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The Formative And Summative Assessment English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5441 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Why is assessment necessary? Schwartz and Webb (2002) state that from the past 30 years and the great number of language teaching research, assessment is not only the central part of work for teachers, but also the main ‘driver’ of learning. That is to say, assessment is for teachers and students, to know not only how well they have done but also where they have done well and where they need to make great efforts.

Assessment is frequently divided into summative assessment and formative assessment. Testing is the basic way of summative assessment. We often set a test at the end of the learning period. Formative assessment involves the collecting of information or evidence of a learners’ learning progress in the classroom. (Wang, 2006)

Testing is the method most often used in China. For example, in 2011, 9,330,000 high school students took part in the University and College Entrance Examination in China. The enrollment rate of the exam is 72.3%, and only approximately 40% students would be enrolled by universities. Actually, 2011 was not the peak time, the real peak time was at 2008, at that time, the number of Chinese students attending the University and College Entrance Examination is 10,500,000. In 2009, there were 740 universities and 1168colleges in China. Therefore, it is hard to imagine how difficult if the university and colleges selected students without testing. That also led to tests becoming the most important way for evaluating students no matter when they entrance the high education before or after.

2. Literature Review

2.1 Formative and Summative assessment

‘Why assess?’, in answering this question, it deals not only with the purposes of assessment, but also the issue of who needs or uses the results. Biggs (1999) pointed out the important distinction between formative and summative functions.

The main purpose of summative assessment is to make a judgement regarding each student’s performance. Students are marked at the end of a module, course or unit, so the results of such assessments are often presented in marks or grades. Summative judgements are also used to accredit learners as the end of the programme. (Falchikov, 2005)

Nevo (1995) described these judgements as being for certification and diagnostic purposes. There is a critical thinking about summative assessment: Can test scores be used to inform us about our teaching and learning? Nevo (1995) considered that the answer is: not very much. Because of the students’ ability and achievement in learning are not measurable in terms of one single test. Even if they can reveal some problems about our teaching or learning, it is often too late to do anything about them, as it is already the end of a learning period.

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Different from summative assessment, formative assessment is based on information collected in the classroom work and that attention to improving its practice can enhance the learners’ achievements. For example, English teachers ask students to write an essay, complete a research project, or give a speech in front of whole class. This kind of assessment will provide more information on students’ learning during the learning process and will be useful for teachers to adjust their teaching according to students’ needs and base teaching on the success or difficulties of students’ learning. Formative assessment will be similar to activities that are often carried out in classroom. Students may develop their assessment tasks based on certain classroom activities, work out criteria to be followed when assessing students’ performance, and do record keeping. The issues involved here are summarized very briefly by Miller, Imrie, and Cox (1998).

Formative assessment focuses on the process of learning, and gives students practice in essential skill such as essay writing, problem solving. This type of assessment should be to provide regular feedback to students in order to stimulate learning. (Miller, Imrie and Cox, 1998)

Harlen (2004) states the relationship between assessment for formative and summative purpose. Teachers can use summative assessment evidence to help learning, and at the same time, using formative assessment information for summative assessment. It is both a weakness and a strength that summative assessment derived by interpreting formative evidence in a different way that both are in the hand of the teacher.

2.2 What to assess?

Journals/ reflective logs/ diaries

Brown (1997) argued that learning diaries, logs and journals are essentially the same, in that all are regarded as to promote feedback and all are based on the concept that the feedback is beneficial language learning. Nevertheless, someone always keep it in her/his mind that there are differences between these three activities. Take one example, Freeman and Lewis (1998) find that logs has less personal than diaries. Logs record a learner’s activities truthfully, while diaries are a personal selection of events that can add some reflection and understanding of their learning. Furthermore, Gibbs (1995) puts journals between diaries and logs, because journals include some reflection but not as personal as a diary.


Journal writing is a ‘powerful way for individuals to give accounts of their experience’ (Clandinin and Connelly, 1994: 421), while writing journal is not only for this purpose, Brown (1997) points out four purposes of leaning journals. He discusses that journal writing as a type of assessment tool creates students opportunities to reflect their learning progress and problems; record students’ learning experiences. It is also a chance for expressing feeling and emotion of their leaning.


Brown (1997) states that student can use learning logs to provide a self-report of their learning experience. In order to solve the problem of this kind of assessment, Brown (1997) proposes that logs may include information concerning what language error or mistakes starts have been made, the reason why occurred this kind of error, how to solve this problems and which kind of approaches will be helpful. Freeman and Lewis (1998:254) emphasize that making an explicit and clear criteria is very important. They advise teacher to tell their student: ‘ what to record; how much detail to record; the number and range of items to include; the time period over which to record; the desired format; the type of analysis to be carried out prior to submission.’


A diary is a book, which has a separate space, or page for each day, students can write down their learning experiences they have and their private thoughts. A diary with real-time features includes written records, but also involves pictures and other multimedia. Therefore, diaries are described as an appropriate form of assessment where the learning is focusing on the processes of doing something rather than on the result. Diary writing could be “a way of building up students’ confidence in their own thoughts and feelings, rather than taking on other people’s in an uncritical fashion. It could be said therefore to encourage independent thinking” (Ashcroft and Foreman-Peck, 1994:59).

Falchikov (2005) critically evaluate the advantage and disadvantage of diary writing. These techniques are easy to use and cost effective. What is more? Self-reporting is believed to engender self-revelation, therefore, useful for collecting ‘intimate’ information. However, a number of disadvantages have also been identified.

Assessing logs, journals and diaries

As with many of the newer assessment methods, little is recorded in the literature about how logs, journals or diaries may be assessed. Bound and Knights (1994) asserted that setting an assignment which teacher believe will encourage reflection is not sufficient, as the intent of the student is a important determinant of what actually happens. Additionally, Brown (1997) indicated that no study had been done to certain whether the use of learning journals changes the style of learning. Based on his own experience of using the learning log method, assessment may be carried out in a number of ways. Teacher may mark the written record, or using the guidelines supplied as criteria against which to judge the work. Students may submit a self-assessment of all or part of the record. McNamara and Deane (1995) refer to that peer assessment is not suitable method for assessing logs, journals and diaries. Because these diaries were, meant to be private and read only by the writers themselves

Oral presentation

Falchikov (2005) states that in oral presentations, students research a topic and present their achievement in front of their teacher and other classmates. Oral presentation are often linked with self or peer assessment. Falchikov (2005a) find that involving students in the assessment of oral presentation is very beneficial. At the same time, ask the other peer have to provide feedback, which can get the other students’ concentration. This way will be more active engagement than simply listening. This kind of assessment will not only improve the oral skill of the students, but also may be developing the other skill.


Because progress tests and proficiency tests are both need to assess students at the certain time, students only get one-off chance to reveal their real level of knowledge. It is unfair to some students who are not good at exams innately. As a result, portfolio assessment appeared, unlike traditional measures which tend to evaluate students’ possession of knowledge at the certain time, portfolio assessment can allow students to show their best pieces of work over the period of time. There are some obvious benefits of portfolio assessment; firstly, it makes students more independent and self-governing. What’s more¼ŸStudents have a chance to modify their work before submitting, it will have a positive wash back effect on assessment. (Harmer, 2007)

However, the pitfalls still exist in portfolio assessment. Using portfolio assessment can be time-consuming; teacher need more time to give the marks. The reliability of portfolio assessment need to be consider, because students complete this kind of assessment out of classroom, it is difficult to confirm that the students finish their assessment by themselves, nobody helps them. (Harmer, 2007)

2.3 The relationship between assessment and pedagogy

Before we discuss the relationship between assessment and teaching approach, we need to clear the concept of these approaches: Their definitions, features and so on.

The Presentation, Practice and Production (PPP)

PPP refer to presentation, practice and production. At the presentation stage, the teacher introduces new vocabulary and grammatical structures. At the practice stage, the lesson moves from controlled to guided practice. At the production stage, teacher will encourage students to present what they have learned and perform some communicative activity. In this stage, the heart of the matter is on meaning¼ˆfluency¼‰rather than forms (accuracy). (Harmer, 2007)

Some of the advantages of the PPP model are that first it is clear and easy to conduct by the teacher. Secondly, it is easy to evaluate, as there are often clear goals to be obtained. Thirdly, there is the belief that learning with focus on forms will become one kind of habit (Skehan, 1996). Nevertheless, with the development of theories in TESOL, some language teachers keep it in their mind that the PPP model is not valid. It is not enough for the teacher to simply help practise the structure. The teacher should also try to create meaningful teaching materials for student to use the structures learned in real communication (Wang, 2006)..

Task-based Language Teaching (TBLT)

Task-based Language Teaching is widely promoted in English language teaching nowadays. Many teachers are asking ‘what is Task-based Language Teaching? How is TBLT different from communicative language teaching?’

Task-based Language Teaching is, in fact, a further development of CLT (Walsh, 2011). Thornbury (2006) suggests that TBLT has emerged from the strong form of CLT. It shares the same beliefs, as language should be learned as close as possible to how it is used in real life. However, it has stressed the importance to combine form-focused teaching with communication-focused teaching.

When students are carrying out a task, they are focusing on the complete act of communication. Sometimes, however, we may wish to focus their attention on individual aspects of language, such as vocabulary, grammar or individual skills. We can call these activity exercises. Another kind of activity, which is very common in CLT, comes halfway between tasks and exercises. This kind of activity consists of contextualised practice of language items (often a particular grammar point). For instance, it could be an activity that helps the students to master the present continuous tense by getting them to describe what is happening in a picture. This kind of activity can be called an exercised-task. (Littlewood, 1993)

Differences between PPP and TBLT

Willis (1996) provided two perspectives to identify the difference between PPP and TBLT.

The way learners express language in TBLT is completely different from PPP (Willis, 1996).

In TBLT, all 3 components (task, planning and report) are free of language control, students have to rely on their own language resources. The purpose of TBLT is using language for real communication. In PPP model, learners adjust their language at the practice stage. Nevertheless, in TBLT, we adjust our language at the report stage—the last one. The planning stage encourages students to consider appropriateness and accuracy of the language form in general, rather than the production of a single form. The report allows learner to exchange their idea and information freely, but in PPP model, learners do not have any freedom to a certain extent.

TBLT can provide a context for grammar teaching and form-focused activities. PPP is different in this aspect (Willis, 1996).

In PPP model, with the presentation of the target language coming first, this context has to be invented. However, in TBLT, the context is already established by the task itself. When students finished the task, the language is already familiar. The activities in TBLT encourages learners to use the target language to analyse and think, not just simply to repeat. A PPP model leads from accuracy to fluency; a TBLT cycle leads from fluency to accuracy (combined with fluency).

Overall, PPP offers a simplified approach to language learning. It is based upon the idea that you can present language in a clear way. Moreover, your language develops by adding new forms from one lesson to the next. However, simply being able to produce forms in isolation will not help learners acquire the language for communication. Research proves that if there are plenty of opportunities with students to practise language in meaningful context, which will be the best way for students to acquire language effectively. (Frost, 2004)

2.3.4 Introduction of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)

Although people have different understanding of communicative language teaching, the following three principles suggested by Richards and Rodgers (2001):

Communication principle: the core of CLT activities are real communication, which will promote language learning.

Task principle: the language used in activities is for carrying out the tasks, which will promote learning.

Meaningfulness principle: language that is meaningful to the learner supports the learning process.

It is important to note that CLT requires a higher level of communicative competence on the part of the teacher. It also requires that teacher develops a wider range of skills beyond the presentation and explanation of grammatical structures (Hedge, 2000). In a communicative classroom, a great deal of time is spent on managing learning, setting up activities, organizing resources, guiding students in pair/group work.

Howatt (1984) proposes a weak and a strong version of CLT. With the weak version, learners first acquire language as a structural system and then learn how to use it in communication. The strong version of CLT claims that ‘language is acquired through communication’ (Howatt, 1984:279). This means that learners discover the structural system in the process of learning how to communicate. In other words, the weak version regards overt teaching of language forms and functions as necessary means for helping learners to develop the ability to use them for communication, whereas the strong version regards experiences of using the language as the main means or necessary condition for learning a language as they provide the experience for learners to see how language is used in communication.

Savignon (2004) maintains that CLT in its strong form cannot be adhered to via a single textbook, implicitly suggesting that ELT materials that are termed ‘communicative’ must be adhering to the weaker form.

3. Methodology

3.1 Research question

The topic research question: “What are English teacher’ own beliefs about the effects of assessment on teaching English experience?” Finding the balance between formative assessment and summative assessment. Then try to find the relationship between assessment and pedagogy. I intend to centre on teachers’ viewpoints on English language assessment.

From teachers’ aspect, the questions will draw attention to the close relationship between assessment and pedagogy. What type of assessment is beneficial to teaching? That is to say, what kind of assessment is good for learning English? When assessment is solely dependent on test results, teachers tend to begin teaching to the test (washback effect). Teaching has become test practice. They try to find out what will be tested and how it will be tested. Is it good for learning English?

3.2 Interview Question Design

In the beginning, my interview questions are very generalization, and contain some specialized vocabulary. I used to have an interview experience, so I know if the questions are too hard to answer, will be putting pressure on interviewees. Therefore, I try to make my question simplification and concretization, in order to reduce the pressure on interviewees.

Interview questions of teachers

1. According to your teaching experience of students, summative and formative assessment, which kind of assessment do you think is good for language teaching and learning? Why?

2. Could you explain the advantage and disadvantage of each assessment respectively?

3. When you assess your students’ language learning, how many factors do you consider? What are they?

4. Do you consider the motivation of your students?

5. Besides testing, what are the other methods that can be used to gather information about the knowledge and performance of language learners? Please give examples if possible.

6. What are the usual formats of the tests that you have taken in your experiences of English teaching?

7. Is there any particular format that you like or dislike? Give your reasons.

8. Do you think examinations could reflect student learning better than the other type of assessment? If yes, give a reason. If no, please take one instance.

3.3 Methods & the Rationales

Since the total conception of the research was based on investigating English language teachers and Chinese learners’ own beliefs about the effects of assessment on learning English experience, go without saying, the research methods used should be satisfied this determination. Qualitative approach is ‘above all else a person-centred enterprise and therefore particularly appropriate to our work in the field of language teaching’ (Richards, 2003:9), so it deserves to be depended on in my research.

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A number of different interview types can be employed to gather data for qualitative research. Interviews are often associated with survey-based research, as well as being a technique used by many qualitative researchers. In structured interviews, researchers usually ask an identical set of questions of all respondents. Less rigid are semi-structured interview, in which the researcher used a written list of questions as a guide, while still having the freedom to digress and explore more information. On the other hand, in unstructured interview, no list of questions is used. Instead, interviewers develop and adapt their own questions, helping respondents to open up and express themselves in their own terms and at their own speed. (Mackey and Gass, 2005)

Mackey and Gass (2005) stated that interviews could allow researchers to investigate phenomena that are not directly observable, such as learners’ self-reported perceptions or attitudes. In addition, because interviews are interactive, researchers can elicit additional data if initial answers are vague, digression, incomplete, or not specific enough. Another advantage of interview is that they can be used to elicit data from learners who are not comfortable in other modes. Take one instance, some learners are more at ease speaking than writing and more likely to provide extended answers in a conversational format. Depending on the research question and the resources available, interviews can also be conducted in the learner’s mother tongue (L1), thus removing concerns about the proficiency of the learner affecting the quality and quantity of the data provided.

According to the two groups of interviewee, I apply in different interview type. For students’ group, I prefer using semi-structured interview. For teachers’ group, ‘the narrative interview’ may be the best policy. Actually, ‘the narrative interview’ is one kind of unstructured interview. Flick (2002) defines that the narrative interview is different from the traditional way of interview, which will help the researchers free themselves from the question-answer pattern and approach the personal experience of interviewees. The interviewees are encouraged to tell their own stories of the assessment on learning English experience.

3.4 Research Procedure

I explained to my interviewee in the beginning about the whole process, the orientation of the questions, and the time needed approximately. During the process of our interview, the interviewees could speak both English and Chinese.

Because I had no experience about how to conduct an interview, and did not do the Pilot Study that is a simulated interview before the real interview. Therefore, when I interview my first participant -Wing, sometime she confused by the question which sounded profound. Wing was my best friend in China and she was very nice and patient. If she did not understand what I mean, she will discuss with me about this question. Then I revised my questions with her help. She proposed some suggestion for my interview. I also discuss with her about my question for students. During the process of interview, I encourage interviewees to talk about some of their own experiences. Moreover, do not mind if they use Chinese to explain the questions more clearly. Finally, after we went through all the questions, the interview was going smoothly.

3.5 Ethical Concerns

There are some important ethical concerns, which have been considered throughout the entire study. At first, consent both in written (see Appendix) and verbal form was given to each potential participant previously, so that they could have enough time to decide whether to join this research.

Because my research method is interview, my participants are not anonymous to me. Therefore, protecting their privacy and holding in confidence what they share with me must be the best policy.

I will fully inform all of participants about my research purpose, and make sure they totally understand what their agreement to participate entail. Furthermore, participates can withdraw from my research at any time.

4. Result

Teacher A : Wing

What is Wing’s belief about the effects of assessment on learning English experience?

Wing thinks that English assessment, especially test is ‘absolutely very important’. Because she worked in a Cram school, has lots of pressure from the administrate of the school and her student’s parents.

What is assessment?

Wing regards the language assessment as a tool to keep a check on her learners, through a language assessment, she can find out strengths and weakness of her students and herself. Actually, in most of cases, Wing thinks that assessment is to do with testing.

Do you think examinations could reflect student learning better than the other type of assessment? If yes, give a reason. If no, please take one instance.

Wing believes that examinations cannot be said to be the best means of assessment, but the test is really the most effective way to measure students’ language learning effect.

Besides testing, what are the other methods that can be used to gather information about the knowledge and performance of language learners? That is to say, what are the other methods that you prefer using to assess your student? You have some choices: teacher’s observation, interview, journals/ reflective logs/diaries, oral presentations, portfolios.

Wing recalls the day when she was a student, both her English and Chinese language teachers recommended diary writing as an effective means of improving language proficiency. Therefore, when she started as a teacher, she began to try to use this method to assess her students. Actually, diary writing is the better way to assess student’ grammar and vocabulary. Towards grammar, she could identify common error in the use of article, tenses and preposition. Common errors in the spelling of particular word were also easily spotted. Towards vocabulary, diary writing can be very good to help students understand some words of their special usage.

For example, lots of students always confuse the usage of the words ‘hope’ and ‘wish’, because in China, there is a word can express both these two words. In students’ diaries, many students often want to express a strong desire or hope for something, but they always confound these two words. Wing mentions that some students translate their meaning from Chinese to English directly, they do not think in English way.

After a period, Wing finds that dairies writing have some shortcoming. For example, sometimes teacher is hard to control what student write. Sometimes what students write are not teacher want to assess. Sometimes Wing finds that it is quite difficult to comments or analyses her students’ diaries, because diaries is their own experience.

Therefore, Wing changes her assessment method in the other way. She ask all of her student to read a series of books— BOOK WORMS which was published by Oxford University Press. This series of books are the simplification of many world famous works. Every time she will layout a book requires students to read at home, and then write impression of the book. she wants to find out the difficulties her students had with a summary assignment they had been given, so she requested that her students write in their diary, talk about the difficulties they had when they did the assignment. However, Wing also finds out that if she too frequently requires students to do like that, by the time the students have lost all their motivation for writing diary.

According to your teaching experience of students, summative and formative assessment, which kind of assessment do you think is good for language teaching and learning? Why?

Because Wing works in a Cram school, each student in this school has a goal–that is to pass the exam. This invisible to students a great deal of pressure, will definitely affect their learning effect. She believes that formative assessment is good for language teaching and learning.

Consider the other methods (you mentioned at question 3) that you prefer using to assess your student again, which is your purpose of this assessment method? Formative or summative?

Formative assessment. Wing think that it could be for summative assessment, but she think there is intense pressure on her students from exam, she does not want to put more pressure on her students. Therefore, she always assess her students by formative purpose.

In your classroom, what teaching methods do you usually use?

Grammar translation approach or you can say that is PPP (Presentation, Practice and Production) module.

When you assess your students’ language learning, how many factors do you consider? You have some choice: linguistic (Grammar and Vocabulary), interest, culture background, motivation, teaching approach, to foster learning ability.

Wing states that she will consider grammar and vocabulary at the first place, because all of her teaching and assessment are examination-oriented.

Do you think that your main teaching approach will influence you to assess your students?

Wing says that it is difficult to answer this question. She want to say yes, because her teaching goal is examination-oriented, she use grammar-translation approach, therefore, she is unable to control herself to consider linguistic (Grammar and Vocabulary) when she assess her students.

Teacher B: Linda

What is Linda’s belief about the effects of assessment on learning English experience?

Linda works in a private high school, she has approximately 2 years teaching experience.

What is assessment?

Linda always use language assessment in her classroom, she regards language assessment as a way of keeping a check on the student’ learning. She always carry out an assessment with recording-keeping, to discover learner’s achievements.

Do you think examinations could reflect student learning better than the other type of assessment? If yes, give a reason. If no, please take one instance.

Linda thinks that examination is not the only way that could reflect student learning. She cannot decide which one is better.

Besides testing, what are the other methods that can be used to gather information about the knowledge and performance of language learners? That is to say, what are the other methods that you prefer using to assess your student? You have some choices: teacher’s observation, interview, journals/ reflective logs/diaries, oral presentations, portfolios.

Linda indicated that she always use interview and oral presentation to assess her students. Compared to other skills, Linda pays more attention to speaking skill during she assess her student. She suggests dividing her process of assessment into two parts:

If it is the first time she meets a student, she prefers to interview s/he face to face. Regard to her all class, Linda think oral presentation is not only benefit for students’ learning, but also good for team cooperation spirit.

According to your teaching experience of students, summative and formative assessment, which kind of assessment do you think is good for language teaching and learning? Why?

Formative assessment. In the process of learning, keep abreast of student mastery of knowledge, correct errors in a timely manner, to amend his mistakes early is better than the final.

Consider the other methods (you mentioned at question 3) that you prefer using to assess your student again, which is your purpose of this assessment method? Formative or summative?

For interview, Linda think formative assessment will be her purpose, because it focus on what are the next steps in learning. For oral presentation, summative assessment will be h


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