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    1. Purpose of the publication

    In this key concept article we aim to describe the main concepts – citizenship education (CE) and formative assessment - and clarify what formative assessment of CE might consist of. First, we will discuss CE and its relevant competences and second, we will discuss formative assessment. Third, we examine the possibilities and challenges of assessing CE in a formative way.  

    2. Citizenship education (CE)

    2.1. What is citizenship education?

    Citizenship education seeks to ensure that young people become active and responsible citizens who can fully participate in civic and social life, based on the understanding of social, economic, legal and political concepts and structures, as well as global developments and sustainability (Eurydice, 2005; European Commission, 2019). Citizenship competences are generally divided into two categories: interpersonal competences and societal competences (Ten Dam & Volman, 2007). For that matter, citizenship encompasses how to deal with other people at a micro level – relations with others - and a macro level – related to society in general such as the relationship with politics, decision-making, human rights and dealing with differences (Eidhof, 2016).  

    A minimal or maximal vision on CE  

    When citizenship is approached in a minimal and formal way, it is referred to as ‘civics education’, which is largely knowledge-based. In a more maximal interpretation, CE includes knowledge components, and it also actively encourages students to understand and participate in the world. It is not merely the content that matters but the process of teaching and learning that is central (Kerr, 1999). Furthermore, active citizenship means people work towards changing unjust situations, which often requires collective action. In this respect, Torney-Purta, Lehmann, Oswald and Schulz (2001) refer to (1) conventional and institutionalized forms of participation in addition to (2) social movement activities that citizens engage in. Conventional participation is citizen behaviour that complies with social norms and democratic duties, such as the willingness to learn about one’s country’s history or voting in elections. Social movement participation refers to participation in society to improve life circumstances or a specific societal problems through collecting signatures for petitions, protest movements, or raising funds for a social cause (Schulz, Ainley, Fraillon, Kerr & Losito, 2010). Active citizenship entails both kinds of participation.  

    Schools’ role in fostering citizenship education 

    Schools play a vital role in developing active citizenship and fostering the knowledge, skills and attitudes students need to develop into politically aware and socially responsible individuals (Torney-Purta & Vermeer, 2004). Alongside parents, peers and organizations, schools contribute to this process of value formation (Eidhof, ten Dam, Dijkstra & van de Werfhorst, 2017). Research has shown that especially an open classroom climate for discussion relates positively to civic values such as tolerance and political trust (Torney-Purta et al., 2001).  

    Schools can be seen as ‘living labs’ where students live together and shape their ideas and identities as citizens (Flanagan, 2013). Schools gather students of different backgrounds regarding social class, religion and/or ideological background. As adolescents live together in this public area outside the family environment, they encounter a diverse set of values. These circumstances make schools promising places to experience democracy for students. Nonetheless, we must keep in mind that school effects on citizenship are rather small, and especially impact students’ knowledge about citizenship (Isac, 2015; Sampermans, Isac & Claes, 2018). Studies have indicated that 5 to 15 percent of differences in citizenship competences are explained by the school context (Munniksma et al., 2017). Even though school effects are not large, the effects are considered important since schools reach such a large group of students and have a far-fetching potential to engage students in citizenship (Isac, 2015).  

    What citizenship education aims for 

    Citizenship addresses different interests and moral values which reflect a pluriform society1. Whether citizenship is approached from a traditional, liberal, critical, feminist, multicultural or other viewpoint, it contains a cognitive, applied and moral aspect. Heater (2004) developed a model consisting of three axes related to CE, which interact with one another:

    • The z-axis reflects the kind of education that is provided. In this sense, knowledge, competences and attitudes are distinguished. First, civic knowledge focusses on the cognitive transfer of societal issues, political systems and democracy. This is often framed as a more formal citizenship education (Quintelier, Dasonneville & Claes, 2012). Nonetheless, this kind of knowledge is contextual and value-driven. According to Milner (2002), civic knowledge is essential in order to create agency and an active form of citizenship. Second, competences relate to the idea that citizenship should be a practice rather than a theoretical artefact (Heater, 2004). Third, civic attitudes are influenced by one’s norms, values, identity and what it means to be a ‘good citizen’. Different ideological perspectives strongly impact citizenship attitudes, but also competences and knowledge.  
    • The x-axis divides citizenship knowledge, competences and attitudes into five elements: the notion of identity, virtue, a civil and legal element, a political and social element. However, these five elements can be combined as they function as typologies.
    • The y-axis aims to allocate a geographical level to the way citizenship education is approached. This can be done at a local, national, continental or global level, or a combination of these levels. In the last century, citizenship has expanded from being very exclusive, and only a privilege for white men who were usually landowners, to being granted for most people within the nation, based on the ‘imagined community’ of the nation-state (Anderson, 2006). More recently, there has been a shift from a national to global citizenship driven by globalization and an increased international perspective on education (Oxley & Morris, 2013; Yemini & Maxwell, 2020). Heathers’ (2004) model provides an overview of different aspects of citizenship education, which can be valuable for detecting the focus of citizenship education in a specific educational context.  

    2.2. Why is it important?

    Citizenship education is increasingly considered as an important educational topic because of several reasons. Firstly, we live in a knowledge society where all citizens need information, both on the job market but also to participate in society as citizens (Bîrzea et al., 2002). Secondly, increasing distrust in political institutions and declining social cohesion has placed citizenship in the spotlight (Kavadias & Dehertogh, 2010). In light of these two societal trends, schools started to ‘rediscover’ the importance of value formation and citizen education from the 1980’s onwards (Bîrzea et al. 2002). Even when a school gives no attention to citizenship education or value formation, education is never value free and whether teachers want to or not, unconscious values and norms are transmitted to students (Schultz, Abdi & Richardson, 2011). This probably applies even more to CE that to some other fields of education. For example, teacher values are interwoven in their decisions on certain class rules or educational content. Even the decision not to discuss something in class, is value-driven and shows a teacher does not see an educational value in a certain topic. Therefore, it is important to consciously and coherently impact students’ values and attitudes as school actors (Brint, Contreras & Mattews, 2001).  

    Third, an open and democratic society does not function by itself, and students are not born with a so called ‘democratic gene’ (Hahn, 1998). Students are not inclined to have democratic values without addressing them. Therefore, education plays an important role in developing this democratic gene, as all students spend (a) a lot of time in schools and (b) spend this time with other students with different background (Nieuwelink, 2020). Thus, schools provide a key space to develop citizenship knowledge, competences and attitudes (Kavadias & Dehertogh, 2010).  

    Fourthly, there are major differences in civic competences between schools (Kavadias & Dehertogh, 2010). Students from a disadvantaged socio-economic background are given less opportunities to develop civic competences, attitudes and gain civic knowledge. On the one hand schools can play a ‘compensating’ role in that matter when diminishing the gap in citizenship between high and low SES-students. On the other hand, schools can enlarge the educational inequalities in terms of citizenship between students (Nieuwelink, 2010).  

    2.3. Different approaches to teaching CE

    Citizenship is a normative concept as it deals with the question how people should organize society and which roles citizens should play within this organization (Eidhof & Nieuwelink, 2014). Hence, there are many different perspectives on citizenship (Lister, 2008). Consequently, there are also several perspectives on how to educate citizenship. First, we will distinguish two perspectives that take another perspective on the content of citizenship education: (1) soft forms of citizenship education and (2) a more critical form of citizenship education. Nonetheless, these are not static categories and can be seen as a continuum.  

    Many educational practices promote a softer viewpoint on citizenship issues, namely that through ‘easy’ solutions global problems can be dealt with rather than striving for systemic change (Andreotti, 2011; Bryan, 2014). Soft forms of citizenship education approach problems such as global poverty through an individualized and voluntaristic point of view, characterized by ‘feel-good’ actions that tend to focus on the charity an ‘the capacity to care’ (Chouliaraki, 2013). This perspective of humanitarianism reinforces stereotypes on people living in the global South, reduces them to recipients of benevolence and creates a dependency relationship through discourse to the global Northern countries (Scott-Smith, 2004). A more critical approach on the other hand addresses the structures of oppression which contain the root of the problem. The focus on global justice aligns with the discourse on privilege. This privilege discourse redirects the focus from people in need or victims from social injustice to the group who has the privilege and is not within the at-risk category (Angus, 2012). This view shifts the perspectives: social injustice is a matter of individuals who have a privileged position and use it to maintain and solidify their position or avoid critic on their position (Juchtmans & Vandenbroucke, 2013; Van Ongevalle, Knipprath, Juchtmans & Pollet, 2016). 

    There are many different takes on ‘a good citizen’. Westheimer and Kahne (2004) make the distinction between the ‘personally responsible citizen’, the ‘participatory citizen’, and the ‘social-justice citizen’. These result in various views on how citizenship education should be enacted.  The individual take on citizenship is educating students to be responsible in their communities through recycling, giving blood, make a donation to charity (Bryan, 2014). This relates most the the so-called soft approach of citizenship education. Citizen education emphasizing the participatory citizen focus on how governments and institutions work and how participating in these can attribute to an increased care for those in need. The social justice orientation towards citizenship explicitly calls for attention to matters of injustice and strive to create collective strategies that challenge injustice and address the root causes of social problems (Westheimer & Kahne, 2004). The last one relates most to the critical approach. The main difference between a focus on the individual and, although to a lesser extent, the participatory citizen on the one hand and the social justice orientation on the other hand, is that the latter challenges rather than sustains existing political-economic structures (Banks, 2008).  

    Besides the content on citizenship, the manner it is taught to students can strongly differ. A first approach on how to teach citizenship education is an adaptation-oriented citizenship, where norms and values are prescribed and are ought to be transferred through a direct instruction of the teacher (Leenders & Veugelers, 2004). This model is based on knowledge building and often promotes a rather conformist view of – often national - identity. This approach has not seemed to actually accomplish the preferred outcomes with students. A second approach is a more indirect and transformative approach, where students themselves construct meaning and are actively involved in societal topics.  In this model, teachers encourage critical thinking and let students bring their own realities to the classroom and school. For example, when provided an open and safe class climate, students gain citizenship competencies through discussing controversial social issues without the teachers’ vision being imposed on students (Geboers, Geijsel, Admiraal & Ten Dam, 2013). 

    2.4. How is it organized in schools?

    How schools organize citizenship education differs strongly from school to school and remains country-specific (Van Ongevalle et al., 2016). Nonetheless, there are several ways that citizenship can be introduced in schools: education in schools: (1) as a school-wide issue (2) as a cross-curricular issue e.g., through projects (3) as an integrated component within different subjects (4) as a separate, stand-alone subject within the curriculum (Unesco, 2015). As reported by Eurydice (2005), citizenship as a subject can be offered as mandatory or optional, or it can be integrated in one or more subjects, generally from the social Sciences such as history or geography. Kavadias and Dehertogh (2010) have developed a model with four levels of embeddedness of citizenship education: embedded, balanced within lessons and social skills, basic form of CE and few CE initiatives.  

    Table 1: adaptation of Kavadias & Dehertogh (2010)’s model of embeddedness of CE

    Type of CE embeddedness
    Embedded Many strategies are used Sustainability is an explicit goal CE is specifically and broadly addressed High All students in the school who are obligated to learn CE
    Balanced within lessons and social skills Many strategies are used Sustainability is not an explicit goal but can be a consequence after implementing a successful practice CE is partially addressed High together with other educational themes All students, partially obligated and partially by choice
    Basic form of CE Some strategies are used, mainly within lessons and short projects Sustainability is not an explicit goal but can be a consequence after implementing a successful practice CE is addressed under the ‘sense of values’ of the school Less than other educational themes Directed towards a class or group (strong demarcation on groups)
    Few CE initiatives Only within lessons Sustainability within lessons CE is addressed under the ‘sense of values’ of the school or is not present in the pedagogical vision Less than other educational themes (based on the priorities of the learning goals) Directed towards a class or group (strong demarcation on groups)


    Schools can use different strategies to implement CE such as:  

    • work project-based (year projects, week projects, one or multiple days);
    • through the infrastructure of the school (posters, artwork, rooms where CE is visually shown);
    • within lessons (both working on knowledge as more active learning strategies);
    • student participation (student board, students’ input in school policy);
    • charity work or volunteering, visits to organizations and cultural activities;
    • school competitions concerning citizenship, exchange projects with other schools;
    • guest lectures or debates for the students.

    How many of these strategies are combined indicates to a certain extent how embedded CE is in schools, alongside how CE is made sustainable in a school and how it is incorporated in the pedagogical vision of the school (Kavadias & Dehertogh, 2010). Furthermore, the extent to which CE in given educational importance and who of the student population is targeted through CE impact the level of embeddedness. When citizenship education is strongly embedded within the school, it is more sustainable, teachers and students are more involved and there is a clearer connection to the learning goals of the government. 

    The first type of school is permeated with citizenship education. The school use different strategies to ensure citizenship education for all students, physically show citizenship in the school infrastructure, work sustainably to work towards long-term CE goals which are carried out through the pedagogical vision of the school. The second type of school works in a cross-curricular way on citizenship themes and combine different strategies as well. It is an important theme but not placed higher on the educational agenda than other educational goals. The third type of school provides CE in its minimal form by one or two strategies and short projects such as one day project days. These schools refer to CE mostly when addressing the social skills of students. The fourth type of school neglects CE, reasoning that CE is not an educational task although it is addressed in lessons. However, it is not a priority for schools to encourage active citizenship for students.  

    It is important to note the more embedded types are not necessarily resulting in more effective citizenship education, as schools are often subjected to many external factors (Reynolds & Teddlie 2001). Nonetheless, there is an increased opportunity for schools to engage in CE when it is more deeply embedded in different aspects of school life.  

    3. Formative assessment

    3.1. What is assessment and feedback?

    Assessment is a judgement of student learning which can be justified according to a specific and weighted set of goals and criteria (Taras, 2005). It serves several purposes within education (Eisner, 1993): it determines whether course objectives are attained, it serves a gate-keeping function for students who pass or fail their subjects, it helps teachers offer remedial help to students in need. Thus, assessment not only provides feedback to students but also contributes to the professional knowledge of teachers about their own teaching methods and about the content of the subject. These purposes are internal in the context of the school. In addition, external purposes also play a role, serving as a
    ‘temperature-taking’ of educational quality e.g., through national standardized assessments (Lifelong Learning Platform, 2021)

    Assessment generally has two major approaches: assessment of learning and assessment for learning. The first type of assessment serves as a final capstone, resulting in a grade for students which determines whether they pass or fail. In this approach, the gate-keeping function has great importance. The second type, assessment for learning, has a different goal, namely to document and enhance learning (Bjælde, Lauridsen & Lindberg, 2018). Assessment within this approach is used to adapt and redirect the learning process of students based on feedback, both from the perspective of the student and the teachers.

    Thus, feedback plays a more key role in assessment for learning than in assessment of learning. Nonetheless, not all feedback is effective. According to Hattie and Timperley (2007), there are three important components of effective feedback. The first one is ‘feed up’. This addresses the question ‘where am I going?’. The second one is ‘feedback’, discussing the question ‘how am I doing’ and feed-forward addresses ‘where to next’? A combination of these three questions will help a student and the teacher gain awareness of learning processes and consequently act to achieve learning goals.

    3.2. Summative vs. formative assessment

    When discussing assessment practices, the distinction between summative and formative assessment is made. Summative assessment emphasizes the product while formative assessment focuses more on the process of evaluating. The three key processes of formative assessment align well the three components of effective feedback, where teachers, peers and students are all key actors (William & Thompson, 2007): (1) establishing where the learners are in their learning or feedback, (2) Establishing where they are going or feed-up and (3) establishing what needs to be done to get them there or feedforward.

    However, summative and formative assessment are not two separately operating parallel assessment systems. Summative assessment practices are often incorporated within formative assessment (Taras, 2001). Thus, it can be seen more like a continuum. Nonetheless, there are potential issues concerning summative assessments. Standardized tests and teaching to the test can have a negative impact on students (Spann & Kaufman, 2015). Furthermore, summative assessment implies an increased test-based accountability for teachers, which can negatively affect them in their job.

    Compared to summative assessment, formative assessment emphasizes continuous and self-regulating learning, provides opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). Further characteristics of formative assessment are that it requires
    personalized assessment for each student. There is also involvement of the learners in their own assessment, for example through self-assessment and peer assessment. In order to do so qualitatively, formative assessment requires assessment literacy for both teachers and students. Wiliam and Thompson 2007 state five key strategies for formative assessment:

    1. Clarifying and sharing learning intentions and criteria for success
    2. Engineering effective classroom discussions and other learning tasks that elicit evidence of student understanding
    3. Providing feedback that moves learners forward
    4. Activating students as instructional resources for one another
    5. Activating students as the owners of their own learning.

    4. Formative assessment of CE: challenges and possibilities

    A challenge to assess citizenship is that teachers typically assess knowledge rather than values and skills (Veugelers & de Groot, 2019). In addition, studies have shown that knowledge on CE is not strongly correlated with the attitudes and skills students acquire (Komalasari, 2012). In other words, students who know a lot about citizenship do not necessarily act upon them nor feel involved. Most activities on global citizenship education reflect the following pattern: provide knowledge, an emotional experience (e.g., a site visit or witness encounter) and, when it is a longer-lasting CE program, students are taking action such as corresponding with a school in the South or start a produce garden. However, such a model does not necessarily result into engagement of students. The evaluation of the different components of citizenship indicates that knowledge, skills and attitudes must be evaluated differently on the one hand but also align with each other on the other hand. Thus, teachers should have an understanding of what citizenship education entails and how to assess it in all its aspects. When doing so, teachers must be weary of not alienating students should they fail doing citizenship projects as they might feel they failed ‘as citizens’ (Keating, Kerr, Benton, Lopes & Featherstone, 2009). Thus, students should not be assessed on CE, but should be able to participate in assessment.

    Participatory assessment (Kruit, 2022) comprises the active involvement of students while developing the evaluation criteria and during the evaluation itself through self and/or peer reflection. Afterwards, an action plan is developed together with the students. Students are challenged to think which attitudes result in which behavior and then think about when certain behaviors are observable. Rubrics are often used to visually show the long-term growth of students, which are being designed for a specific assignment of project. Teachers and students can co-design rubrics about citizenship education.

    Few teachers obtain the practical tools to allow students and teachers to (formatively) evaluate the learning processes for citizenship. We argue that it is of particular relevance for citizenship to gain a formative approach to assessment. Formative assessment is strongly connected with the principles of citizenship education, since it relies on a shared understanding of the learning outcomes targeted by citizenship. To ensure the quality of monitoring students’ learning progress related to citizenship, teachers need to thoughtfully plan formative assessment. They should know which dimension (knowledge, skills and attitudes) of citizenship competences they are trying to measure. This seems challenging for teachers, as they are unfamiliar with the multiple dimensions of these competences. A clear assessment framework for citizenship education could support teachers in this process. Another issue is that assessing citizenship competences is context dependent. In this respect, an
    assessment framework should contain guiding principles for teachers to use the framework in their own context-specific environment.

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