This study presents a glimpse into the private classrooms of biology instructors and the way they practice formative assessments within a college context. Drawing on the personal practice assessment theory model from Box, Skoog and Dabbs (2015), we carried out a multiple case study to investigate two biology instructors’ theories in enacting formative assessment practices. Data collected included classroom observations, instructor interviews, course artifacts, and student focus groups. Qualitative data analysis revealed that each instructor’s core personal practical assessment theories affected implementation of formative assessment. Tasha’s core assessment theories led her to believe that assessment should be a carefully planned motivational and learning opportunity for students. Meanwhile, Jack viewed assessment as a diverse and stress-free student learning experiment. Cross-case analysis revealed that the teachers’ reasoning and decision-making differences were based on the interaction of their personal practical assessment theories and contextual elements. Overall, this study provides insights into the practice of formative assessment in higher education and identifies some challenges and opportunities such assessment presents.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Top Hat is a technological tool that allows the instructor to poll students during lecture.
LMS is the acronym for Learning Management System, a type of software application that allows for the documentation and administration of educational courses. Canvas is the college’s current LMS.
Anderson, R. D. (1996). Study of curriculum reform. [volume I: Findings and conclusions.] studies of education reform. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED397535
Asghar, M. (2012). The lived experience of formative assessment practice in a British university. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 36(2), 205–223. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2011.606901.
Avraamidou, L. (2014). Studying science teacher identity: Current insights and future research directions. Studies in Science Education, 50(2), 145–179. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057267.2014.937171.
Ayala, C. C., Shavelson, R. J., Araceli Ruiz-Primo, M., Brandon, P. R., Yin, Y., Furtak, E. M., Young, D. B., & Tomita, M. K. (2008). From formal embedded assessments to reflective lessons: The development of formative assessment studies. Applied Measurement in Education, 21(4), 315–334. https://doi.org/10.1080/08957340802347787.
Baxter, P., & Jack, S. (2008). Qualitative case study methodology: Study design and implementation for novice researchers. The Qualitative Report, 13(4), 544–559.
Bennett, R. E. (2011). Formative assessment: A critical review. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 18(1), 5–25. https://doi.org/10.1080/0969594X.2010.513678.
Birt, J. A., Khajeloo, M., Rega-Brodsky, C. C., Siegel, M. A., Hancock, T. S., Cummings, K., & Nguyen, P. D. (2019). Fostering agency to overcome barriers in college science teaching: Going against the grain to enact reform-based ideas. Science Education, 103(4), 770–798. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21519.
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998a). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5(1), 7–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/0969595980050102.
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998b). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Nelson Publishing Company.
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2010). Inside the black box raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(1), 81–148. https://doi.org/10.1177/003172171009200119.
Box, C., Skoog, G., & Dabbs, J. M. (2015). A case study of teacher personal practice assessment theories and complexities of implementing formative assessment. American Educational Research Journal, 52(5), 956–983. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831215587754.
Brown, S. (2014). Learning, teaching and assessment in higher education: Global perspectives. New York: Macmillan International Higher Education.
Carless, D. (2007). Learning-oriented assessment: Conceptual bases and practical implications. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 44(1), 57–66. https://doi.org/10.1080/14703290601081332.
Carless, D., & Boud, D. (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: enabling uptake of feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(8), 1315–1325.
Chien, S. P., Wu, H. K., & Wu, P. H. (2018). Teachers’ beliefs about, attitudes toward, and intention to use technology-based assessments: A structural equation modeling approach. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 14(10). https://doi.org/10.29333/ejmste/93379.
Chen, Q., Kettle, M., Klenowski, V., & May, L. (2013). Interpretations of formative assessment in the teaching of English at two Chinese universities: A sociocultural perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(7), 831–846. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2012.726963.
Cornett, J. W., Yeotis, C., & Terwilliger, L. (1990). Teacher personal practical theories and their influence upon teacher curricular and instructional actions: A case study of a secondary science teacher. Science Education, 74(5), 517–529. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.3730740503.
Correia, C. F., & Harrison, C. (2019). Teachers’ beliefs about inquiry-based learning and its impact on formative assessment practice. Research in Science & Technological Education, 38(3), 355–376. https://doi.org/10.1080/02635143.2019.1634040.
Crawford, B. A. (2007). Learning to teach science as inquiry in the rough and tumble of practice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(4), 613–642. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.20157.
D’Avanzo, C., Anderson, C. W., Hartley, L. M., & Pelaez, N. (2012). A faculty-development model for transforming introductory biology and ecology courses. BioScience, 62(4), 416–427. https://doi.org/10.1525/bio.2012.62.4.12.
Fuller, K. (2017). Beyond reflection: Using eportfolios for formative assessment to improve student engagement in non-majors introductory science. The American Biology Teacher, 79(6), 442–449. https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2017.79.6.442.
Gess-Newsome, J., Southerland, S. A., Johnston, A., & Woodbury, S. (2003). Educational reform, personal practical theories, and dissatisfaction: The anatomy of change in college science teaching. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 731–767. https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312040003731.
Gioka, O. (2008). Teacher or examiner? The tensions between formative and summative assessment in the case of science coursework. Research in Science Education, 39(4), 411–428. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-008-9086-9.
Gottheiner, D. M., & Siegel, M. A. (2012). Experienced middle school science teachers’ assessment literacy: Investigating knowledge of students’ conceptions in genetics and ways to shape instruction. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 23(5), 531–557. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10972-012-9278-z.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Jensen, J. L. (2011). Higher education faculty versus high school teacher: Does pedagogical preparation make a difference? Bioscene, 37(2), 30–36 Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ972012.pdf.
Johnson, C. C. (2006). Effective professional development and change in practice: Barriers science teachers encounter and implications for reform. School Science and Mathematics, 106(3), 150–161. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1949-8594.2006.tb18172.x.
Jones, M. G., & Leagon, M. (2014). Science teacher attitudes and beliefs.” In Handbook of Research on Science Teaching. New York: Routledge.
Kunter, M., Klusmann, U., Baumert, J., Richter, D., Voss, T., & Hachfeld, A. (2013). Professional competence of teachers: Effects on instructional quality and student development. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(3), 805–820. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0032583.
Lazarowitz, R., & Lieb, C. (2006). Formative assessment pre-test to identify college students’ prior knowledge, misconceptions and learning difficulties in biology. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 4(4), 741–762. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-005-9024-5.
Le Fevre, D. M. (2014). Barriers to implementing pedagogical change: The role of teachers’ perceptions of risk. Teaching and Teacher Education, 38, 56–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2013.11.007.
Lee, I. (2009). Ten mismatches between teachers’ beliefs and written feedback practice. ELT Journal, 63(1), 13–22.
Liu, S. H. (2011). Factors related to pedagogical beliefs of teachers and technology integration. Computers & Education, 56(4), 1012–1022.
López-Pastor, V., & Sicilia-Camacho, A. (2017). Formative and shared assessment in higher education. Lessons learned and challenges for the future. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 42(1), 77–97. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2015.1083535.
Mansour, N. (2013). Consistencies and inconsistencies between science teachers’ beliefs and practices. International Journal of Science Education, 35(7), 1230–1275. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2012.743196.
Martínez-Sierra, G., García-García, J., Valle-Zequeida, M., & Dolores-Flores, C. (2020). High school mathematics teachers’ beliefs about assessment in mathematics and the connections to their mathematical beliefs. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 18(3), 485–507. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-019-09967-2.
McCallum, S., Milner, M. M. (2020). The effectiveness of formative assessment: Student views and staff reflections. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 1–16.
Minbiole, J. (2016). Improving course coherence and assessment rigor: ‘Understanding by design’ in a nonmajors biology course. The American Biology Teacher, 78(6), 463–470. https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2016.78.6.463.
Murakami, C. D., & Siegel, M. A. (2018). Becoming Bermuda grass: Mapping and tracing rhizomes to practice reflexivity. Cultural studies of science education, 13(3), 733–750. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-016-9803-z.
Noble, C., Billet, S., Sly, C., Collier, L., Armit, L., Hilder, J., & Molloy, E. (2020). It’s yours to take: Generating learner feedback literacy in the workplace. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 25(1), 55–74. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-019-09905-5.
Offerdahl, E., & Tomanek, D. (2011). Changes in instructors’ assessment thinking related to experimentation with new strategies. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(7), 781–795. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2010.488794.
Owen, L. (2016). The impact of feedback as formative assessment on student performance. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 28(2), 168–175 Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1111131.pdf.
Ruiz-Primo, M. A., & Furtak, E. M. (2007). Exploring teachers’ informal formative assessment practices and students’ understanding in the context of scientific inquiry. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(1), 57–84. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.20163.
Saka, Y., Southerland, S. A., Kittleson, J., & Hutner, T. (2013). Understanding the induction of a science teacher: The interaction of identity and context. Research in Science Education, 43(3), 1221–1244. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-012-9310-5.
Schoenfeld, A. (2011). How we think: A theory of goal-oriented decision making and its educational applications. New York: Routledge.
Shepard, L. A. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4–14. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X029007004.
Shirley, M. L., Irving, K. E., Sanalan, V. A., Pape, S. J., & Owens, D. T. (2011). The practicality of implementing connected classroom technology in secondary mathematics and science classrooms. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 9(2), 459–481.
Siegel, M. A., & Wissehr, C. (2011). Preparing for the plunge: Preservice teachers’ assessment literacy. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 22(4), 371–391. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10972-011-9231-6.
Smith, L. K., & Southerland, S. A. (2007). Reforming practice or modifying reforms?: Elementary teachers’ response to the tools of reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(3), 396–423. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.20165.
Strauss, A. L. (1987). Qualitative analysis for social scientists. Cambridge University Press.
Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research. Grounded theory procedure and techniques. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.
Tempelaar, D. (2020). Supporting the less-adaptive student: The role of learning analytics, formative assessment and blended learning. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45(4), 579–593.
Tempelaar, D., Rienties, B., Nguyen, Q. (2018). Investigating learning strategies in a dispositional learning analytics context: The case of worked examples. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (pp. 201-205).
Williams, B. L. (2020). Key pedagogical practices for formative assessment in higher education. Concordia University, St. Paul: Thesis. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.csp.edu/cup_commons_grad_edd/468.
Witzig, S. B., Freyermuth, S. K., Siegel, M. A., Izci, K., & Pires, J. C. (2013). Is DNA Alive? A study of conceptual change through targeted instruction. Research in Science Education, 43(4), 1361–1375. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-012-9311-4.
Woodbury, S., & Gess-Newsome, J. (2002). Overcoming the paradox of change without difference: A model of change in the arena of fundamental school reform. Educational Policy, 16(5), 763–782. https://doi.org/10.1177/089590402237312.
Wu, Q., & Jessop, T. (2018). Formative assessment: Missing in action in both research-intensive and teaching focused universities? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(7), 1019–1031. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1426097.
Yin, R. K. (1994). Case study research: Design and methods. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, Inc.
Yorke, M. (2003). Formative assessment in higher education: Moves towards theory and the enhancement of pedagogic practice. Higher Education, 45(4), 477–501. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1023967026413.
About this article
Cite this article
Khajeloo, M., Birt, J.A., Kenderes, E.M. et al. Challenges and Accomplishments of Practicing Formative Assessment: a Case Study of College Biology Instructors’ Classrooms. Int J of Sci and Math Educ (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-020-10149-8
- Biology education
- College science teaching
- Formative assessment
- Teachers’ assessment theories