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The term of formative evaluation was first used by Scriven (1967) in the AERA's Monograph Series on Curriculum Evaluation, a malleable educational programme which played its role in the change of school curriculum. Bloom (1967) had extended the term formative from evaluation to assessment to show improvement in teaching methods of teachers and provide remedial approaches in student learning. In actuality, an assessment is formative if it shapes, improves and alters the curriculum constructions, teachers' instructions and students' learning (Bloom et al., 1971). It has gone beyond traditional paper-and-pencil techniques to promote higher standard of teaching, more powerful learning and more reliable forms of public accountability. Teachers learn to share decision making about learning and teaching with colleagues, parents and students (Stiggins, 1997; Gipps, 1994). Hence, formative assessment aims to facilitate instructional practices, identify improvement in school curriculums and contributes to student performance. Later, Black and William (1998) comments that formative assessment is the instructional participants and feedback gathered from teachers and students to improve teaching and learning and their master piece of work is always cited as the proof that formative assessment does help students in their academic achievement. However, the empirical evidence to show the effectiveness of formative assessment in marked changes in educational outcome is scanty. Although the vagueness of constitutive and operational definitions directly contributes to the weaknesses found in the related and dearth of empirical evidence identifying best practices related to formative assessment, formative assessment has remained an enigma in the literature (Black & William, 1998; Leung & Mohan, 2004). What makes an assessment formative is not about the length of the feedback loop, the respondents or the researchers. The pivotal characteristic is that proof is elicited, analysed in terms of learning needs and used to adapt and adopt in the learning and teaching settings (Dylan William, 2006).
According to Chappuis & Stiggins (2002), formative assessment is a method to monitor student progress during the learning process. We need to see assessment through new eyes if we are in favour of connecting new kind of assessment (Formative Assessment) to school improvement in a constructive ways. In formative assessment, we incorporate assessment in teaching and teaching approaches should and can coincide with assessment practices and outcomes (Shepard, 2000). We have to assess and improve the on-going learning process to meet the needs of students. Teachers have to understand the prior knowledge the students have and how to include feedback in the teaching process besides acknowledging the needs of students (Tunstall & Gipps, 1995). Tools for formative assessment are practical only if the teachers implement them in their regular classroom activities. Students are motivated to be autonomous learners, embed in academic activities that expand and apply their knowledge rather than engaging in passive/rote learning process (Wolf, D., Bixby, J., & Gardner, H., 1991; Earl & Cousins, 1995; Stiggins, 1997). As a result, formative assessment is to foster powerful, productive learning for students.
A Paradigm Shift from Examination to Assessment in Malaysian Education
An alternative assessment known as Formative Assessment or classroom-based assessment has become a new and popular form of testing students in Asia. Many Asia countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore have replaced the rigid and centralized examinations with formative assessment because it has flexible techniques of assessment (Lin & Miller, 2005). Our policymakers are also on the move to de-emphasise external examinations (Tuah, 2007). The announcement of abolishment of PMR in 2016 is applauded because educators aim to strike a balance between assessment and learning. The new national assessment system is introduced to facilitate students learning and cater to students who are different in abilities, styles and paces of learning (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2006). The new standards and criteria of assessment pilot project will be tested in 300 cluster schools (New Straits Times, September 16, 2006). The teachers in the school have full autonomy in students learning. As a result, Malaysia Examination Syndicate will play its minor role when assessing students performance in examinations. However, the move has raised concerns about the readiness of school stakeholders, parents and students to implement Formative Assessment in classrooms.
In Malaysia, summative assessment or public examinations annually held have vital roles in the eyes of students as well as the public because good results are highly valued as they provide the path to higher social mobility. The norm-referenced examinations inherited from British system have also trained and produced students who are experts in taking the examinations. They are not truly educated by the Malaysian National Philosophy of Education (Norani, 2009). Public examinations have also been severely criticized for distorting the ultimate goal of education because good results have become the only goal of teachers, parents, students and policymakers. Therefore, Malaysians have to be re-educated to adopt new assessment method - Formative Assessment as a valid and reliable instrument to help students learn better in classrooms.