The Learning Renaissance

Formative Assessment Tools

I’ve argued before for the adoption of ipsative assessment tools as the way forward in the Learning Renaissance, but perhaps, for those new to the blog, it is worth revisiting the whole assessment debate.

Essentially there are three assessment methodologies in learning:


The dominant assessment methodology for schools and further/higher education. Effectively students are graded against some external measure, often through a terminal examination which tests material covered within the academic year.

The process does not actively engage the student as they are only required to submit their answers to the examination/test questions. Effectively summative assessment is done to the student as part of a process of establishing a grade for those who are considered successes or failures in the assessment process.

Summative assessment is the student graded against external measures over which they have no input.


Formative assessment systems develop a dialogue between the teacher and the student with a view to improve performance. Indeed the assessment relationship in the individual class, when an examination is not imminent might be seen as formative with questioning of students to test their understanding and formative comments written on assignments to help the student to improve their grade.

Formative assessment can be greatly enhanced by online tools which makes the teacher input to the process more effective and efficient.

In this model the teacher holds the dominant role in determining the direction and scope of the development dialogue.


Ipsative assessment is associated with a change in the relationship between the teacher and the student. Unlike the above models, which are related to the traditional classroom and teaching methodology, ipsative models work more on a one to one learning model in which the teacher is now more associated with  a coaching role.

To continue the sporting metaphor, the function of the ipsative model is to give the student responsibility to improve their personal learning performance by revealing information about previous best performance and developing learning tactics and reflection to see where the next incremental improvement in learning can be achieved.

Unlike summative assessment, the ipsative model is not designed to maximise performance in a single event, like an examination. It is more concerned with giving the student the resources of resilience and the analytical tools to drive continuous improvement in their performance over their lifetime… it is as much an attitude to personal growth as an assessment model.

The objective of the ipsative model is to enable the learner to become an independent and autonomous learner able to respond to changing learning circumstances and challenges.

In this context, this blog post by Monica Burns on formative assessment might be useful: Empowering Teachers With Tech-Friendly Formative Assessment Tools | Edutopia

Photo credit: F Delventhal via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Photo credit: F Delventhal via flickr (CC BY 2.0)


About educationalist04

Dazed and confused much of the time but convinced we can, as a species, do much better than this if we set our minds to being much more positive and productive towards our fellow humans.

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