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Every assessment must be formative for something or someone


Peter Nyström (Umeå University, Sweden)




Assessment, validity


In my presentation I will discuss quality issues with respect to assessment. What is assessment in mathematics, and what is its role in forming good learning environments? What aspects of assessment need to be considered? What are the crucial aspects of assessment contributing to quality?

It is not uncommon that assessment practices and modes are criticized on the basis of implicit value deliberations and without consideration of the purpose of the assessment. Furthermore, quality issues concerning assessment are not treated in a systematic way. My aim is to present arguments for important aspects of quality in all assessment, with special focus on assessment in mathematics.

Assessment can be defined as the process of gathering, interpreting, and synthesizing information to aid decision making. Decisions can be decisive and far-reaching, or they can be local and mendable. Whatever the severity of the decision, quality aspects of assessment are always important, but the more "important" the decision is, the more attention must be given to quality issues. In addition, quality is strongly connected to the purpose of assessment. Different purposes will put different demands on the assessment and assessments of high quality will differ depending on their purposes.

I will argue that the purpose is crucial for the quality of assessment. One purpose is often denoted “formative”, but this concept is often used without precision. I will elaborate on the meaning of formative assessment and argue that all assessments must be formative with respect to something or someone. I will also argue that in addition to purpose three other aspects are important: validity theory, curriculum and epistemology, and discuss the meaning and relevance of these aspects.

Finally, I will present a recently initiated research project focusing national tests in mathematics as a catalyst for implementing educational reforms.