A Journal of Teaching English Language and Literature

ISSN Print : 2229-6557, Online: 2394-9244

In Teachers’ Hands: Where Formative Assessment Comes to Life in Unforeseen Ways

Jacob Tharu


This essay seeks to locate Formative Assessment, often seen as a plug-in panacea for the defects of conventional evaluation, within the larger and ongoing process of school based formal instruction. Its articulation as one of many strands related to evaluation in reform oriented educational policy discourse of the post-independence decades is highlighted. Despite its many contradictions CCE has helped create a hospitable setting for carrying FA more purposefully into classroom practice. Yet progress on the ground does not match the enthusiasm in conveying its virtues to teachers in service. An analysis of factors influencing the realisation of FA as practice points to the need to address teacher autonomy seriously. The fundamental principle that  all non-summative, non-external assessment is primarily the responsibility (duty and initiative space) of individual teachers is reiterated. There has been a tendency to overlook the complexity of the process of ‘assessment integrated with teaching’. The need for pursuing conceptual clarity about assessment and related processes with greater vigour than campaign style communication calls for is emphasised. 

Keywords: Assessment FOR Learning, scholastic, continuous evaluation, Formative Assessment, Summative Assessment


Over the last two decades or more, there has been active discussion in India around the notions of comprehensive (more holistic) assessment of learners’ progress, conducted continuously (during lessons flexibly and fairly unobtrusively) and formatively with its potential for enhancing progress. Against the wearying backdrop of examination reform that is always almost but never actually there, this vision of joyful testing quite understandably generates hope, even excitement. In seminar and conference presentations and journal articles in the broad ELT field, numerous papers have extolled the potential of formative assessment especially when expressed as Assessment FOR Learning (AfL hereafter).

However, there is some ambiguity regarding the curriculum transaction processes providing the base or housing for this new/happier strand in educational evaluation. The post NCF 2005 syllabus and related textbooks prepared by the NCERT are followed in CBSE affiliated schools. This scheme has been directly adopted by some states, while other states have made minor modifications and adaptations. The guiding principles of NCF 2005 have been accepted all across the nation, even if the gap between precept and practice remains wide. This gap has as much to do with the idealism of a worthy vision statement as with a lack of commitment and sincerity on the part of those seeking to carry the ideas forward. It is possible to say without being too naively romantic that now there is wider and more varied learner participation during lessons as compared with what was typical at the beginning of the this century. This direction of change in the nature of classroom transaction has been supported by child-friendly and attractive textbooks that invite spontaneous engagement with at least some of their contents even if they are not solemnly and seriously scholastic. The emphasis on ‘activities’, many of them, open ended in nature, lead to some measure of collaboration among learners. This has led irrevocably to reduced scope for didactic teacher talk. Even if there is more classroom management talk, these messages do have an element of genuine communication in that they arise in real time. Many instructions are more complex than ‘open page xx’, write neatly, pay attention, etc. They need to be understood in the here and the now, and not memorised for reproduction later. They can thus involve some negotiation. Most heartening perhaps is that something other than standard explanations and a single correct answer is heard in classrooms. This is because there is space for such unrehearsed utterances to come up, however small this be. 

The dark downside of this rosy picture is the ubiquitous mandated CCE package of elaborate cumbersome procedures, widely experienced as heavily time consuming and alas! pointless. The criticisms of CCE as a set of rules to comply with are sharp and varied, and have been embarrassingly persistent over years now. Serious rethinking – clearly an urgent matter – has yet to be initiated. All these negative aspects notwithstanding, ‘cce’ has also come to represent the methodology associated with the more wholesome classroom process described above. This is only symbolic; but it is a new point of reference that has brought vocabulary associated with a broadly constructivist pedagogy into everyday use.  Discussions clarifying and promoting FA or AfL generally invoke a helpful classroom setting provided by the ‘spirit of cce’.

The present article was planned initially as a search for a possible explanation of the quite visible mismatch between the appeal of FA within CCE to ELT specialists/experts and the lack of interest, even coldness, on the part of teachers being alerted to this new aspect of classroom transaction. No one seems to have reported from the field that teachers who have been told about this new ‘technique’ are keen on trying it out or learning more. All aspects of evaluation apply to the whole curriculum, not only to ELT—a point sometimes forgotten by the more vocal members of the ELT community. If FA is good, it must be good for all subjects. The main promoters of the new (improved) pedagogic practices are official bodies (like the SCERTs) that utilize the permanent in-service training channel. There is usually a strand of sermonising as exhortation to teachers to go beyond the prescribed procedures and be committed, proactive even creative. In most subjects there is not much professional input outside the standard and limited official refresher course type programmes as channels. ELT is unique in that there is a lively and proactive nationwide professional community of experts/resource persons who see their role as supporting curriculum and evaluation reform. This role is elegantly captured in the title of a recent major national/international conference –TEC 11 Starting, Stimulating and Sustaining English Language Teacher Education and Development. The ELT community thus has an advantage in the availability of personnel who can mediate the transfer to teachers of relevant advances in knowledge. This facility and opportunity could be exploited more purposefully for exploratory and even speculative discussion. The tendency in much ELT public talk at conferences and such fora has been to stay safely with specific and limited problems leading to apparently neat solutions.

Any discussion of teachers’ practice must recognise that it is situated in real social-cultural settings  where a complex mix of desirables and imperatives exert pulls in different directions creating tensions for the teacher to negotiate. What they do in class as subject teachers is only one aspect of their practice or performances as persons. We need to remain aware of this wider context, when we focus, quite rightly, on their subject linked instructional activities. This applies to all teachers including those in ELT: a fact that is sometimes overlooked. The prescribed syllabus – evaluation scheme (though limited in its reach in an overall sense) exerts a powerful influence on what teachers do, feel they can do in the classroom. But thankfully not everything is wholly determined by external forces. Teachers  do ‘hear’ messages about improving their practice (themselves too?) and in their own ways try to make sense, except perhaps when they are totally burnt out. This is the zone of possibilities the present discussion seeks to shed some light on. One commonly heard complaint (among many) relating to teachers’ professionalism is poor receptivity on their part to good news beamed at them. The good news is invariably about improved pedagogy which they have to bring to life by retooling themselves. So, this retooling is ultimately what innovation is all about. Recognizing this point about improving instruction suggests the question we need to ask about resistance to innovation. Does the problem lie in the nature of the supposed good news, the manner of telling, or both? It makes sense to extend the scope of the discussion of responses of teachers to innovations in general, and not limit it to FA though most examples used will lie within the evaluation-assessment sphere.

The framing of the school teacher’s work space

The earlier remark about teachers constantly negotiating conflicting pulls and pushes in real settings is an allusion to their agency. This element has much to do with receiving and acting on inputs calling for changes in practices. A key premise of the present discussion is that innovations in pedagogy calling for teacher adaptability are tied critically to teacher autonomy. The term ‘teacher autonomy’ has long been a cliché that has received little serious attention: neither in curiculum design nor in teacher preparation and support. Autonomy as posited here is the felt sense of autonomy of the teacher: something experienced, sustained and renewed over time, and building in part on what they feel makes them more free. Autonomy cannot be bestowed from outside, least of by higher authority in a once and for all promulgation.

As noted above, any meaningful exploration of the realisation of hoped for innovations in the classroom must take into account and engage with the external forces that teachers cope with.  This is an area in which outsiders/experts might play a small and helpful role. Trying to make sense of the system as it operates in the schooling process is where we need to begin, before getting at teachers and finding fault with them.

A fuller consideration of the wider factors affecting teachers’ practice is beyond the scope of this article. A sense of the complexity of this wider setting is found in Vasavi (2015). Though this deals mainly with government elementary schools (run by state governments), its many references are highly informative. Bypassing this domain is acknowledged as a limitation of the discussion. Turning to our system founded on centralised control over the curriculum, the implicit logic appears to be that micromanagement of instruction ensures compliance in instruction and hence quality in education. The curriculum package includes an elaborate apparatus of rules and regulations around knowledge (subject matter) specifying what the teacher should do. The concern here is not on documenting teachers’ compliance but on factors that might influence their ways of receiving and interpreting messages bearing on quality via desirable changes. From this perspective, details of syllabus prescriptions (syllabus, lesson elements, evaluation) are not of relevance. What is of interest is the nature of messages pointing to changes–towards improvement. This strand in official discourse, (especially the evaluation area) is more likely to be found in occasional vision statements than in regular notifications. A very small archival search is taken up covering the general recommendations of national level education commissions and similar bodies. These would be pointing in new directions as against specifying practical procedures to follow. If located, such statements would represent the relatively hidden aspirational dimension of the system’s conventionally tough-minded manner of laying out results oriented programme(s) of actions.

Evaluation and Assessment: Some clarifications of related terms

Before proceeding to this archival matter, certain basic terms related to instruction and evaluation in the school need to be clarified, Firstly, the term evaluation will be used rather than assessment. This is only to stay in line with what is more current in official use, e.g., CCE. [However, in the concluding section of the essay the advantages of making a distinction between evaluation and assessment will be considered.] The terms, “examination” and “test” are used interchangeably in our system. Both are examples of the achievement test – an instrument aligned with a notified syllabus segment and administered after it has been completed. The alignment with the syllabus (supposedly objectives, but in effect content) is required by the content validity criterion of goodness. For high stakes public examinations this has become a legal requirement. The conceptually no less significant additional condition, namely that the syllabus has been implemented in the intended manner is not treated seriously at all. It is only a matter of formal declaration: when the pre-set end date for teaching is reached it means that the portions have been covered. Satisfying the condition is that simple. However, the teacher (if viewed as a thinking person) is caught up in the contradiction here; and this becomes significant when messages about improving instruction are conveyed to them.  The syllabus segment for an achievement test can be a course book unit, syllabus for a term or year or the whole two year syllabus for the matriculation examination. The syllabus bound nature of the achievement test is its defining characteristic. Its location after providing instruction makes it an overall stocktaking device. The summative aspect lies here.

There are many different dimensions on which a test (as an actual entity/event) can be described and categorised. Two of relevance to the present discussion are considered. They are represented as two independent axes in the diagram




 Final (after instruction)

Sessional (instructional term)

Agency (designer)

 External authority

Teacher or local team


Any test can have any of the four possible combinations of levels: final – teacher made,  external – sessional, etc. The binary levels do not necessarily mean clear and firm boundaries: they are, rather, ends of a continuum. Even so, the categorisation is broadly valid, and useful for the discussion here. As mentioned, there are other dimensions on which tests can be categorised.  written – oral, essay type – objective type, fixed – flexible time allowance, etc. These are related to the internal structure or administration arrangements of tests, that are not of concern here. 

Precursors of the formative-summative distinction in examination reform discourse  

The voicing of serious concerns about the negative features of examinations in comprehensive national reviews of public education began in the late 19th century, for example the Hunter Commission. (GOI, 1992). The only recognised and relevant examination in that era was the Matriculation examination used as a device for selecting candidates for admission to highly restricted tertiary education programmes. The report also recommends the setting up of boards of secondary education. It can be inferred from this that the matriculation examination was the effective syllabus. The ominous similarities between the role of the Matriculation examination then, and of the IITJEE, NEET in the second millennium later are worth reflecting on. The wholly external final examination instituted then remains the steel frame of our examination (education) system, quite stubbornly. The post-Independence national reviews of education and unavoidably examinations reflect policy perspectives that have influenced current views.

Extracts from the major review reports

Under the title and reference details of each report(source) a few relevant statements, sometimes only phrases are listed as they are. Comments on them are given in the Findings section that follows:

Government of India (1966): Report of the Education Commission (1964-66): Educational and National Development. (New Delhi: Ministry of Education).

Sec. 9.61 Evaluation helps not only to measure educational achievement, but also to improve it.

Sec. 9.71 (For the primary stage.) Due importance must be given to oral tests which should form part of the internal assessment. Teachers should be helped… with a rich supply of evaluation materials… Diagnostic testing is necessary for this and the entire school stage.

Sec. 9.84 [The] internal assessment or evaluation conducted by schools… should be given increasing importance. It should be comprehensive, evaluating all those aspects of students’ growth that are measured by the external examination and also those personality traits, interests and attitudes which cannot be assessed by it. Internal assessment should be built into the total education process, and it should be used for improvement rather than for certifying the level of achievement of the student.

GOI (1986): National Policy on Education (New Delhi: MHRD, Department of Education) (amended in 1992)

Sec.8.24              (iii)     Continuous and comprehensive evaluation that incorporates both scholastic and non-scholastic aspects of education spread over the total span of instructional time.

                              (iv)    As part of a sound educational strategy examinations should be employed to bring about qualitative improvements in education.

Sec. 8.3                As part of a sound educational strategy examinations should be employed to bring about qualitative improvements in education.

NCERT (1988) National Curriculum for Elementary and Secondary Education: A framework. New Delhi: NCERT

Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation

            [To] remedy the defects lying in the reliance on a one-shot end of year impact evaluation…recommends that evaluation should be treated as an integral part of the classroom teaching learning process. Evaluation, conducted periodically, should provide the type of feedback on student achievement that enables teachers to improve their methodology, if required.

GOI (2000) National Curriculum Framework 2000. New Delhi: MHRD, Department of Education.

Sec. 2.4 Minimum levels of learning

            These have been called the Minimum Levels of Learning. The MLLs are expected to be achieved by one and all. Since the MLLs provide a sense of direction and a certain amount of accountability, these are considered to be an effective tool for programme formulation for school improvement. The quality of a school or educational system, in real sense, has to be defined in terms of the performance capabilities of its students. Learning has to be seen as a ‘continuum’ in which units are sequenced in a functional manner.

Sec 2.10 Receiving regular feedback from teachers and learners should be an inbuilt component…. Continuous and comprehensive evaluation plays an important role in providing feedback. It should be used for remediation.

Findings from the survey

The prominent and possibly most significant theme running through the observations and recommendations beginning with SEC 1966 is the importance of bringing  many more dimensions of students’ growth and development into the scope of pupil evaluation to  making it more comprehensive. This brings in an entirely new dimension, since the conventional examination dealt (and still deals) only with the scholastic domain. The less obvious but truly significant corollary of this is the explicit recognition of the need to bring opportunities for the child’s development in co-scholastic areas into the scope of systematic planning of the curriculum. Such planning entails the identification of specific areas, formulation of objectives, evaluation modalities and criteria for awards. This makes it more likely that all children are in some manner covered or reached. Until the co-scholastic was brought into the ‘main’ curriculum, all-round development applied only to the few children who took active part in cultural activities and sports and earned certificates or commendations, while the majority remained on the sidelines in spectator mode. Their development – and surely this must have happened in varied and satisfying small ways for many, even if many others found little or no stimulation and encouragement. The latter remained hidden and taken for granted in proclamations about the culture or ethos of the school.

The second major theme is the emphasis on evaluation that is spread over the total span of instructional time, so that the final examination result is not the only recognized or valued measure of progress or achievement. Thus, continuous evaluation becomes a specific policy. It should be noted that the premise for this much reiterated assertion in not clear. After all, unit tests, monthly tests and the like have always been there; the school teacher’s burden of marking goes back to the dim distant past. One explanation is that the intended comprehensive scope of evaluation was feasible only when it was conducted during the ongoing instructional process. This is where learning activities generate numerous occasions for exploiting as evaluation ‘events’. The scope of performances that can be elicited through separate structured tests even if inserted frequently is highly limited. From a different perspective, references to report cards that should incorporate progress related information from ‘interim’ evaluations and not be restricted to the final examination results, appear to reflect a developmental view of learning. How various state directorates of education and national boards (CBSE, ICSE) spelt out operational details (rules and regulations) for handling the co-scholastic area is not considered here.

A third theme related to the continuous and the comprehensive modes of evaluation is the formal recognition of school based evaluation. This move enables and accords official status to evaluation conducted in the locally managed setting of the school: something that internal and sessional evaluation lacked earlier. Recall that sessional and internal are independent. The promotion of the sessional component is easy to accommodate in the prescription from above regime. The extent of a move towards truly internal evaluation — the essence of which is relaxing control from above — is incorporated in the school based evaluation provision is unclear. School based evaluation can be based on question papers set at a block or district or state level sent to the school for administration: clearly not a meaningful mode of school based evaluation. This locus of control factor is a major issue, and will be picked up again.

Finally there are observations that appear to be moves towards recognising the basic notion of formative evaluation as the utilization of test based information for pedagogic purposes One point — more an expression of hope than descriptions of tangible processes — is the proposition that evaluation can/should play a supportive role in the instructional process. This is stated in varied ways: evaluation helps to measure and also to improve achievement, examinations should be employed to bring about qualitative improvements in education, successful learning cannot occur without high quality evaluation. At a more practical level there is mention of the need to provide feedback (to learners, teachers, parents). Finally, there is the specifically identified and often reiterated stress on the use of tests for diagnosis and remediation. This heavy focus on remediation is problematic, and it will be returned to.

A fact to note in passing is that it is in the NCF 2000 that the terms formative and summative are first explicitly defined and used. The definitions given are: ‘done during the course of instruction with a view to improving students’ learning’ (formative) and ‘done at the end of the year to promote students to the next grade’(summative). Soon thereafter a team at the NCERT produced a handbook or manual for conducting continuous and comprehensive (Rajput et al 2003) It is surprising, or maybe not, that in the entire introductory chapter setting out the concept of the scheme the word ‘formative’ does not occur even once! Around this time various states began to add a continuous comprehensive component to conventional evaluation schemes in varied forms, the prominent feature being the inclusion of co-scholastic areas. It is not clear when the practice emerged and whether there was any specific proposal as its source. But some states implementing CCE had evaluation schemes with Formative 1 (FA1) and Formative Assessment 2 (FA2) as descriptive labels for the summary of  a series of awards for achievement in scholastic and co-scholastic areas during terms 1 and 2 respectively. Summative Assessment (SA) quite logically represents the consolidated final award. The notification by the CBSE of its scheme for CCE (CBSE 2009) endorses (and given its national status also sanctifies) the equation of ‘formative’ with ‘end of term’ where the year has multiple terms in the national lexicon of out the labels FE1, FE2 are used in this manner.

Thus we have in India an official definition of ‘formative’ as ‘consolidated evaluation awards for a part of the academic year’. It is a static descriptive label. Fortunately, we can go beyond this and explore the many meanings of the word.

Taking stock of where we are now

What are the prospects of moving forward to translate the potential of FA into feasible and meaningful practice in the classroom setting? Three issues need to be addressed. Firstly, the confusion arising from the different interpretations of the term in the present ‘policy discourse’ needs to be resolved in some sensible manner. Secondly, the process of change in teachers’ everyday practice needs to be better understood and appreciated. Thirdly, there is the need for more close study of the  plurality of perspectives and meanings associated with notions such as formative uses/responses and feedback in the teaching learning process, and of bringing teaching and assessment seamlessly together.

Uses of the term Formative Assessment in everyday instruction

This matter relating to official terminology cannot be tackled directly. However, active discussions highlighting the process aspect of FA can help to promote appropriate practices related to it. The illogical nature of labels FA1, FA2 do not in themselves prevent this  as they are more a distraction than a disruptive intrusion. The really serious matter is to avoid letting diagnosis and remediation (always seen as a sound and useful practice)  become the effective and sole meaning of FA. This would close off further exploration of possibilities by focusing solely on what Vygotsky (1978, p. 89) calls teaching “toward yesterday’s development”. There is a twofold problem with this narrowing down of the purpose of diagnosis:1) it fails to stretch learners’ current understanding and thus lose the developmental edge of the teaching learning process and 2) it reinforces in the learner a sense of failure (focusing on their inability to learn)

This loss of focus on the breadth and richness of the notion of FA is pointed out by Stobbart (2009) who stresses the need to keep the process creative.  It is important to keep images from NCF 2005 like ‘going beyond the textbook’ ‘relating school knowledge to life outside’ which point to learning that is not predefined in a unit or lesson plan. It is as a means of fostering learning that is not pre-specified that we need to preserve and promote FA.

Addressing teachers as professionals

The need to understand change processes better (before trying to accelerate them) is the central theme of the present discussion. The basic principle is that all reforms, improvements, innovations in education ultimately call for changes (minor or major) in day to day practice in schools. And necessarily the major responsibility for making innovations work falls on individual teachers in their physically isolated work sites. It is also true that ideas and processes grounding supposed innovations are found or generated outside the school. Once an item is selected for broadcast, it is a matter of ‘getting the good news’ to teachers. With the focus on practice – what teachers do – it seems wise/efficient to present the message as a ready to use formula: steps to follow, sometimes with material to use as a base or medium. In the large government sector the mode of conveying the message is the mandated in-service training programme, sometimes aided by supplements to manuals. It is worth noting teachers are by law available for such inputs for about 15 days each year. In the private sector enrichment or orientation workshops are organized by managements – sometimes required and sometimes by invitation gilded with incentives. The former programmes have been frozen in a dull routine for years. The need to revamp in-service education has perhaps generated as much official verbiage as teacher absenteeism, though the latter seems far more newsworthy. In the latter category, the relative heaviness and dullness of communication in government training programmes is generally  softened cleverly by the suave sales talk of the ubiquitous resource person. ELT is surely the area where the largest pool of expert resource persons or consultants is available and find employment. What is easily overlooked in all such orientation/upgrading programmes is the unwaveringly one way nature of communication. Since what is to be conveyed to teachers is something finished and ready for implementation as just noted , it follows logically that teachers should listen and take in what is given. Even the most skilled and manipulative communication style (“we are going to learn together”) cannot hide the total absence of negotiation built into such training packages.

The apparently major and easy to identify problem is teachers’ resistance to change. Professionals in certain other fields (especially those dealing with teacher training, education, continuing professional development and the like) seem to show much more openness in adopting new ideas and techniques. The somewhat ungenerous term ‘jumping onto the bandwagon’ does not wholly obliterate the versatility demonstrated here. Perhaps we need to give more weight to the material constraints lying in the classroom teacher’s actual work setting, and the mode of thoughtful, cautious response.

A shift in focus to external impediments as distinct from internal closed mindedness redefines the problem. Recall that elsewhere in the discussion of education, the change in terminology from school dropout to pushout drastically reframed and made complex a problem long described and handled in a simple/simplistic way. It is true that teachers find it difficult to understand, accept and implement  recommended or demanded changes, but for a variety of quite valid reasons. Some of these might be related to the ‘staying in ones comfort zone’ predilection. But there is scant evidence that professionals as persons in other fields tend to move happily and decidedly from comfort to the discomfort signalled by the new and unfamiliar. The challenge of changing practice in the domain of ‘typical behaviour’ as in the register of psychometrics is far greater than change instigators typically assume.

This is not a strikingly original insight. It is embarrassing to acknowledge. It takes us back to a ten year old articulation of the problem. One of the early and powerful critiques of the NCF 2005 (from an insider with regard to the underlying philosophy) is found in Batra (2006), who notes that

While the NCF questions a dominant contemporary Indian narrative of education as a model of information transmission and ‘banking’, it fights shy of addressing an equally dominant narrative in education: the teacher as a passive agent of state-instituted change. It is unable to address a central challenge of quality education – that of transforming the role and performance of teachers

(Batra, 2006, p.95) 

Responding adequately to this issue will undoubtedly have to be an extended exercise. A very obvious first is to recognize teachers even those at the lower primary stage as professionals. Education provided through schools where teachers interact face to face with a group of learners places a certain responsibility on the teacher. The traditional role of the teacher in ‘conventional’ education has been changing and certainly should continue changing. The essence of this  model is entirely different from that underlying self-instructional programmes, distance education, and e-learning courses. In the latter there is absolutely no role for the real time social learning setting—teacher and students in a classroom. The apparent efficiency and claimed effectiveness of these programmes is tempting. But whittling down the teacher’s role teacher hoping to accommodate more  teacher proof components is not a purposeful and defensible educational strategy.

The teacher is there because she needs to be there. She needs to use her judgement to make decisions in emerging (this means unpredictable) situations in day ro day curriculum transactions. Trying to program and control this process very closely through design (with the best of intentions) will indeed be, counterproductive. Recognizing the need for teachers’ decision making is a common sense interpretation of ‘agency’: good enough to start. What it entails is shedding our not always hidden yearning for teacher proof materials. N.S. Prabhu’s insightful observation implied in the phrase ‘materials as resource and materials as constraint’ merits thoughtful revisiting. There is no sensible option to holding a dialogue with the teacher This does not mean only friendly face to face interactions. Open-endedness and scope for questions in what is ‘given’ to teachers and thence discussion/dialogue is the basic principle. One good way of starting would be to find opportunities to listen to practicing teachers – what they find interesting, satisfying and invitingly challenging as things stand as against problems we can solve for them. The first morning of a 5 or 8 day in-service programme could be devoted to this, for example. Where does the challenge in such common sense suggestions lie?

The third task noted above is related to the growing academic-scholarly knowledge base. Keeping abreast of advances in this base is important for our (experts’) continued professional development. There must be something new and possibly interesting to include as the content base of future training, education, professional development programmes for teachers. For those interested in evaluation, measurement, assessment, there is much to learn: for instance about the term assessment  relating to assessment as it is realised as practice in varied ways in numerous unique settings for learning teaching. Thus plurality keeps raising questions about the meaning(s) of terms such as ‘formative use of information relating to progress’, ‘feedback’ (who gives/receives it? what makes it usable? how?), ‘bringing teaching and assessment seamlessly together’.

These conceptual issues are challenging. They invite vigorous and rigorous analysis of models and of delicately garnered empirical data. This is for us to respond to. As a first step a few references are listed that should help readers gain a sense of the complexity of the discussion and debate around the seemingly simple terms this essay started with. These articles are based on reviews of sizeable numbers of primary studies. They point to the types of field studies we need to take up in the vast landscape of Indian ELT. Assessment for Learning is an appealing notion. Exploring its potential could lead to unique contributions towards the larger quest for curriculum renewal.


Government of India. Education Commission, & Kothari, D. S. (1966). Report of the Education Commission, 1964-66: Education and National Development. Government of India Press.

Government of India. (1986): National Policy on Education. New Delhi: Ministry of Human Resources Development, Department of Education.

Government of India. (2009). The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009. New Delhi: Ministry of Law and Justice.

Nawani, D. (2015). Rethinking assessment in schools. Economic and Political Weekly, L, 3, 37-42.

NCERT (1998). National Curriculum for Elementary and Secondary Education: a framework. New Delhi: National Council of Educational Research and Training.

Rajput, S., Gautam, S. K. S., Tewari, A. D., Kumar, S., & Chandrasekhar, K. (2003). Continuous and comprehensive evaluation: Teachers’ handbook for primary stage. New Delhi: National Council of Educational Research and Training.

Shepard, L. A. (2005). Formative assessment: Caveat emptor. In ETS Invitational Conference, New York, NY.

Srinivasan, M. V. (2015). Centralised Evaluation Practices: An Ethnographic Account of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation in a Government Residential School in India. Contemporary Education Dialogue, 12(1), 59-86.

Stobart, G. (2009). Keeping formative assessment creative. In International Association for Educational Assessment 35th Annual conference, Brisbane.

Torrance, H. (2012). Formative assessment at the crossroads: Conformative, deformative and transformative assessment. Oxford Review of Education, 38(3), 323-342.

Vasavi, A. R. (2015). Culture and life of government elementary schools. Economic and political weekly, 50, 36-50.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard university press.

Willis, D. (1993). Learning and assessment: Exposing the inconsistencies of theory and practice. Oxford Review of Education, 19(3), 383-402.

Jacob Tharu set up and served in the Centre for Evaluation at EFLU(CIEFL) for 30 years teaching testing and research methods. He was actively involved in in-service teacher support right through his career. Post retirement he has been associated with education sector NGOs, the Survey and Educational Measurement division of the NCERT Measurement and bi-annual review missions for SSA. His current concerns include formative assessment, teacher support programmes, and evaluation in education.