Bodong Chen

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Notes: Sadler - 1998 - Formative assessment



Citekey: @Sadler1998

Sadler, D. R. (1998). Formative assessment: Revisiting the territory. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5(1), 77–84. doi:10.10800969595980050104


This is a commentary on Black & Williams (1998) – a review article on the effective of formative feedback on learning.


A key argument is that students are already assessing their own work and generating their own feedback, and that higher education should build on this ability. (p. 2)

Formative assessment refers to assessment that is specifically intended to generate feedback on performance to improve and accelerate learning (Sadler, 1998). (p. 2)

The construct of self-regulation refers to the degree to which students can regulate aspects of their thinking, motivation and behaviour during learning (Pintrich & Zusho, 2002). In practice, self-regulation is manifested in the active monitoring and regulation of a number of different learning processes, e.g. the setting of, and orientation towards, learning goals; the strategies used to achieve goals; the management of resources; the effort exerted; reactions to external feedback; the products produced. (p. 2)

In academic settings, specific targets, criteria, standards and other external reference points (e.g. exemplars) help define goals. Feedback is information about how the student’s present state (of learning and performance) relates to these goals and standards. (p. 3)

Self-regulated learners also actively interpret external feedback, for example, from teachers and other students, in relation to their internal goals. (p. 3)

how to enhance feedback (both self-generated and external) in support of self-regulation has not been fully explored in the current literature. This article helps to address this gap by proposing seven principles of good feedback practice in relation to the development of self-regulation. (p. 3)

The rationale for rethinking formative assessment and feedback (p. 3)

Despite this shift in conceptions of teaching and learning, a parallel shift in relation to formative assessment and feedback has been slower to emerge. In higher education, formative assessment and feedback are still largely controlled by and seen as the responsibility of teachers; and feedback is still generally conceptualised as a transmission process, even though some influential researchers have recently challenged this viewpoint (Sadler, 1998; Boud, 2000; Yorke, 2003). (p. 3)

There are a number of problems with this transmission view when applied to formative assessment and feedback. Firstly, if formative assessment is exclusively in the hands of teachers, then it is difficult to see how students can become empowered and develop the self-regulation skills needed to prepare them for learning outside university and throughout life (Boud, 2000). Secondly, there is an assumption that when teachers transmit feedback information to students these messages are easily (p. 3)

decoded and translated into action. Yet, there is strong evidence that feedback messages are invariably complex and difficult to decipher, and that students require opportunities to construct actively an understanding of them (e.g. through discussion) before they can be used to regulate performance (Ivanic et al., 2000; Higgins et al., 2001). Thirdly, viewing feedback as a cognitive process involving only transfer of information ignores the way feedback interacts with motivation and beliefs. Research shows that feedback both regulates and is regulated by motivational beliefs. External feedback has been shown to influence how students feel about themselves (positively or negatively), and what and how they learn (Dweck, 1999). Research also shows (Garcia, 1995) that beliefs can regulate the effects of feedback messages (e.g. perceptions of self-efficacy might be maintained by reinterpreting the causes of failure). Fourthly, as a result of this transmission view of feedback, the workload of teachers in higher education increases year by year as student numbers and class sizes become larger. (p. 4)

A key feature of the model that differentiates it from everyday understandings of feedback is that students are assumed to occupy a central and active role in all feedback processes. They are always actively involved in monitoring and regulating their own performance, both in relation to desired goals and in terms of the strategies used to reach these goals. The student also actively constructs his or her own understanding of feedback messages derived from external sources (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Ivanic et al., 2000). (p. 4)

The conceptual model of self-regulation outlined in this article draws on earlier work by Butler and Winne (1995). (p. 4)

A conceptual model of processes of self-regulation and internal feedback (p. 4)

There is considerable research evidence to show that effective feedback leads to learning gains. (p. 7)

Black and Wiliam (1998) drew together over 250 studies of feedback carried out since 1988, spanning all educational sectors. (p. 7)

A meta-analysis of these studies revealed that feedback produced significant benefits in learning and achievement across all content areas, knowledge and skill types, and levels of education. While the bulk of Black and Wiliam’s data came from the school sector, their review and that of others (e.g. Hattie, 1987; Crooks, 1988), provides convincing evidence of the value of feedback in promoting learning. In addition, there is a large body of complementary research studies demonstrating the effects of self and peer feedback on learning (e.g. Boud, 1995; Boud et al., 1999). (p. 7)

Sadler identified three conditions necessary for students to benefit from feedback in academic tasks. He argued that the student must know: 1. what good performance is (i.e. the student must possess a concept of the goal or standard being aimed for); 2. how current performance relates to good performance (for this, the student must be able to compare current and good performance); 3. how to act to close the gap between current and good performance. (p. 7)

teachers should focus much more effort on strengthening the skills of self-assessment in their students (Boud, 2000; Yorke, 2003). (p. 7)

While it is assumed that students can selfregulate internal states and behaviour as well as some aspects of the environment, this does not mean that the student always has full control. Learning tasks set by teachers, marking regimes and other course requirements are not under students’ control, even though students still have latitude to self-regulate within such constraints. (p. 8)

they are more persistent, resourceful, confident and higher achievers (Pintrich, 1995; Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001). Also, the more learning becomes self-regulated, the more students assume control over their learning, and the less dependent they are on external teacher support when they engage in regulatory activities (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2004). (p. 8)

Seven principles of good feedback practice: facilitating self-regulation (p. 8)

  1. helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards); 2. facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning; 3. delivers high quality information to students about their learning; 4. encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning; 5. encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem; 6. provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance; 7. provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching. (p. 8)