able to think, Without them feeling that there is a rush to get the answer immediately. Studies show that this methodology facilitates safer and longer responses, a wider range of response options, more complete reporting, and a lower non-response rate.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Allal, L. (1980). Formative evaluation strategies: psycho-pedagogical concepts and methods of application. Childhood and learning. Taylor and Francis.
      • Lopez, CR (1981). Criteria for a formative evaluation: objectives. Content. Professor. Learning. Resources. Narcea.
      • Rosales, M. (2014). Evaluation process: summative evaluation, formative evaluation and evaluation of its impact on current education. Ibero-American Congress of Science, Technology, Innovation and Education.

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