The theory of formative assessment outlined in this article is relevant to a broad spectrum of learning outcomes in a wide variety of subjects. Specifically, it applies wherever multiple criteria are used in making judgments about the quality of student responses. The theory has less relevance for outcomes in which student responses may be assessed simply as correct or incorrect. Feedback is defined in a particular way to highlight its function in formative assessment. This definition differs in several significant respects from that traditionally found in educational research. Three conditions for effective feedback are then identified and their implications discussed. A key premise is that for students to be able to improve, they must develop the capacity to monitor the quality of their own work during actual production. This in turn requires that students possess an appreciation of what high quality work is, that they have the evaluative skill necessary for them to compare with some objectivity the quality of what they are producing in relation to the higher standard, and that they develop a store of tactics or moves which can be drawn upon to modify their own work. It is argued that these skills can be developed by providing direct authentic evaluative experience for students. Instructional systems which do not make explicit provision for the acquisition of evaluative expertise are deficient, because they set up artificial but potentially removable performance ceilings for students.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Similar content being viewed by others
Bailin, S. (1987). Creativity or quality: a deceptive choice. Journal of Educational Thought, 21, 33–39.
Beaven, M. H. (1977). Individualized goal-setting, self-evaluation, and peer evaluation. In C. R.Cooper and L.Odell (Eds.), Evaluating writing: describing, measuring, judging. Urbana, IL.: National Council of Teachers of English.
Black, H. D. (1986). Assessment for learning. In D. L.Nuttall (Ed.), Assessing educational achievement. London: Falmer.
Black, H. D. and Dockrell, W. B. (1984). Criterion-referenced assessment in the classroom. Edinburgh: Scottish Council for Research in Education.
Bloom, B. S. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: Handbook 1, Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay.
Bloom, B. S., Madaus, G. F. and Hastings, J. T. (1981). Evaluation to improve learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Boud, D. (1986). Implementing student self-assessment. HERDSA Green Guide No.5. Kensington N.S.W.: Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia.
Chater, P. (1984). Marking and assessment in English. London: Methuen.
Cooper, C. R. (1977). Holistic evaluation of writing. In C. R.Cooper and L.Odell (Eds.), Evaluating writing: describing, measuring, judging. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Daly, J. A. and Dickson-Markman, F. (1982). Contrast effects in evaluating essays. Journal of Educational Measurement, 19, 309–316.
Diederich, P. B. (1974). Measuring growth in English. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Elbow, P. (1973). Writing without teachers. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gere, A. R. (1980). Written composition: toward a theory of evaluation. College English, 42(1), 44–58.
Hales, L. W. and Tokar, E. (1975). The effect of the quality of preceding responses on the grades assigned to subsequent responses to an essay question. Journal of Educational Measurement, 12, 115–117.
Helson, H. (1959). Adaptation level theory. In S.Koch (Ed.), Psychology: a study of a science. Volume 1: Sensory, perceptual and physiological formulations. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Kaplan, A. (1964). The conduct of inquiry: methodology for behavioral science. San Francisco: Chandler.
Kulhavy, R. W. (1977). Feedback in written instruction. Review of Educational Research, 47, 211–232.
Kulik, J. A. and Kulik, C-L. C. (1988). Timing of feedback and verbal learning. Review of Educational Research, 58, 79–97.
Lindemann, E. (1982). A rhetoric for writing teachers. New York: Oxford University Press.
Locke, E. A., Shaw, K. N., Saari, L. M. and Latham, G. P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance: 1969–1980. Psychological Bulletin, 90, 125–152.
Marshall, M. S. (1958). This thing called evaluation. Educational Forum, 23, 41–53.
Marshall, M. S. (1968). Teaching without grades. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press.
Myers, M. (1980). A procedure for writing assessment and holistic scoring. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills, National Institute of Education, and National Council of Teachers of English.
Nitko, A. J. (1983). Educational tests and measurement: an introduction. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Odell, L. and Cooper, C. R. (1980). Procedures for evaluating writing: assumptions and needed research. College English, 42(1), 35–43.
Pianko, S. and Radzik, A. (1980). The student editing method. Theory into Practice, 19, 220–224.
Polanyi, M. (1962). Personal knowledge: towards a post-critical philosophy. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Ramaprasad, A. (1983). On the definition of feedback. Behavioral Science, 28, 4–13.
Rowntree, D. (1977). Assessing students: how shall we know them? London: Harper and Row.
Sadler, D. R. (1981). Intuitive data processing as a potential source of bias in naturalistic evaluations. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 3(4), 25–31.
Sadler, D. R. (1982). Evaluation criteria as control variables in the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 11, 265–271.
Sadler, D. R. (1983). Evaluation and the improvement of academic learning. Journal of Higher Education, 54, 60–79.
Sadler, D. R. (1985). The origins and functions of evaluative criteria. Educational Theory, 35, 285–297.
Sadler, D. R. (1987). Specifying and promulgating achievement standards. Oxford Review of Education, 13, 191–209.
Shenstone, W. (1968). On writing and books, LXXIX. In Works: In verse and prose Vol. 2, (3rd ed.). London: Dodsley.
Thompson, R. F. (1981). Peer grading: some promising advantages for composition research and the classroom. Research in the Teaching of English, 15, 172–174.
Thorndike, E. L. (1913). Educational Psychology, Vol.1: The original nature of man. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
Tversky, A. (1969). Intransitivity of preferences. Psychological Review, 76, 31–48.
Wittgenstein, L. (1974). Philosophical investigations. (G.E.M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell. (Original work: 3rd ed. published 1967).