Classroom Assessments: Summative & Formative

Assessment of learning can take many forms. These assessments could be as involved as writing activities, simulations, or speeches, and could be as simple as a quick thumbs up or thumbs down as to whether or not students understand a topic or concept. Regardless of the type of assessment, they fit into two main categories, summative and formative.

Summative assessments are assessments of learning. They are administered at the end of the learning process, and are used to measure student performance related to rubrics and standards. These are the assessments used for grades, because they reflect student learning. In a non-standards based learning system summative assessments have often been equated with tests.

Formative assessments are assessments for learning. They are administered throughout the learning process, and are used to provide feedback to students about where they are in the learning process relative to rubrics and standards. In a non-standards based learning system formative assessments have often been equated with homework.

In a standards based system, formative and summative assessments are used to inform students, and help them learn. Their impact on the overall grade differs however, based on their purpose. Think about the first time you started a new job. Presumably you brought some skills and previous learning to the job, and were able to apply them at the start. Despite this, you likely also needed a training period to learn and apply the work skills more deeply. A trainer was able to provide feedback on performance, and assist you in performing tasks more effectively. There was probably a formal performance evaluation as a part of your job, but most likely it occurred outside the training period. A formal evaluation within the first two weeks would not have accurately reflected your ability to do the job, as it was still during your training (learning) process.

This is not unlike the formative and summative assessment processes. Students bring certain skills and prior learning the beginning of each unit of study. As students learn or more deeply apply new skills, they are formatively assessed. These formative assessments are focused on practice, and are designed for students to receive multiple points of feedback around their growth, related to rubrics and standards. These “practice” activities are not included in the grade, but are reported to parents and students to help them understand where students are in the learning process.

At the end of the unit, or after the student has had to opportunity to learn and practice, summative assessments are administered to gauge the level of the student’s learning. These assessments are varied and could include things like writing, speeches, projects, labs, or simulations. Student performance on these assessments is recorded in the grade book, as they accurately reflect student learning at the end of a learning process. When more evidence is needed to accurately determine a student’s grade, formative assessment data is used to help make a final determination.