How Can Formative Assessment Elevate Data Use in Education?

The Assess@Learning toolkit is online

Teachers can assess what their students have learned to plan their future actions to improve their students' learning. Like their teachers, students can assess themselves and their peers to reflect on their learning and plan their next steps. These practices, generally referred to as formative assessment (FA), are considered as some of the most powerful methods in education. However, many teachers in OECD countries are still not making regular use of FA practices. Training and encouraging teachers in using FA can be cost-effective according to research, but teachers need the support of other education stakeholders to invest time and effort in trying FA. Furthermore, digital tools can facilitate formative assessment, but their potential remains largely untapped according to international surveys TALIS and ICILS.

To address this challenge, the Asses@Learning policy experimentation developed an online digital formative assessment (DFA) toolkit targeting teachers, school leaders, students, parents, and policy makers with the aim of increasing the readiness to take actions to support DFA both at policy and practice level. Teachers, students and school leaders tested the toolkit during the project. In parallel, education stakeholders, including students, met in dialogue labs to discuss their views about DFA. Their discussions were analysed in a social impact report available in EnglishEstonianFinnishGreekPortugueseSpanish.

What does Assess@Learning tell us about data use in education?

Asking meaningful questions to students, collecting their answers digitally and assessing their understanding to make decisions are at the heart of digital formative assessment, and therefore, DFA incorporates good practices for the pedagogically meaningful use of learning data (and not learners data) to improve education.

Education stakeholders can explore the toolkit to get inspired in advancing their assessment practices. Several insights emerged from Assess@Learning on how teachers can make meaningful use of learning data:

First, after using the toolkit, teachers had a better understanding of DFA. However, in the short term, the toolkit did not lead teachers to implement DFA more in their classroom. Teachers need time and ongoing support. For example, school leaders can visit the School Positive Change Toolbox for guidelines on planning actions to support their teacher at school through actions such as teacher learning communities.

Second, it can be challenging to design good questions. When teachers think about how they will assess learning about a topic, they can also more concretely plan how they will teach that topic. However, students who participated in the Dialogue Labs discussed that not all tests are well designed, and the purpose of questions is not always clear to them. Teachers can try out questions by checking the data and see whether students' answers are informative. It is also important to guide teachers by providing them with good question examples and guidelines.

Third, teachers and students in the Dialogue Labs observed that using digital learning platforms in the classroom can reduce social interaction. To promote socialisation and collaborative learning, it is important to investigate ways to platforms that promote work in groups.

Fourth, while trying to implement some ideas from the toolkit, teachers saw that it was not only them but also their students who needed time to get the hang of digital tools. Digital learning tools might accentuate inequalities between students with higher and lower digital skills.

Finally, case studies in the toolkit suggest that school leaders and teachers are not always aware of how a digital tool that they chose uses student data and whether their data is safe from unethical use. A case study on Dutch schools explores some important questions that schools should ask before selecting digital tools that collect data.

For recommendations from the policy experimentation, please check the summary report in EnglishEstonianFinnishGreekPortugueseSpanish.