The Importance of Formative Assessment

Assessment is the process of gathering and interpreting information about students’ learning (NSW Departmant of Education and Training, n.d.). Formative assessment is a type of assessment which is designed to improve learning outcomes for students. It is not a summative process held at the end of a block of work to determine a level of achievement, but rather a constructivist process whereby students gain valuable feedback in order to improve on their subsequent learning. Research by Black and Wiliam, has shown feedback to play a “critical role in student learning” (Churchill et al., 2011, p. 426), and they also state there is no better method of raising standards than through formative assessment (Churchill et al., 2011, p. 443).

Assessment not only contributes to motivation and self-esteem (Forster, 2009) but also adds to fulfilment, especially for the lower performing student, building confidence to take risks. The immediacy of a formative assessment allows students to utilise this information in order to improve their results during the course of the learning rather than at the end when it is too late. This is known as “assessment AS learning”. It encourages a student to become more reflective by asking themselves “what is it that I need to do to improve?” This promotes ownership of the student’s own learning, fostering metacognition, and allows opportunity for the student to take corrective action. According to Costa and Kallick, this is the aim of evaluation: for students to arrive at self-evaluation and to know themselves when they have performed adequately (Southern Cross University, 2013).

Formative assessment can also be used as a tool for teaching and is known as “assessment FOR learning”. That is, the teacher gains feedback and may insert the information resulting from a formative task back into their teaching process in order to improve learning outcomes. A formative assessment could also form the basis of an entry level baseline from which performance improvements may be gauged. It might also be used to aid decisions regarding remedial action or intervention.

Finally it should be noted that both formative and summative assessment has the potential to play a formative role. It all depends on the quality of the feedback and its impact upon an individual learner (Churchill et al., 2011, p. 442).



Churchill, R., Ferguson, P., Godinho, S., Johnson, N., Keddie, A., Letts, W., . . . Vick, M. (2011). Teaching: Making a difference (2 ed.). Milton, Qld.: John Wiley & Sons.

Forster, M. (2009). Informative Assessment: Understanding and guiding learning. Paper presented at the ACER Research Conference, Perth. Retrieved from

NSW Departmant of Education and Training. (n.d.). Consistent Teacher Judgement. Retrieved from

Southern Cross University. (2013). EDU10713 Curriculum assessment and new media: Module 2 Topic 2 Assessment for learning, assessment of learning. Retrieved from


One response to “The Importance of Formative Assessment

  1. Pingback: The Importance of Formative Assessment | sarahmaryjones·

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