Formative and Summative Assessment
Definition of formative and summative assessment and what is the difference between them?
Assessments allow both teacher and student to (a) monitor progress towards achieving learning objectives (b) improve the teaching and learning progress.
As both formative and summative assessments have a distinct purpose, they are used simultaneously in educational settings.
See also: How to align assessments, learning objectives, and instructional strategies
The goal of assessment is to evaluate the progress achieved towards a learning goal. This can be monitored in a variety of ways by both the teacher and the student. Formative assessment is ongoing and serves as a benchmark of progress towards the learning objective. Identifying common misconceptions, using strategies, and closing gaps in understanding help students experience growth. Formative assessment is generally low stakes, commonly known as ‘assessment for learning,’ as it is used to improve student understanding and encourage personal accountability.
In comparison, summative assessment is used as ‘assessment of learning,’ or more commonly, what we would consider a test or evaluation. A summative assessment is usually performed in a more formal manner, such as at the end of a course or unit, and seeks to outline the extent of students’ knowledge. They may be weighted more heavily for that program, which means that the summative assessment would be worth more of the total grade. Generally, instructors seek to incorporate both formative and summative assessments in their evaluation as they can be combined in effective ways.
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Providing feedback is one of the greatest advantages of formative assessment. Feedback can be used on both sides of the learning process by helping both instructors and students improve. Formative assessments are used specifically in:
- identifying the strengths and weaknesses of students
- addressing the areas of need for each student
- helping teachers identify gaps in learning
- working to close those gaps
One of the reasons that formative assessments are so valuable is because they are not time-consuming and are perceived as low-risk from a student standpoint. Some examples of formative assessments include:
- submitting a presentation early for teacher feedback before submission
- in class discussions
- low stakes group works
- Peer review
- outlining the main ideas of a lecture using a two-sentence thought exchange
- demonstrating their understanding of a topic using a concept map
- Clicker questions
See also: Just in time teaching
Formative Assessment Recommendations:
In an ideal situation, formative assessment would simultaneously benefit both teachers and students. Teachers could provide guidance in the form of clear feedback and next steps while students reflect on their areas of need and what strategies they could implement in their learning journey. There are a few recommendations for instructors when implementing formative assessment:
- Encourage students to reflect on their best work – Using the program’s learning objective or criteria, students are encouraged to reflect on what was successful and what wasn’t. As a teacher, it is important to foster discussions on what feedback proved to be the most valuable and helpful to the students.
- Offer clear, concise feedback – Formative assessment is used to improve student work while helping them move towards the learning goal. Providing actionable steps allows them multiple opportunities to meet the success criteria of the program. Some examples of providing feedback could be a discussion or 1-on-1 conference, a multiple choice quiz online, or comments left on a draft of a project.
- Encouraging relationships and positive self-esteem – Making connections with your students is still widely considered to be a key factor in their success. If students believe that you care about them, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their learning. In terms of formative assessment, this may resemble multiple chances to resubmit an assignment or anonymous quizzes online. These may have a low value towards their grade, but the goal is to highlight the opportunity for learning itself.
- Closing learning gaps and meeting the learning objective – Similar to the point above, teachers are encouraged to specifically target gaps in understanding by allowing work to be resubmitted, recommending next steps, and providing strategies to achieve success. Offering a pathway to success also builds on that positive relationship with students and helps them remain motivated and engaged.
- Using information gathered to direct teaching – As outlined above, formative assessment is used as assessment for learning, which means that much valuable information can be gathered from it. Evaluations will highlight where students are struggling, which lessons may need to be re-taught, and which topics some students may excel in. Formative assessment helps determine the next steps for teachers to address either in class or with a just a small group of students.
Summative evaluations are often high stakes and used to assess student learning at the end of the learning journey, and usually compares their progress to the course criteria or learning goals.
Generally, summative assessments have a high value, which means that they account for a large portion of the grade or mark. Some examples of summative assessments are:
- a final paper
- a final test / project / essay
- a research project
- a recital or presentation
- an exam
- a midterm exam
- Standardized tests
The information gathered from summative assessments is often used when applying to the following grade or course. Both teachers and students may use summative assessments guidelines for the next steps in the learning journey.
Summative Assessment Recommendations:
It is imperative that summative assessments align with the learning objectives and success criteria of the course as they are generally weighted more heavily in terms of total grade. Some summative assessment recommendations for instructors are as follows:
- Using a rubric to outline performance range – Rubrics or tables can be used to outline expected criteria for the assignment, including details on what below expected level, meeting expectations, and exceeding expectations would look like. Giving the rubric to the students before the assignment would offer guidelines to completion and allow them to evaluate their own work.
- Concise essay questions – As the formative assessment would stem from the question itself, it is important that they are well-structured, clear, and allow students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. Good essay questions would offer them the ability to be creative while expressing their understanding of the topic.
- Prioritize comprehension – Summative assessments should offer the opportunity to demonstrate a broad understanding of the course, including making connections, synthesizing information, and expanding on the main ideas of the course’s content.
- Clear guidelines and criteria – The framework for a final summative assessment should be clearly defined, including the date, time, and criteria for grading. It should also include how long and how deep the responses to the questions need to be, and how students who require support will access it.
- Blind grades – A common technique to reduce marking bias is to offer blind grading, which can be done in a few ways. Having the students write their name on the back of the last page, marking the same question for all students, or assessing the same section all at the same time helps the instructor focus on the quality of the answer and keep grades fair.
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