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PhD Defence Dorien Hopster-den Otter

Formative Assessment Design: A Balancing Act

Dorien Hopster-den Otter is a PhD student in the research group Research Methodology, Measurement and Data-Analysis (OMD). Her supervisors are prof.dr.ir. T.J.H.M. Eggen and prof.dr.ir. B.P. Veldkamp from the faculty of Behavioural Management and Social Sciences (BMS).

Formative assessment has been considered a promising way to support student learning. It has been defined as both an instrument and a process. The instrument provides information about a student’s learning. During the process, the information is judged and used by teachers, students, or their peers for actions that support that learning.

Teachers have difficulty understanding and using the evidence from assessment instruments. Therefore, this dissertation investigates what content and visual presentation of a formative assessment instrument could help teachers.

 The dissertation consists of five studies:

A theoretical study about the validation of formative assessment.

A needs assessment, which investigated the type of instructional actions as well as the information needs to enable these actions.

A evaluation study investigating the usability of a formative assessment platform

A factorial study investigating the extent to which visualizations of measurement error in score reports influence teachers’ instructional decisions.

A study that explores how to visualize a learning trajectory that can be used for the purpose of formative assessment.

With regard to the content of formative assessment instruments, we concluded that the instrument needs:

1.       Fine-grained information about students’ current performance (e.g., learning strategies, misconceptions);

2.       Information about students’ desired performance (e.g., learning objectives, learning trajectory);

3.       Directions to follow-up actions (e.g., learning materials, suggestions for grouping).


With regard to the visual presentation of formative assessment instruments, we concluded that:

1.       Measurement error presentations affect teachers’ decisions, however, several misconceptions were identified.

2.       A graphical visualization might be the most appropriate way to present possible learning pathways. Several design principles for visualization were identified in relation to the content, structure, and usability of the learning trajectory.

Overall, this dissertation shows that it is necessary and fruitful to design and evaluate assessment instruments with the intended audience in order to ensure that they will understand and use the assessment results in an appropriate way.