For my critical reading review I have chosen to look at and analyse the journal article regarding formative and diagnostic assessment, written by John Scaife and Jerry Wellington. I have chosen this particular reading as I teach adults within my job role and carry out formative and diagnostic assessments as part of the teaching process, so I have a personal interest in this particular topic and article. The authors are both experts within the field of research methods and researching and have a number of years’ experience within this area. They are both currently working and lecturing at the University of Sheffield.


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The authors aim is to show the varying views and practices regarding the understanding of the terms used to describe forms of assessment this quote from Black & Wiliam (1998) describe formative assessment as “encompassing all those activities undertaken by teachers, and/or by their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged”. I think this for me sums up exactly what formative assessment is. Diagnostic and peer assessment is also investigated and views of staff and students gathered in terms of how these forms of assessment are acknowledged and valued.

The study also suggests that formative assessment is now on the decline within higher education compared to in schools, even though students who took part in the case studies highly valued this unmarked form of assessment.

Key Findings

From staff interviews these are the key findings taken from the journal article:-

1. Staff agreed strongly that the outcome of an assessment is an indication of a student’s attainment, not their ability. I also agree with this as a diagnostic assessment takes place to assess a learner’s current knowledge and skills giving you a platform for what needs to be taught and learnt next.

1. The majority felt that students have time to do work that will not be graded, and that staff should devote time to providing non-graded feedback on that work. This fits in with the recommendations put in place for the two stage submission of assignments an idea already practiced in other universities.

1. Staff felt strongly that students need guidance on how to make good use of formative assessments and those students do need induction into different processes of assessment and the value of formative assessment, self-assessment and peer assessment. Again this provides the basis on what needs to be taught and where to concentrate teaching on aspects of the course that learners don’t already know rather than covering topics that they do.

1. The majority felt that it would be valuable to have both formal arrangements and informal times and spaces for staff to share and discuss assessment practices.

Methods and Methodology

The research studies were carried out across five faculties within one university, the research methodology used was qualitative, and the authors undertook interviews with staff and focus groups with students. Staff were interviewed for approximately 39 minutes each and individually I felt this was good practice as it ensured that the opinions expressed were that of the individual without any influences from others. The student focus groups will have been held due to time constraints although from reading the research I do feel that students did voice their own individual opinions on questions asked.

Improvements or enhancements I feel could have been made were that not enough staff and students were sampled although I understand the timescales and restrictions etc. But to enhance the study I felt that a comparison to how the forms of assessment are viewed and used within other universities would have been beneficial to the study. I also feel that perhaps some form of quantitative research could have been done to enhance this study as I would have compared student’s grades that have had formative and diagnostic assessments to those who did not. Also this would include taking into account student’s acknowledgement of prior learning.

I would also question the sampling as not been a fully random where some were dictated, I would like to question how and why the ones dictated to take part in the study were chosen and for what reasons.

To reach a wider range of students I would have perhaps used questionnaires and then done follow up interviews with a number of students to get a broader and more diverse group of opinions or answers, questionnaires can be anonymous and done individually so that an honest individual opinion is gathered.

Another criticism would be the fact that the journal article was unable to give the full findings which made it harder to make judgements as all the facts and findings were not available.

The authors mentioned ethics within their research paper and raised that one member of staff didn’t want to be recorded but they had permission from the remainder of the staff. Ethical protocols were carried out for all staff interviews and student focus groups.


The authors felt that they following were the main implications from the outcomes of their study:-

1. Diagnostic assessment was currently being carried out for teachers not learners and the outcomes were not being shared.

2. Plans for future staff development needed to be put in place.

3. Re-wording and confirmation of assessment terms in the university’s policy documents needed to be confirmed and understood amongst staff.

It was proposed that the following terms taken from the journal article would confirm what the terms for assessment meant and could be more clearly understood by students and staff.

1. Formative assessment principally concerns students learning from teachers’ feedback or from self or peer assessment;

2. Summative assessment principally concerns the categorising of students’ assessed work;

3. Diagnostic assessment principally concerns the teacher learning about the students’ learning needs.

I agree with the above terms and feel they give you a clear understand of the different forms of assessment and the purpose of that form of assessment that is used.

The study also highlighted that there is confusion between the wording ‘assessment’ and ‘assignment’. I have found this to be the case where I work in a further education community college, staff and students alike confuse the terminology. Using the above terms for assessment would also clearly define that an assignment is a piece of work produced and not the assessment process of marking and feedback. The study also found that the assessment methods being used were not having the desired impact on students and the diagnostic assessment in particular was only having an outcome for the teacher rather than for the learner as the outcomes of this form of assessment are often not being shared with the learner.

Peer and self-assessment is also briefly covered in the study and is suggested to be of less value to the learner as the people assessing are not “experts” so the quality of the judgements made by a peer assessing work has to be questioned.

“Nothing affects students more than assessment, yet they often claim that they are in the dark as to what goes on in the minds of their assessors and examiners. Involving students in peer-and self-assessment can let them in to the assessment culture they must survive”. (Race, (2007)

To a degree I do feel it is a valuable experience to have a go at assessing to improve your own knowledge but to another extent I do feel that there does need to be teacher involvement also and not just peer and self-marking alone. This same opinion is voiced by the students that took part in the focus groups as part of the study.


I thought the first recommendation to come out of the study of the two stage submission process for assignments was an excellent idea, this is a process carried out already by some other universities of which I have experienced for myself while doing my Certificate in Education. We could produce one written draft of our assignment which was formatively assessed and fedback on without grading; you could then use the feedback to allow you to improve your assignment before final submission and grading. Some people however would argue against this as it could be seen as helping or cheating as the teacher could be accused of giving the learner the answers as such, but I don’t feel that is the case if the feedback is constructive to the learner.

Looking at Sadler’s work it is identified that the following three conditions are necessary for students to benefit from feedback in academic tasks. He argued that students must know:

1. “what good performance is (i.e. the student must possess a concept of the goal or standards 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”. Sadler (1989)

The other recommendation was for that of staff development with regards to the understanding of assessment and in particular the assessment process and the universities policies and procedures that is currently in place and perhaps is in need of amendment.


In my opinion the authors have put together a very convincing argument to challenge how assessments are used and viewed and how they can enhance a students learning experience if the results or outcomes of the assessment are shared with the learner. The information gathered from the students themselves during the interviews expressed that feedback is an important part of the assessment process regardless of whether or not it is graded. My criticism as mentioned previously would be that not enough students were sampled and comparisons of students views could have been incorporated for example how assessment practice and outcomes compare in colleges to universities or the impact of formative and diagnostic assessment on learners final grades, comparing learners who have these forms of assessment to a group that doesn’t have any assessment other than summative.

For instance this degree programme only consists of summative assessment for all modules; the feedback I have received in many of my assignments once they have been summatively assessed so far would have enabled me to improve my assignment if formative assessment had taken place. Especially with things like spelling, punctuation and grammar sometimes it only needs someone else to double check and proof read your work to spot errors you’ve missed, so feedback saying recheck your work would prompt you enough to look more carefully, without for example indicating all mistakes on the work which could be taken by some as cheating. Feedback that says for instance have you thought about x and y? or you could have included x here, would give you opportunity to go back and look at aspects you could have missed, formative assessment is not giving you the answers it is offering the student a chance to improve the work they have already done. I feel that this is the feeling and opinion of most higher education establishments and that is the reason why formative assessment doesn’t take place in higher education compared to in schools.


Wiliam, D. and P. Black (1996). “Meanings and consequences: a basis for distinguishing formative and summative functions of assessment?” British Educational Research Journal 22(5): 537-548.

Sadler, D. R. (1989). “Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems.”

Instructional Science 18: 119-144.


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