Formative assessment and summative assessment are two overlapping, complementary ways of assessing student progress in schools. While the common goal is to establish the development, strengths, and weaknesses of each student, each assessment type provides different insights and actions for educators. The key to holistic assessment practice is to understand what each method contributes to the end goals — improving school attainment levels and individual learning — and to maximize the effectiveness of each.
Both terms are ubiquitous, yet teachers sometimes lack clarity around the most effective types of summative assessment and more creative methods of formative assessment. In this post, we will explain the difference between these two types of assessment, outline some methods of evaluation, and assess why both are essential to student development.
Summative Assessment Explained
Summative assessment aims to evaluate student learning and academic achievement at the end of a year or semester by comparing it against a universal standard or school benchmark. Summative assessments often have a high point value, take place under controlled conditions, and therefore have more visibility.
Types of summative assessment:
- End-of-semester or midterm exams
- Cumulative work over an extended period such as a final project or creative portfolio
- End-of-unit or chapter tests
- Standardized tests that demonstrate school accountability are used for student admissions; SATs and ACTs
Why is Summative Assessment Important?
In the current education system, standard-driven instruction plays a significant role. Summative assessment, therefore, provides an essential benchmark to check the progress of students, institutions and the educational program of the country as a whole.
Summative assessment contributes largely towards improving curriculum and overall planning. When summative assessment data indicates gaps across the board between student knowledge and learning targets, schools may turn to improved curriculum planning and new learning criteria to assess and improve their school attainment levels.
Formative Assessment Explained
Formative assessment is more diagnostic than evaluative. It is used to monitor learning style and ability, to provide on-going feedback and allow educators to improve and adjust their teaching methods and also for students to improve their learning.
Most formative assessment strategies are quick to use and fit seamlessly into the instruction process. The information gathered is rarely marked or graded. Descriptive feedback may accompany formative assessment to let students know whether they have mastered an outcome or whether they require more practice.