"The “What Works in Innovation in Education” series was launched in the early 1990s to provide focused, policy-oriented analyses of specific educational innovations. The aim of the series is to explain not only “what works”, but also why, how and under what circumstances, and to suggest directions for policy to support innovation and educational improvement.
Formative approaches may be particularly appropriate for adults with basic skill needs, the focus of the current What Works study. Instructors using formative approaches are able to tailor instruction more closely to the needs of diverse adult learners. Formative approaches also place an explicit focus on identifying and building upon learners’ prior knowledge and skills – whether gained in formal education settings, or informal work or other settings.
Drawing upon country background reports, exemplary cases, and international research reviews, the study highlights the ways in which information on learner progress is used to strengthen the quality of basic skills programmes or initiatives and to generate new knowledge about what works and why.
Case studies, international research reviews and country reports are available for free, as annexes of the study. They are downloadable from the table of contents of the study.
Together, the What Works studies on formative assessment in secondary classrooms and in programmes for adults with basic skill needs will strengthen understanding of effective approaches to lifelong learning.
Since 2002, the What Works programme has focused on “formative assessment”. Formative assessment refers to frequent, interactive assessment of learner progress and understanding. Teachers are then able to adjust teaching approaches to better meet identified learning needs. The educational gains associated with formative assessment have been described as “among the largest ever reported for educational interventions”. It is also important for improving the equity of outcomes and developing students’ “learning to learn” skills.
While many teachers incorporate aspects of formative assessment into their teaching, it is not often practiced systematically. The What Works study, Formative Assessment: Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms (2005), features exemplary cases from secondary schools in eight systems and international research reviews, and relates these to the broader policy environment. The study shows how teachers have addressed barriers to systematic practice, and how school and policy leaders may apply the principles of formative assessment to promote constructive cultures of assessment and evaluation throughout education systems.
The OECD Policy Brief summarises the findings of this study.