Issue 7 – October 2014

Special Issue on Formative Assessment

Over the last 15 years, formative assessment has been a major international focus of efforts to improve teaching and learning. Originally stimulated by the 1998 review of research by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, these experts return to the subject again in this issue’s lead article. They look at various aspects of development since then from a design perspective that is both broad and deep, with a focus on assessment and the design of materials in relation to theories of learning. The remaining articles look in more detail at specific approaches to some important design challenges. Readers may like to consider how far each fits the criteria set out in the lead article.

Malcolm Swan and I describe the research background and the strategic and structural design of a suite of 100 “Classroom Challenges” in mathematics – formative assessment lessons across the age range 11-17, some for concept development, some for problem solving. The central challenge here was to enable typical US teachers of mathematics in supportive school districts to tackle the challenges of making formative assessment a reality in their classrooms, without depending on other substantial professional development support. Development-at-a-distance faced the Shell Centre team and its US observers with other new challenges.

Among the various design tactics in this work, the use of sample student responses as a stimulus for student reasoning and discussion raises a lot of interesting design issues. A more detailed study of these is described by Sheila Evans and Malcolm Swan in the third piece.

In practice, most of the programs for the implementation of formative assessment have largely relied on the professional development of teachers, starting when Paul Black and his colleagues at King’s College developed a collaborative approach with two British school systems. Here Debbie Duvall and James Angelo describe an approach based on a coherent professional development program across all levels of a school district, from the superintendent to teachers and parents.

The large scale implementation of formative assessment in classrooms is a young and developing field with many challenges and opportunities. I hope that this issue will stimulate others to offer their design experience and insights through the kind of extended commentary that Educational Designer welcomes.

Hugh Burkhardt
Editor of this Special Issue

Assessment and the Design of Educational Materials

Paul Black & Dylan Wiliam

To link the two entities that are identified in our title, it is first necessary to establish a set of general principles in the light of which the functions of each may be evaluated. To meet this need, we suggest two different and related approaches. The first involves consideration of the link between formative assessment and theories of learning, whilst the second is concerned with the ways in which summative assessments align with the aims of learning. The account here starts with discussion of the first of these, and the implications of this discussion for the practices of assessment will then be analysed. Implications for a theory of pedagogy will be explored in the course of that discussion.

A separate discussion of the implications for the design of educational materials would have to follow a similar approach, for such materials should be designed to help teachers support the learning of their pupils as effectively as possible. So the starting point for such design must be the criteria for effective learning. Therefore, in this paper we interweave discussion of the role of assessment in supporting effective learning with the role of educational materials in supporting both. In a concluding section, we summarise the practical implications for the design of materials that follow from our analysis.

Black, P., Wiliam, D. (2014) Assessment and the Design of Educational Materials. Educational Designer, 2(7).
Retrieved from:

Lesson Design for Formative Assessment

Malcolm Swan & Hugh Burkhardt

The potential power of formative assessment to enhance student learning is clear from research. This, however, demands a different learning culture and a broader range of teaching approaches than are found in most mathematics classrooms. Earlier efforts to introduce formative assessment for learning have focused on teacher professional development. Here we describe a major project that explores how this change may be stimulated and supported by teaching materials that embody the principles of formative assessment. We describe the design challenges we faced, the previous research and development experience we drew upon, and the principles that directed our designs. We illustrate these elements with examples of the products themselves, some outcomes and lessons learned.

Swan, M., Burkhardt, H. (2014) Lesson Design for Formative Assessment. Educational Designer, 2(7).
Retrieved from:

Developing Students’ Strategies for Problem Solving:
The Role of Pre-designed “Sample Student Work”

Sheila Evans & Malcolm Swan

This paper describes a design strategy that is intended to foster self and peer assessment and develop students’ ability to compare alternative problem solving strategies in mathematics lessons. This involves giving students, after they themselves have tackled a problem, simulated “sample student work” to discuss and critique. We describe the potential uses of this strategy and the issues that have arisen during trials in both US and UK classrooms. We consider how this approach has the potential to develop metacognitive acts in which students reflect on their own decisions and planning actions during mathematical problem solving.

Evans, S., Swan, M. (2014) Developing students’ strategies for problem solving: the role of pre-designed “Sample Student Work”. Educational Designer, 2(7).
Retrieved from:

Building a Culture of Formative Assessment through Professional Development

Debbie Duval & James Angelo

Research has shown that formative assessment is a powerful tool for moving student learning forward. The core challenge is: How do we move a school district to a place where everyone in the organization has an understanding of the tenants of formative assessment and is willing to embrace these principles in their own work? The approach described here lies in developing a culture of formative assessment through a coordinated, collaborative and comprehensive process of professional development where education partners work towards a common goal of improved student learning and see themselves as having a role in achieving this goal. We describe the design and development of such an approach, and illustrate it with a case study of its implementation.

Duvall, D., Angelo, J. (2014) Building a Culture of Formative Assessment through Professional Development. Educational Designer, 2(7).
Retrieved from:
ISSN 1759-1325