Research project Research shows that the use of formative assessment is one of the most educationally effective ways of increasing student achievement. However, a strong research base supporting how to effectively help teachers to do this is lacking.
Research shows that the use of formative assessment in classroom practice is one of the most educationally effective ways of increasing student achievement. However, a strong research base supporting how to effectively help teachers to implement a formative assessment practice is lacking. This project uses an experimental design to investigate the impact of a professional development program on teachers’ implementation of formative assessment and student achievement and motivation. The aim is to contribute to the understanding of factors that are significant in the support of implementation of effective formative assessment at large scale.
The impact of a teacher professional development program in formative
assessment on teachers’ practice and on students’ motivation and achievement in mathematics.
A vast amount of research, including several comprehensive research reviews, shows that the use of formative assessment in classroom practice is one of the most educationally effective ways of increasing student achievement (e.g. Black & Wiliam, 1998, Hattie, 2009; National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). However, a strong research base supporting how to effectively help teachers to implement a formative assessment practice is lacking (Schneider & Randel, 2010; Wiliam, 2010). This project uses an experimental design to investigate the impact of a comprehensive and large-scale professional development program in formative assessment on teachers implementation of formative assessment and on student achievement and motivation. The aim is to contribute to the understanding of factors that are significant in the support of implementation of effective formative assessment at large scale. Given the state-of-the-art of research on formative assessment, mentioned above, such research is argued to be the main priority for research on formative assessment (Wiliam, 2010), which is valid for research purposes as well as for educational practice.
The concept of formative assessment (and similar terms such as formative evaluation and formative practice) has evolved during the last 40 years, and although most researchers seem to agree on its more general meaning there is no consensus within the research community about its specific conceptualization. In this project we use the following definition by Black & Wiliam (2009, p. 9): ”Practice in a classroom is formative to the extent that evidence about student achievement is elicited, interpreted, and used by teachers, learners, or their peers, to make decisions about the next steps in instruction that are likely to be better, or better founded, than the decisions they would have taken in the absence of the evidence that was elicited”. Effective formative assessment can be conceptualized as practice based on an adherence to the “big idea” of using evidence about student learning to adjust instruction to better meet student needs, and a competent use of the following five key strategies (Wiliam & Thompson, 2007):
1. clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success
2. engineering effective classroom discussions, questions, and tasks that elicit evidence of learning
3. providing feedback that moves learners forward
4. activating students as the owners of their own learning
5. activating students as instructional resources for one another
The project investigates the following research questions:
Q1: In which ways do the participating teachers’ classroom practice change due to the specific professional development program in formative assessment in mathematics?
Q2: Why are teachers successful (or not) in using the professional development program to implement formative assessment in the classroom?
Q3: Do the changes in teachers’ classroom practice, due to the professional development program, have a significant impact on the students’ achievement in mathematics?
Q4: Do the changes in teachers’ classroom practice, due to the professional development program, have a significant impact on the students’ motivation to learn mathematics?
The interest behind this project is to investigate particular ways of improving students’ mathematical achievement. Thus, a main goal of the professional development program carried out in the project is to improve students’ achievement. Accordingly, a measure of student achievement is an outcome variable in the study (Q3). Since student motivation is likely to be a mediator of student achievement students’ motivation to learn mathematics is also studied (Q4). However, an understanding of the processes or mechanisms that underlie potential effects on student achievement cannot be obtained without an understanding of the impact on the teachers. Thus, the project also studies the teachers’ implementation of the program in their classroom practice (Q1), as well as reasons for differences in the fidelity of their implementation (Q2). This includes looking at the characteristics of the professional development program and other conditions under which the participating teachers act.
The main study involves a random selection of 50 teachers (teaching grade 4 and 7) in Umeå municipality that participates in the professional development program. They constitute the intervention group, and will together teach about 1000 students. All other teachers in the municipality teaching grade 4 or grade 7 constitutes a control group.
During the first part of the study the participating teachers are observed in their classroom teaching. These observations can provide descriptions of significant characteristics of their teaching before they attend the professional development program. This makes it possible to compare the teaching before and after the professional development program has been conducted. In the second part of the study the teachers participate in a professional development program in formative assessment. The professional development is carried out during a period of 4.5 months when the teachers are engaged in the professional development for 20% of their working time, and teach on 80%. In the third part of the study the teachers carry out their teaching at full time again. During this period the impact of the professional development is investigated, and allows us to study the impact on a both short-term and long-term basis.
The characteristics of teachers’ implementation of a formative assessment practice are investigated using classroom observations and teacher interviews. The interviews, together with a teacher questionnaire, are also used to gather further information about the reasons for their teaching designs. To measure the outcome in terms of student achievement the results from the two groups of students (taught by the teachers in the intervention group and control group respectively) on a pretest and posttest (administered in the beginning and the end of the school year) are compared. Students’ motivation will be measured through the use of a questionnaire in the beginning and the end of the school year.
The professional development program
The professional development program is designed and carried out by the members of the research group. It focuses on the fundamental idea and five key strategies of formative assessment. The design of the program is guided by insights from the research literature on professional development. This includes a large amount of time given to the participating teachers (24 full days, of which half of the time involves interactions with the researchers and each other) and a relatively long duration of the program (4.5 months). This may be particularly important for professional development programs in formative assessment since the knowledge required by teachers to effectively implement the five key strategies are in some aspects rather advanced. Thus, it is likely that it will take some considerable amount of time and effort to acquire this knowledge.
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5 (1), 7–74.
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational assessment, evaluation and accountability, 21(1), 5-31.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.
National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: The final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Schneider, M.C. & Randel, B. (2010). Research on characteristics of effective professional development programs for enhancing educators' skills in formative assessment. In H.L Andrade & G.J. Cizek (Eds.), Handbook of formative assessment (pp. 251-276). New York NY: Routledge.
Wiliam, D. (2010). An integrative summary of the research literature and implications for a new theory of formative assessment. In H.L Andrade & G.J. Cizek (Eds.), Handbook of formative assessment (pp. 18-40). New York, NY: Routledge.
Wiliam, D. & Thompson, M. (2007). Integrating assessment with instruction: What will it take to make it work? In C.A. Dwyer (Ed.), The future of assessment: Shaping teaching and learning (pp. 53-82). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.