assessments may be given before the end of a unit, leaving time for modification in instruction and time for student revision. Moreover, teachers are constantly assessing to see where students are in respect to goals. If they keep careful records of some of these regular assessments, they can be used to inform instruction and communicate with parents and the student in a more “summative” way.
The Black and Wiliam review cites evidence that ongoing assessments by teachers, combined with appropriate feedback to students, can have powerful, positive effects on student learning and achievement. They also report that the learning gains from systematic attention to formative assessment are larger than most of those found for any other educational interventions. Although such findings provide impressive evidence of classroom practices that really work in improving student understanding, they also report that such practices are currently underdeveloped in most classrooms.
Black and Wiliam also offer a cautionary comment: Although many features essential to fruitful development of formative assessment now can be identified, there is no single, simple recipe that teachers could adopt and follow. Even though they differ from one another in many of the details, a variety of approaches to enhancing formative assessment turn out to be successful in improving learning. Why? Teachers differ and so do their students. The opportunities provided in various schools for engaging in an active science program differ as well.
Similarly many theories have been proposed as guides to improving learning, and several of them have practical implications. Many of the classroom-assessment examples in this volume emphasize the social and community aspects of learning. Learning is not viewed as solely an individual activity. For example, teachers and students develop shared understandings of standards for quality work and certain kinds of feedback extend and deepen these understandings. Other theories of learning highlight somewhat different aspects: meta-cognition (thinking about thinking) (Hacker, Dunlosky, & Graesser, 1998), “zones of proximal development ” (deepening understanding by probing accessible knowledge for which one is prepared and ready) (Vygotsky, 1962); and the related idea that the teacher's role is to provide “scaffolding” for learning (an intellectual framework to which new ideas might be related) (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976). There also are suggestive practices associated with the concept of “self-regulated ” learning in which personal attributes and opportunities to learn intersect (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1998).
Notwithstanding the differing conceptions and views about learning,