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Research Developments from ACER

Education & Development

Participants in the NEQMAP Capacity Development Workshop in Bandung, Indonesia. Photo © SEAMEO QITEP in Science.

Developing capacity in formative assessment

ACER designed and facilitated a NEQMAP workshop to build formative assessment capacity in education systems in the Asia-Pacific. Doug McCurry and Stewart Monckton report.

A consortium of high-level education policymakers, researchers, government and non-government agencies collaborated to present the Network on Education Quality Monitoring in Asia-Pacific (NEQMAP) Capacity Development Workshop in late June in Bandung, Indonesia. The four-day workshop centred on the theme ‘School-based, Classroom, Teacher and Formative Assessment – Assessment for Learning’.

There was a great demand to participate in the workshop. Forty five participants from 14 countries in the region were selected by the NEQMAP Secretariat through an expression of interest process. This ascertained the workshop’s relevance to participants’ work, the expected benefits and participants’ commitment to disseminating their newly-acquired knowledge and developing capacity in their country or institute.

The Capacity Development workshop was based on the premise that all teaching should involve continuous and ongoing assessment of student learning. Often the emphasis of measuring learning is placed on outcomes in the form of scores, grades and marks. However, to help students progress and reach their learning goals, it is essential to provide feedback to students about their learning progress.

The workshop encompassed the areas of curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, classroom and school culture and climate, policy frameworks, systems and structures, and context and environment. Through presentations, activities and group discussions, participants were given an opportunity to develop and consolidate their knowledge on concepts related to school-based, classroom and formative assessments; and on procedures, practices and policy implications for assessments, curriculum and pedagogy.

Guiding questions throughout the workshop included:

  • What are the requirements and usual practices in giving feedback about student learning to students and guardians in this school system?
  • What should be encouraged and required from teachers in terms of feedback to students and guardians about student learning?
  • What do we mean by the terms school-based assessment, classroom assessment, teacher assessment and formative assessment? Are they different words for the same things?
  • How might we define (and distinguish) each of these assessments?

Discussions about formative assessment identified a range of challenges: limited teacher knowledge of formative assessment; large class sizes and overloaded courses; lack of resources and materials; teacher traditionalism and inertia; and large workloads and a fear that formative assessment is time consuming. Some participants explained that their education systems did not have policies or guidelines on formative assessment – examinations and rote-learning dominate class work and the only student feedback provided was summative assessments based on examination scores.

Participants recognised that teaching should be student-centred and focused on how students learn, and that rote-learning and textbook dependence should be avoided. A key learning from the workshop was that formative assessment plays an important role in informing students’ learning progress – for both the teacher and the learner. Participants acknowledged the importance of enabling and building students’ capacity to guide and take responsibility for their learning process.

Workshop participants heard that policies on curriculum, pedagogy and assessment should clearly align. Teacher planning should identify learning goals and criteria for assessment, deconstruct assessment process (including external examinations), and encourage self-assessment through attending to criteria for assessment and understanding different levels of performance. Teachers should be shown the value of meaningfully responding to student work and showing students how to improve their work. Information from summative and formative assessments should be used to learn about student understandings and misunderstandings, and to change or adapt teaching activities.

Another important lesson from the workshop concerned assessment policies. A clear rationale should accompany policies about assessment of and for learning that outlines the importance and effectiveness of these kinds of assessments.

While some systems had assessment and reporting guidelines, the absence of guidelines or requirements means that schools can develop their own policies and improve feedback to students and parents. In the future, opportunities should be sought and taken to revise curricula and reform examinations to better align with meaningful learning and formative assessment. While the recognition of formative assessment in teacher training and professional development was sometimes limited, the development of understanding of formative assessment through these activities would be valuable. ■

Find out more:

The consortium responsible for the workshop was comprised of the Network on Education Quality Monitoring in the Asia-Pacific (NEQMAP) Secretariat at UNESCO Bangkok; the Southeast Asia Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) Centre for Quality Improvement of Teachers and Education Personnel (QITEP) in Science; the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER); and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The participating countries were Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

For further information about the workshop read the UNESCO Bangkok article ‘Assessment for Learning – bringing the attention back to learning’.


About the author

Doug McCurry is a Senior Research Fellow in ACER’s Assessment and Psychometric Research division.

More [rd] articles by Doug McCurry

View selected works of Doug McCurry


About the author

Stewart Monckton is a Research Fellow in ACER's Assessment and Reporting (Mathematics and Science) research program.

More [rd] articles by Stewart Monckton

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