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Summative Assessment and Feedback

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Summative assessments are given to students at the end of a course and should measure the skills and knowledge a student has gained over the entire instructional period. Summative feedback is aimed at helping students understand how well they have done in meeting the overall learning goals of the course.

Effective summative assessments

Effective summative assessments provide students a structured way to demonstrate that they have met a range of key learning objectives and to receive useful feedback on their overall learning. They should align with the course learning goals and build upon prior formative assessments. These assessments will address how well the student is able to synthesize and connect the elements of learning from the entirety of the course into a holistic understanding and provide an opportunity to provide rich summative feedback.

The value of summative feedback

Summative feedback is essential for students to understand how far they have come in meeting the learning goals of the course, what they need further work on, and what they should study next. This can affect later choices that students make, particularly in contemplating and pursuing their major fields of study. Summative feedback can also influence how students regard themselves and their academic disciplines after graduation.

Use rubrics to provide consistency and transparency

A rubric is a grading guide for evaluating how well students have met a learning outcome. A rubric consists of performance criteria, a rating scale, and indicators for the different rating levels. They are typically in a chart or table format. 

Instructors often use rubrics for both formative and summative feedback to ensure consistency of assessment across different students. Rubrics also can make grading faster and help to create consistency between multiple graders and across assignments.

Students might be given access to the rubric before working on an assignment. No criteria or metric within a summative assessment should come as a surprise to the students. Transparency with students on exactly what is being assessed can help them more effectively demonstrate how much they have learned.  

Types of  summative assessments

Different summative assessments are better suited to measuring different kinds of learning. 

Examinations

Examinations are useful for evaluating student learning in terms of remembering information, and understanding and applying concepts and ideas. However, exams may be less suited to evaluating how well students are able to analyze, evaluate, or create things related to what they've learned.

Presentation

A presentation tasks the student with teaching others what they have learned typically by speaking, presenting visual materials, and interacting with their audience. This can be useful for assessing a student's ability to critically analyze and evaluate a topic or content.

With projects, students will create something, such as a plan, document, artifact, or object, usually over a sustained period of time, that demonstrates skills or understanding of the topic of learning. They are useful for evaluating learning objectives that require high levels of critical thinking, creativity, and coordination. Projects are good opportunities to provide summative feedback because they often build on prior formative assessments and feedback. 

With a portfolio, students create and curate a collection of documents, objects, and artifacts that collectively demonstrate their learning over a wide range of learning goals. Portfolios usually include the student's reflections and metacognitive analysis of their own learning. Portfolios are typically completed over a sustained period of time and are usually done by individual students as opposed to groups. 

Portfolios are particularly useful for evaluating how students' learning, attitudes, beliefs, and creativity grow over the span of the course. The reflective component of portfolios can be a rich form of self-feedback for students. Generally, portfolios tend to be more holistic and are often now done using ePortfolios .

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10 Summative Assessment Examples to Try This School Year

Elementary students taking a summative assessment in a classroom.

Written by Jordan Nisbet

Hey teachers! 👋

Turn math assessments into enjoyable experiences with Prodigy's game-based approach. Get ready for eager learners!

  • Teaching Strategies
  • A formative and summative assessment definition
  • Difference between formative and summative assessment
  • Pros and cons of summative assessment
  • 9 effective and engaging summative assessment examples
  • Helpful summative assessment strategies

When gauging student learning, two approaches likely come to mind: a formative or summative assessment.

Fortunately, feeling pressure to choose one or the other isn’t necessary. These two types of learning assessment actually serve different and necessary purposes. 

Definitions: What’s the difference between formative and summative assessment?

summative assessment strategy

Formative assessment occurs regularly throughout a unit, chapter, or term to help track not only how student learning is improving, but how your teaching can, too.

According to a WestEd article , teachers love using various formative assessments because they help meet students’ individual learning needs and foster an environment for ongoing feedback.

Take one-minute papers, for example. Giving your students a solo writing task about today’s lesson can help you see how well students understand new content.

Catching these struggles or learning gaps immediately is better than finding out during a summative assessment.

Such an assessment could include:

  • In-lesson polls
  • Partner quizzes
  • Self-evaluations
  • Ed-tech games
  • One-minute papers
  • Visuals (e.g., diagrams, charts or maps) to demonstrate learning
  • Exit tickets

So, what is a summative assessment?

summative assessment strategy

Credit: Alberto G.

It occurs at the end of a unit, chapter, or term and is most commonly associated with final projects, standardized tests, or district benchmarks.

Typically heavily weighted and graded, it evaluates what a student has learned and how much they understand.

There are various types of summative assessment. Here are some common examples of summative assessment in practice:

  • End-of-unit test
  • End-of-chapter test
  • Achievement tests
  • Standardized tests
  • Final projects or portfolios

Teachers and administrators use the final result to assess student progress, and to evaluate schools and districts. For teachers, this could mean changing how you teach a certain unit or chapter. For administrators, this data could help clarify which programs (if any) require tweaking or removal.

The differences between formative and summative assessment

While we just defined the two, there are five key differences between formative and summative assessments requiring a more in-depth explanation.

Formative assessment:

  • Occurs through a chapter or unit
  • Improves how students learn
  • Covers small content areas
  • Monitors how students are learning
  • Focuses on the process of student learning

Summative assessment:

  • Occurs at the end of a chapter or unit
  • Evaluates what students learn
  • Covers complete content areas
  • Assigns a grade to students' understanding
  • Emphasizes the product of student learning

During vs after

Teachers use formative assessment at many points during a unit or chapter to help guide student learning.

Summative assessment comes in after completing a content area to gauge student understanding.

Improving vs evaluating

If anyone knows how much the learning process is a constant work in progress, it’s you! This is why formative assessment is so helpful — it won’t always guarantee students understand concepts, but it will improve how they learn.

Summative assessment, on the other hand, simply evaluates what they’ve learned. In her book, Balanced Assessment: From Formative to Summative, renowned educator Kay Burke writes, “The only feedback comes in the form of a letter grade, percentage grade, pass/fail grade, or label such as ‘exceeds standards’ or ‘needs improvement.’”

summative assessment strategy

Little vs large

Let’s say chapter one in the math textbook has three subchapters (i.e., 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3). A teacher conducting formative assessments will assign mini tasks or assignments throughout each individual content area.

Whereas, if you’d like an idea of how your class understood the complete chapter, you’d give them a test covering a large content area including all three parts.

Monitoring vs grading

Formative assessment is extremely effective as a means to monitor individual students’ learning styles. It helps catch problems early, giving you more time to address and adapt to different problem areas.

Summative assessments are used to evaluate and grade students’ overall understanding of what you’ve taught. Think report card comments: did students achieve the learning goal(s) you set for them or not?

😮 😄 😂 #reportcard #funny #memes #comics #samecooke #schooldays #music #classic #letsgo #gooutmore #showlove pic.twitter.com/qQ2jen1Z8k — Goldstar Events (@goldstar) January 20, 2019

Process vs product

“It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey”? This age-old saying sums up formative and summative assessments fairly accurately.

The former focuses on the process of student learning. You’ll use it to identify areas of strength and weakness among your students — and to make necessary changes to accommodate their learning needs.

The latter emphasizes the product of student learning. To discover the product’s “value”, you can ask yourself questions, such as: At the end of an instructional unit, did the student’s grade exceed the class standard, or pass according to a district’s benchmark?

In other words, formative methods are an assessment for learning whereas summative ones are an assessment of learning .

Now that you’ve got a more thorough understanding of these evaluations, let’s dive into the love-hate relationship teachers like yourself may have with summative assessments.

Perceived disadvantages of summative assessment

The pros are plenty. However, before getting to that list, let’s outline some of its perceived cons. Summative assessment may:

1) Offer minimal room for creativity

Rigid and strict assignments or tests can lead to a regurgitation of information. Some students may be able to rewrite facts from one page to another, but others need to understand the “why” before giving an answer.

2) Not accurately reflect learning

“Teaching to the test” refers to educators who dedicate more time teaching lessons that will be emphasized on district-specific tests.

A survey conducted by Harvard’s Carnegie-Knight Task Force on the Future of Journalism asked teachers whether or not “preparing students to pass mandated standardized tests” affects their teaching.

A significant 60% said it either “dictates most of” or “substantially affects” their teaching. While this can result in higher scores, curriculum distortion can prevent students from learning other foundational subject areas.

3) Ignore (and miss) timely learning needs

summative assessment strategy

Because summative assessment occurs at the end of units or terms, teachers can fail to identify and remedy students’ knowledge gaps or misconceptions as they arise.

Unfortunately, by this point, there’s often little or no time to rectify a student’s mark, which can affect them in subsequent units or grades.

4) Result in a lack of motivation

The University of London’s Evidence for Policy and Practice conducted a 19-study systematic review of the impact summative assessment and tests have on students’ motivation for learning.

Contrary to popular belief, researchers found a correlation between students who scored poorly on national curriculum tests and experienced lower self-esteem, and an unwillingness to put more effort into future test prep. Beforehand, interestingly, “there was no correlation between self-esteem and achievement.”

For some students, summative assessment can sometimes be seen as 'high stakes' testing due to the pressure on them to perform well. That said, 'low-stakes' assessments can also be used in the form of quizzes or practice tests.

Repeated practice tests reinforce the low self-image of the lower-achieving students… When test scores are a source or pride and the community, pressure is brought to bear on the school for high scores.

Similarly, parents bring pressure on their children when the result has consequences for attendance at high social status schools. For many students, this increases their anxiety, even though they recognize their parents as being supportive.

5) Be inauthentic

Summative assessment has received criticism for its perceived inaccuracy in providing a full and balanced measure of student learning.

Consider this, for example: Your student, who’s a hands-on, auditory learner, has a math test today. It comes in a traditional paper format as well as a computer program format, which reads the questions aloud for students.

Chances are the student will opt for the latter test format. What’s more, this student’s test results will likely be higher and more accurate.

The reality is that curricula — let alone standardized tests — typically don’t allow for this kind of accommodation. This is the exact reason educators and advocates such as Chuck Hitchcock, Anne Meyer, David Rose, and Richard Jackson believe:

Curriculum matters and ‘fixing’ the one-size-fits-all, inflexible curriculum will occupy both special and general educators well into the future… Students with diverse learning needs are not ‘the problem’; barriers in the curriculum itself are the root of the difficulty.

6) Be biased

Depending on a school district’s demographic, summative assessment — including standardized tests — can present biases if a group of students is unfairly graded based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or social class.

In his presentation at Kansas State University, emeritus professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Dr. W. James Popham, explained summative assessment bias:

This doesn’t necessarily mean that if minority students are outperformed on a summative test by majority students that the test is biased against that minority. It may instead indicate that the minority students have not been provided with the appropriate instruction…

An example of content bias against girls would be one in which students are asked to compare the weights of several objects, including a football. Since girls are less likely to have handled a football, they might find the item more difficult than boys, even though they have mastered the concept measured by the item.

Importance and benefits of summative assessment

summative assessment strategy

Overall, these are valid points raised against summative assessment. However, it does offer fantastic benefits for teachers and students alike!

Summative assessment can:

1) Motivate students to study and pay closer attention

Although we mentioned lack of motivation above, this isn’t true for every student. In fact, you’ve probably encountered numerous students for whom summative assessments are an incredible source of motivation to put more effort into their studies.

For example, final exams are a common type of summative assessment that students may encounter at the end of a semester or school year. This pivotal moment gives students a milestone to achieve and a chance to demonstrate their knowledge.

In May 2017, the College Board released a statement about whether coaching truly boosts test scores:

Data shows studying for the SAT for 20 hours on free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is associated with an average score gain of 115 points, nearly double the average score gain compared to students who don’t use Khan Academy. Out of nearly 250,000 test-takers studied, more than 16,000 gained 200 points or more between the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT…

In addition to the 115-point average score increase associated with 20 hours of practice, shorter practice periods also correlate with meaningful score gains. For example, 6 to 8 hours of practice on Official SAT Practice is associated with an average 90-point increase.

2) Allow students to apply what they’ve learned

summative assessment strategy

It’s one thing to memorize multiplication tables (which is a good skill), but another to apply those skills in math word problems or real-world examples.

Summative assessments — excluding, for example, multiple choice tests — help you see which students can retain and apply what they’ve learned.

3) Help identify gaps in student learning

Before moving on to a new unit, it’s vital to make sure students are keeping up. Naturally, some will be ahead while others will lag behind. In either case, giving them a summative assessment will provide you with a general overview of where your class stands as a whole.

Let’s say your class just wrote a test on multiplication and division. If all students scored high on multiplication but one quarter of students scored low on division, you’ll know to focus more on teaching division to those students moving forward.

4) Help identify possible teaching gaps

summative assessment strategy

Credit: woodleywonderworks

In addition to identifying student learning gaps , summative assessment can help target where your teaching style or lesson plans may have missed the mark.

Have you ever been grading tests before, to your horror, realizing almost none of your students hit the benchmark you hoped for? When this happens, the low grades are not necessarily related to study time.

For example, you may need to adjust your teaching methods by:

  • Including/excluding word problems
  • Incorporating more visual components
  • Innovative summative assessments (we list some below!)

5) Give teachers valuable insights

summative assessment strategy

Credit: Kevin Jarrett

Summative assessments can highlight what worked and what didn’t throughout the school year. Once you pinpoint how, where and what lessons need tweaking, making informed adjustments for next year becomes easier.

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes… and, for teachers, new students year after year. So although old students may miss out on changes you’ve made to your lessons, new ones get to reap the benefits.

This not only improves your skills as an educator, but will ensure a more enriching educational experience for generations of students to come.

6) Contribute positively to learning outcomes

Certain summative assessments also provide valuable data at district, national, and global levels. Depending on average test scores, this can determine whether or not certain schools receive funding, programs stay or go, curriculum changes occur, and more. Burke writes:

Summative assessments also provide the public and policymakers with a sense of the results of their investment in education and give educators a forum for proving whether instruction works – or does not work.

The seven aims of summative assessment

summative assessment strategy

Dr. Nancy P. Gallavan, a professor of teacher education at the University of Central Arkansas, believes teachers can use performance-based summative assessments at any grade level.

However, in an article for Corwin , she suggests crafting yours with seven aims in mind:

  • Accompanied  with appropriate time and task management
  • Achievable  as in-class activities and out-of-class assignments
  • Active  involvement in planning, preparation, and performance
  • Applicable  to academic standards and expectations
  • Appropriate  to your students’ learning styles, needs, and interests
  • Attractive  to your students on an individual and group level
  • Authentic  to curricular content and context

Ideally, the assessment method should also measure a student’s performance accurately against the learning objectives set at the beginning of the course.

Keeping these goals in mind, here’s a list of innovative ways to conduct summative assessments in your classroom!

Summative assessment examples: 9 ways to make test time fun

summative assessment strategy

If you want to switch things up this summative assessment season, keep reading. While you can’t change what’s on standardized tests, you can create activities to ensure your students are exhibiting and applying their understanding and skills to end-of-chapter or -unit assessments. In a refreshing way.

Why not give them the opportunity to express their understanding in ways that apply to different learning styles?

Note : As a general guideline, students should incorporate recognition and recall, logic and reasoning, as well as skills and application that cover major concepts and practices (including content areas you emphasized in your lessons).

1) One, two, three… action!

Write a script and create a short play, movie, or song about a concept or strategy of your choosing.

This video from Science Rap Academy is a great — and advanced — example of students who created a song about how blue-eyed children can come from two brown-eyed parents:

Using a tool such as iPhone Fake Text Generator , have students craft a mock text message conversation conveying a complex concept from the unit, or each chapter of that unit.

Students could create a back-and-forth conversation between two historical figures about a world event, or two friends helping each other with complex math concepts.

Have your students create a five to 10-minute podcast episode about core concepts from each unit. This is an exciting option because it can become an ongoing project.

Individually or in groups, specific students can be in charge of each end-of-chapter or -unit podcast. If your students have a cumulative test towards the end of the year or term, the podcast can even function as a study tool they created together.

summative assessment strategy

Credit : Brad Flickinger

You can use online tools such as Record MP3 Online or Vocaroo to get your class started!

4) Infographic

Creating a detailed infographic for a final project is an effective way for students to reinforce what they’ve learned. They can cover definitions, key facts, statistics, research, how-to info, graphics, etc.

You can even put up the most impressive infographics in your classroom. Over time, you’ll have an arsenal of in-depth, visually-appealing infographics students can use when studying for chapter or unit tests.

5) Compare and contrast

summative assessment strategy

Venn diagrams are an old — yet effective — tool perfect for visualizing just about anything! Whether you teach history or social studies, English or math, or something in between, Venn diagrams can help certain learners visualize the relationship between different things.

For example, they can compare book characters, locations around the world, scientific concepts, and more just like the examples below:

6) Living museum

This creative summative assessment is similar to one, two, three… action! Individuals will plan and prepare an exhibit (concept) in the Living Museum (classroom). Let’s say the unit your class just completed covered five core concepts.

Five students will set up around the classroom while the teacher walks from exhibit to exhibit. Upon reaching the first student, the teacher will push an imaginary button, bringing the exhibit “to life.” The student will do a two to three-minute presentation; afterwards, the teacher will move on to the next one.

7) Ed-Tech games

Now more than ever, students are growing up saturated with smartphones, tablets, and video games. That’s why educators should show students how to use technology in the classroom effectively and productively.

More and more educators are bringing digital tools into the learning process. Pew Research Center surveyed 2,462 teachers and reported that digital technologies have helped in teaching their middle and high school students.

Some of the findings were quite eye-opening:

  • 80% report using the internet at least weekly to help them create lesson plans
  • 84% report using the internet at least weekly to find content that will engage students
  • 69% say the internet has a “major impact on their ability to share ideas with other teachers
  • 80% report getting email alerts or updates at least weekly that allow them to follow developments in their field
  • 92% say the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to access content, resources, and materials for their teaching
  • 67% say the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to interact with parents and 57% say it has had such an impact on enabling their interaction with students

To make the most of EdTech, find a tool that actually engages your students in learning and gives you the insightful data and reports you need to adjust your instruction

Tip: Teaching math from 1st to 8th grade? Use Prodigy!

With Prodigy Math, you can:

  • Deliver engaging assessments: Prodigy's game-based approach makes assessments fun for students.
  • Spot and solve learning gaps: See which students need more support at the touch of a button.
  • Reduce test anxiety: Prodigy has been shown to build math confidence.

Plus, it's all available to educators at no cost. See how it works below! 👇

8) Shark Tank/Dragon’s Den

Yes, just like the reality TV show! You can show an episode or two to your class or get them to watch the show at home. Next, have students pitch a product or invention that can help change the world outside of school for the better.

This innovative summative assessment is one that’ll definitely require some more thought and creativity. But it’s important that, as educators, we help students realize they can have a huge positive impact on the world in which they live.

9) Free choice

If a student chooses to come up with their own summative assessment, you’ll need to vet it first. It’ll likely take some collaboration to arrive at something sufficient.

However, giving students the freedom to explore content areas that interest them most could surprise you. Sometimes, it’s during those projects they form a newfound passion and are wildly successful in completing the task.

summative assessment strategy

We’re sure there are countless other innovative summative assessment ideas out there, but we hope this list gets your creative juices flowing.

With the exclusion of standardized state and national tests, one of the greatest misconceptions about summative assessments is that they’re all about paper and pencil. Our hope in creating this list was to help you see how fun and engaging summative assessments can truly be.

10) Group projects

Group projects aren't just a fun way to break the monotony, but a dynamic and interactive form of summative assessment. Here's why:

  • Collaborative learning: Group projects encourage students to work as a team, fostering their communication and collaboration skills. They learn to listen, negotiate, and empathize, which are crucial skills in and beyond the classroom.
  • Promotes critical thinking: When students interact with each other, they get to explore different perspectives. They challenge each other's understanding, leading to stimulating debates and problem-solving sessions that boost critical thinking.
  • In-depth assessment: Group projects offer teachers a unique lens to evaluate both individual performances and group dynamics. It's like getting a sneak peek into their world - you get to see how they perform under different circumstances and how they interact with each other.
  • Catering to different learning styles: Given the interactive nature of group projects, they can cater to different learning styles - auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Every student gets a chance to shine!

However, it's important to set clear instructions and criteria to ensure fairness. Remember, it's not just about the final product - it's about the process too.

Some interesting examples of group projects include:

  • Create a Mini Documentary: Students could work together to research a historical event and create a mini documentary presenting their findings.
  • Plan a Community Service Project: This could involve identifying a problem in the local community and creating a detailed plan to address it.
  • Design a Mobile App: For a more tech-focused project, students could identify a problem and design an app that solves it.

Summative assessment strategies for keeping tests clear and fair

summative assessment strategy

In addition to using the summative assessment examples above to accommodate your students’ learning styles, these tips and strategies should also help:

  • Use a rubric  — Rubrics help set a standard for how your class should perform on a test or assignment. They outline test length, how in-depth it will be, and what you require of them to achieve the highest possible grades.
  • Design clear, effective questions  — When designing tests, do your best to use language, phrases, and examples similar to those used during lessons. This’ll help keep your tests aligned with the material you’ve covered.
  • Try blind grading  — Most teachers prefer knowing whose tests they’re grading. But if you want to provide wholly unbiased grades and feedback, try blind grading. You can request your students write their names on the bottom of the last test page or the back.
  • Assess comprehensiveness  — Make sure the broad, overarching connections you’re hoping students can make are reasonable and fluid. For example, if the test covers measurement, geometry and spatial sense, you should avoid including questions about patterning and algebra.
  • Create a final test after, not before, teaching the lessons  — Don’t put the horse before the carriage. Plans can change and student learning can demand different emphases from year to year. If you have a test outline, perfect! But expect to embrace and make some changes from time to time.
  • Make it real-world relevant  — How many times have you heard students ask, “When am I going to use this in real life?” Far too often students assume math, for example, is irrelevant to their lives and write it off as a subject they don’t need. When crafting test questions, use  culturally-relevant word problems  to illustrate a subject’s true relevance.

Enter the Balanced Assessment Model

Throughout your teaching career, you’ll spend a lot of time with formative and summative assessments. While some teachers emphasize one over the other, it’s vital to recognize the extent to which they’re interconnected.

In the book Classroom Assessment for Student Learning , Richard Stiggins, one of the first educators to advocate for the concept of assessment for learning, proposes something called “a balanced assessment system that takes advantage of assessment of learning and assessment for learning.”

If you use both effectively, they inform one another and “assessment becomes more than just an index of school success. It also serves as the cause of that success.”

In fact, Stiggins argues teachers should view these two types of assessment as “in sync.”

They can even be the  exact same thing — only the purpose and the timing of the assessment determine its label. Formative assessments provide the training wheels that allow students to practice and gain confidence while riding their bikes around the enclosed school parking lot.

Once the training wheels come off, the students face their summative assessment as they ride off into the sunset on only two wheels, prepared to navigate the twists and turns of the road to arrive safely at their final destination.

Conclusion: Going beyond the test

Implementing these innovative summative assessment examples should engage your students in new and exciting ways.

What’s more, they’ll have the opportunity to express and apply what they’ve learned in creative ways that solidify student learning.

So, what do you think — are you ready to try out these summative assessment ideas? Prodigy is a game-based learning platform teachers use to keep their students engaged.

Sign up for a free teacher account  and set an  Assessment  today!

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Center for the Advancement of Teaching Excellence

Summative assessments.

Nicole Messier, CATE Instructional Designer February 7th, 2022

WHAT? Heading link Copy link

Summative assessments are used to measure learning when instruction is over and thus may occur at the end of a learning unit, module, or the entire course.

Summative assessments are usually graded, are weighted more heavily than other course assignments or comprise a substantial percentage of a students’ overall grade (and are often considered “high stakes” assessments relative to other, “lower stakes” assessments in a course), and are required assessments for the completion of a course.

Summative assessments can be viewed through two broad assessment strategies: assessments of learning and assessments as learning.

  • Assessment of learning (AoL) provides data to confirm course outcomes and students the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in the learning objectives.
  • Assessment as learning (AaL) provides student ownership of learning by utilizing evidence-based learning strategies, promoting self-regulation, and providing reflective learning.

A summative assessment can be designed to provide both assessment of learning (AoL) and assessment as learning (AaL). The goal of designing for AaL and AoL is to create a summative assessment as a learning experience while ensuring that the data collected is valid and reliable.

Summative Assessment includes test taking

Want to learn more about these assessment strategies? Please visit the  Resources Section – CATE website to review resources, teaching guides, and more.

Summative Assessments Heading link Copy link

Summative assessments (aol).

  • Written assignments – such as papers or authentic assessments like projects or portfolios of creative work
  • Mid-term exam
  • Performances

Although exams are typically used to measure student knowledge and skills at the end of a learning unit, module, or an entire course, they can also be incorporated into learning opportunities for students.

Example 1 - Exam Heading link Copy link

Example 1 - exam.

An instructor decides to analyze their current multiple-choice and short-answer final exam for alignment to the learning objectives. The instructor discovers that the questions cover the content in the learning objectives; however, some questions are not at the same cognitive levels as the learning objectives . The instructor determines that they need to create some scenario questions where students are asked to analyze a situation and apply knowledge to be aligned with a particular learning objective.

The instructor also realizes that this new type of question format will be challenging for students if the exam is the only opportunity provided to students. The instructor decides to create a study guide for students on scenarios (not used in the exam) for students to practice and self-assess their learning. The instructor plans to make future changes to the quizzes and non-graded formative questions to include higher-level cognitive questions to ensure that learning objectives are being assessed as well as to support student success in the summative assessment.

This example demonstrates assessment of learning with an emphasis on improving the validity of the results, as well as assessment as learning by providing students with opportunities to self-assess and reflect on their learning.

Written assignments in any form (authentic, project, or problem-based) can also be designed to collect data and measure student learning, as well as provide opportunities for self-regulation and reflective learning. Instructors should consider using a type of grading rubric (analytic, holistic, or single point) for written assignments to ensure that the data collected is valid and reliable.

Summative Assessments (AaL) Heading link Copy link

Summative assessments (aal).

  • Authentic assessments – an assessment that involves a real-world task or application of knowledge instead of a traditional paper; could involve a situation or scenario specific to a future career.
  • Project-based learning – an assessment that involves student choice in designing and addressing a problem, need, or question.
  • Problem-based learning – similar to project-based learning but focused on solutions to problems.
  • Self-critique or peer assessment

Example 2 - Authentic Assessment Heading link Copy link

Example 2 - authentic assessment.

An instructor has traditionally used a research paper as the final summative assessment in their course. After attending a conference session on authentic assessments, the instructor decides to change this summative assessment to an authentic assessment that allows for student choice and increased interaction, feedback, and ownership.

First, the instructor introduced the summative project during the first week of class. The summative project instructions asked students to select a problem that could be addressed by one of the themes from the course. Students were provided with a list of authentic products that they could choose from, or they could request permission to submit a different product. Students were also provided with a rubric aligned to the learning objectives.

Next, the instructor created small groups (three to four students) with discussion forums for students to begin brainstorming problems, themes, and ideas for their summative project. These groups were also required to use the rubric to provide feedback to their peers at two separate time points in the course. Students were required to submit their final product, references, self-assessment using the rubric, and a reflection on the peer interaction and review.

This example demonstrates an authentic assessment as well as an assessment of learning (AoL) and assessment as learning (AaL). The validity and reliability of this summative assessment are ensured using a rubric that is focused on the learning objectives of the course and consistently utilized for the grading and feedback of the summative project. Data collected from the use of grading criteria in a rubric can be used to improve the summative project as well as the instruction and materials in the course. This summative project allows for reflective learning and provides opportunities for students to develop self-regulation skills as well as apply knowledge gained in an authentic and meaningful product.

Another way to create a summative assessment as a learning opportunity is to break it down into smaller manageable parts. These smaller parts will guide students’ understanding of expectations, provide them with opportunities to receive and apply feedback, as well as support their executive functioning and self-regulation skills.

WHY? Heading link Copy link

We know that summative assessments are vital to the curriculum planning cycle to measure student outcomes and implement continuous improvements. But how do we ensure our summative assessments are effective and equitable? Well, the answer is in the research.

Validity, Reliability, and Manageability

Critical components for the effectiveness of summative assessments are the validity, reliability, and manageability of the assessment (Khaled, 2020).

  • Validity of the assessment refers to the alignment to course learning objectives. In other words, are the assessments in your course measuring the learning objectives?
  • Reliability of the assessment refers to the consistency or accuracy of the assessment used. Are the assessment practices consistent from student to student and semester to semester?
  • Manageability of the assessment refers to the workload for both faculty and students. For faculty, is the type of summative assessment causing a delay in timely grading and feedback to the learner? For students, is the summative assessment attainable and are the expectations realistic?

As you begin to design a summative assessment, determine how you will ensure the assessment is valid, reliable, and manageable.

Feedback & Summative Assessments

Attributes of academic feedback that improve the impact of the summative assessment on student learning (Daka, 2021; Harrison 2017) include:

  • Provide feedback without or before grades.
  • Once the grade is given, then explain the grading criteria and score (e.g., using a rubric to explain grading criteria and scoring).
  •  Identify specific qualities in students’ work.
  • Describe actionable steps on what and how to improve.
  • Motivate and encourage students by providing opportunities to submit revisions or earn partial credit for submitting revised responses to incorrect answers on exams.
  • Allow students to monitor, evaluate, and regulate their learning.

Additional recommendations for feedback include that feedback should be timely, frequent, constructive (what and how), and should help infuse a sense of professional identity for students (why). The alignment of learning objectives, learning activities, and summative assessments is critical to student success and will ensure that assessments are valid. And lastly, the tasks in assessments should match the cognitive levels of the course learning objectives to challenge the highest performing students while elevating lower-achieving students (Daka, 2021).

HOW? Heading link Copy link

How do you start designing summative assessments?

Summative assessments can help measure student achievement of course learning objectives as well as provide the instructor with data to make pedagogical decisions on future teaching and instruction. Summative assessments can also provide learning opportunities as students reflect and take ownership of their learning.

So how do you determine what type of summative assessment to design? And how do you ensure that summative assessment will be valid, reliable, and manageable? Let’s dive into some of the elements that might impact your design decisions, including class size, discipline, modality, and EdTech tools .

Class Size and Modality

The manageability of summative assessments can be impacted by the class size and modality of the course. Depending on the class size of the course, instructors might be able to implement more opportunities for authentic summative assessments that provide student ownership and allow for more reflective learning (students think about their learning and make connections to their experiences). Larger class sizes might require instructors to consider implementing an EdTech tool to improve the manageability of summative assessments.

The course modality can also influence the design decisions of summative assessments. Courses with synchronous class sessions can require students to take summative assessments simultaneously through an in-person paper exam or an online exam using an EdTech tool, like Gradescope or Blackboard Tests, Pools, and Surveys . Courses can also create opportunities for students to share their authentic assessments asynchronously using an EdTech tool like VoiceThread .

Major Coursework

When designing a summative assessment as a learning opportunity for major coursework, instructors should reflect on the learning objectives to be assessed and the possible real-world application of the learning objectives. In replacement of multiple-choice or short answer questions that focus on content memorization, instructors might consider creating scenarios or situational questions that provide students with opportunities to analyze and apply knowledge gained. In major coursework, instructors should consider authentic assessments that allow for student choice, transfer of knowledge, and the development of professional skills in place of a traditional paper or essay.

Undergraduate General Education Coursework

In undergraduate general education coursework, instructors should consider the use of authentic assessments to make connections to students’ experiences, goals, and future careers. Simple adjustments to assignment instructions to allow for student choice can help increase student engagement and motivation. Designing authentic summative assessments can help connect students to the real-world application of the content and create buy-in on the importance of the summative assessment.

Summative Assessment Tools

EdTech tools can help to reduce faculty workload by providing a delivery system for students to submit work as well as tools to support academic integrity.

Below are EdTech tools that are available to UIC faculty to create and/or grade summative assessments as and of learning.

Assessment Creation and Grading Tools Heading link Copy link

Assessment creation and grading tools.

  • Blackboard assignments drop box and rubrics
  • Blackboard quizzes and exams

Assessment creation and grading tools can help support instructors in designing valid and reliable summative assessments. Gradescope can be utilized as a grading tool for in-person paper and pencil midterm and final exams, as well as a tool to create digital summative assessments. Instructors can use AI to improve the manageability of summative assessments as well as the reliability through the use of rubrics for grading with Gradescope.

In the Blackboard learning management system, instructors can create pools of questions for both formative and summative assessments as well as create authentic assessment drop boxes and rubrics aligned to learning objectives for valid and reliable data collection.

Academic Integrity Tools

  • SafeAssign (undergraduate)
  •   iThenticate (graduate)
  • Respondus LockDown Browser and Monitoring

Academic integrity tools can help ensure that students are meeting academic expectations concerning research through the use of SafeAssign and iThenticate as well as academic integrity during online tests and exams using Respondus Lockdown Browser and Monitoring.

Want to learn more about these summative assessment tools? Visit the EdTech section on the CATE website to learn more.

Exam Guidance

Additional guidance on online exams is available in Section III: Best Practices for Online (Remote Proctored, Synchronous) Exams in the Guidelines for Assessment in Online Environments Report , which outlines steps for equitable exam design, accessible exam technology, and effective communication for student success. The framing questions in the report are designed to guide instructors with suggestions, examples, and best practices (Academic Planning Task Force, 2020), which include:

  • “What steps should be taken to ensure that all students have the necessary hardware, software, and internet capabilities to complete a remote, proctored exam?
  • What practices should be implemented to make remote proctored exams accessible to all students, and in particular, for students with disabilities?
  • How can creating an ethos of academic integrity be leveraged to curb cheating in remote proctored exams?
  • What are exam design strategies to minimize cheating in an online environment?
  • What tools can help to disincentive cheating during a remote proctored exam?
  • How might feedback and grading strategies be adjusted to deter academic misconduct on exams?”

GETTING STARTED Heading link Copy link

Getting started.

The following steps will support you as you examine current summative assessment practices through the lens of assessment of learning (AoL) and assessment as learning (AaL) and develop new or adapt existing summative assessments.

  • The first step is to utilize backward design principles by aligning the summative assessments to the learning objectives.
  • To collect valid and reliable data to confirm student outcomes (AoL).
  • To promote self-regulation and reflective learning by students (AaL).
  • Format: exam, written assignment, portfolio, performance, project, etc.
  • Delivery: paper and pencil, Blackboard, EdTech tool, etc.
  • Feedback: general (how to improve performance), personalized (student-specific), etc.
  • Scoring: automatically graded by Blackboard and/or EdTech tool or manual through the use of a rubric in Blackboard.
  • The fourth step is to review data collected from summative assessment(s) and reflect on the implementation of the summative assessment(s) through the lens of validity, reliability, and manageability to inform continuous improvements for equitable student outcomes.

CITING THIS GUIDE Heading link Copy link

Citing this guide.

Messier, N. (2022). “Summative assessments.” Center for the Advancement of Teaching Excellence at the University of Illinois Chicago. Retrieved [today’s date] from https://teaching.uic.edu/resources/teaching-guides/assessment-grading-practices/summative-assessments/

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES Heading link Copy link

Academic Planning Task Force. (2020). Guidelines for Assessment in Online Learning Environments .

McLaughlin, L., Ricevuto, J. (2021). Assessments in a Virtual Environment: You Won’t Need that Lockdown Browser! Faculty Focus.

Moore, E. (2020). Assessments by Design: Rethinking Assessment for Learner Variability. Faculty Focus.

Websites and Journals

Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education website 

Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. Taylor & Francis Online Journals

Journal of Assessment in Higher Education

REFERENCES Heading link Copy link

Daka, H., & Mulenga-Hagane, M., Mukalula-Kalumbi, M., Lisulo, S. (2021). Making summative assessment effective. 5. 224 – 237.

Earl, L.M., Katz, S. (2006). Rethinking classroom assessment with purpose in mind — Assessment for learning, assessment as learning, assessment of learning. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Crown in Right of Manitoba.

Galletly, R., Carciofo, R. (2020). Using an online discussion forum in a summative coursework assignment. Journal of Educators Online . Volume 17, Issue 2.

Harrison, C., Könings, K., Schuwirth, L. & Wass, V., Van der Vleuten, C. (2017). Changing the culture of assessment: the dominance of the summative assessment paradigm. BMC Medical Education. 17. 10.1186/s12909-017-0912-5.

Khaled, S., El Khatib, S. (2020). Summative assessment in higher education: Feedback for better learning outcomes

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Formative and summative assessments.

Assessment allows both instructor and student to monitor progress towards achieving learning objectives, and can be approached in a variety of ways. Formative assessment refers to tools that identify misconceptions, struggles, and learning gaps along the way and assess how to close those gaps. It includes effective tools for helping to shape learning, and can even bolster students’ abilities to take ownership of their learning when they understand that the goal is to improve learning, not apply final marks (Trumbull and Lash, 2013). It can include students assessing themselves, peers, or even the instructor, through writing, quizzes, conversation, and more. In short, formative assessment occurs throughout a class or course, and seeks to improve student achievement of learning objectives through approaches that can support specific student needs (Theal and Franklin, 2010, p. 151). 

In contrast, summative assessments evaluate student learning, knowledge, proficiency, or success at the conclusion of an instructional period, like a unit, course, or program. Summative assessments are almost always formally graded and often heavily weighted (though they do not need to be). Summative assessment can be used to great effect in conjunction and alignment with formative assessment, and instructors can consider a variety of ways to combine these approaches. 

Examples of Formative and Summative Assessments

Both forms of assessment can vary across several dimensions (Trumbull and Lash, 2013): 

  • Informal / formal
  • Immediate / delayed feedback
  • Embedded in lesson plan / stand-alone
  • Spontaneous / planned
  • Individual / group
  • Verbal / nonverbal
  • Oral / written
  • Graded / ungraded
  • Open-ended response / closed/constrained response
  • Teacher initiated/controlled / student initiated/controlled
  • Teacher and student(s) / peers
  • Process-oriented / product-oriented
  • Brief / extended
  • Scaffolded (teacher supported) / independently performed 

Recommendations

Formative Assessment   Ideally, formative assessment strategies improve teaching and learning simultaneously. Instructors can help students grow as learners by actively encouraging them to self-assess their own skills and knowledge retention, and by giving clear instructions and feedback. Seven principles (adapted from Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2007 with additions) can guide instructor strategies:

  • Keep clear criteria for what defines good performance - Instructors can explain criteria for A-F graded papers, and encourage student discussion and reflection about these criteria (this can be accomplished though office hours, rubrics, post-grade peer review, or exam / assignment wrappers ). Instructors may also hold class-wide conversations on performance criteria at strategic moments throughout a term.
  • Encourage students’ self-reflection - Instructors can ask students to utilize course criteria to evaluate their own or a peer’s work, and to share what kinds of feedback they find most valuable. In addition, instructors can ask students to describe the qualities of their best work, either through writing or group discussion.
  • Give students detailed, actionable feedback - Instructors can consistently provide specific feedback tied to predefined criteria, with opportunities to revise or apply feedback before final submission. Feedback may be corrective and forward-looking, rather than just evaluative. Examples include comments on multiple paper drafts, criterion discussions during 1-on-1 conferences, and regular online quizzes.
  • Encourage teacher and peer dialogue around learning - Instructors can invite students to discuss the formative learning process together. This practice primarily revolves around mid-semester feedback and small group feedback sessions , where students reflect on the course and instructors respond to student concerns. Students can also identify examples of feedback comments they found useful and explain how they helped. A particularly useful strategy, instructors can invite students to discuss learning goals and assignment criteria, and weave student hopes into the syllabus.
  • Promote positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem - Students will be more motivated and engaged when they are assured that an instructor cares for their development. Instructors can allow for rewrites/resubmissions to signal that an assignment is designed to promote development of learning. These rewrites might utilize low-stakes assessments, or even automated online testing that is anonymous, and (if appropriate) allows for unlimited resubmissions.
  • Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance - Related to the above, instructors can improve student motivation and engagement by making visible any opportunities to close gaps between current and desired performance. Examples include opportunities for resubmission, specific action points for writing or task-based assignments, and sharing study or process strategies that an instructor would use in order to succeed.  
  • Collect information which can be used to help shape teaching - Instructors can feel free to collect useful information from students in order to provide targeted feedback and instruction. Students can identify where they are having difficulties, either on an assignment or test, or in written submissions. This approach also promotes metacognition , as students are asked to think about their own learning. Poorvu Center staff can also perform a classroom observation or conduct a small group feedback session that can provide instructors with potential student struggles. 

Instructors can find a variety of other formative assessment techniques through Angelo and Cross (1993), Classroom Assessment Techniques (list of techniques available here ).

Summative Assessment   Because summative assessments are usually higher-stakes than formative assessments, it is especially important to ensure that the assessment aligns with the goals and expected outcomes of the instruction.  

  • Use a Rubric or Table of Specifications - Instructors can use a rubric to lay out expected performance criteria for a range of grades. Rubrics will describe what an ideal assignment looks like, and “summarize” expected performance at the beginning of term, providing students with a trajectory and sense of completion. 
  • Design Clear, Effective Questions - If designing essay questions, instructors can ensure that questions meet criteria while allowing students freedom to express their knowledge creatively and in ways that honor how they digested, constructed, or mastered meaning. Instructors can read about ways to design effective multiple choice questions .
  • Assess Comprehensiveness - Effective summative assessments provide an opportunity for students to consider the totality of a course’s content, making broad connections, demonstrating synthesized skills, and exploring deeper concepts that drive or found a course’s ideas and content. 
  • Make Parameters Clear - When approaching a final assessment, instructors can ensure that parameters are well defined (length of assessment, depth of response, time and date, grading standards); knowledge assessed relates clearly to content covered in course; and students with disabilities are provided required space and support.
  • Consider Blind Grading - Instructors may wish to know whose work they grade, in order to provide feedback that speaks to a student’s term-long trajectory. If instructors wish to provide truly unbiased summative assessment, they can also consider a variety of blind grading techniques .

Considerations for Online Assessments

Effectively implementing assessments in an online teaching environment can be particularly challenging. The Poorvu Center shares these  recommendations .

Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education 31(2): 2-19.

Theall, M. and Franklin J.L. (2010). Assessing Teaching Practices and Effectiveness for Formative Purposes. In: A Guide to Faculty Development. KJ Gillespie and DL Robertson (Eds). Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Trumbull, E., & Lash, A. (2013). Understanding formative assessment: Insights from learning theory and measurement theory. San Francisco: WestEd.

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Formative and Summative Assessment

Assessment helps instructors and students monitor progress towards achieving learning objectives. Formative assessment is used throughout an instructional period to treat misconceptions, struggles, and learning gaps. Summative assessments evaluate learning, knowledge, proficiency, or success at the conclusion of an instructional period.

Below you will find formative and summative descriptions along with a diagram, examples, recommendations, and strategies/tools for the next steps.

Descriptions

Formative assessment  (Image 1, left) refers to tools that identify misconceptions, struggles, and learning gaps along the way and assess how to close those gaps. It includes practical tools for helping to shape learning. It can even bolster students’ ability to take ownership of their education when they understand that the goal is to improve learning and not apply final marks (Trumbull and Lash, 2013). It can include students assessing themselves, peers, or even the instructor, through writing, quizzes, conversation, and more. Formative assessment occurs throughout a class or course and seeks to improve student achievement of learning objectives through approaches that can support specific student needs (Theal and Franklin, 2010, p. 151). In the classroom, formative assessment centers on practice and is often low-stakes. Students may or may not receive a grade.

In contrast,  summative assessments (Image 1, right) evaluate student learning, knowledge, proficiency, or success after an instructional period, as a unit, course, or program. Summative assessments are almost always formally graded and often heavily weighted (though they do not need to be). Summative assessment can be used to significant effect in conjunction and in alignment with formative assessment, and instructors can consider a variety of ways to combine these approaches. 

Two diagrams showing the when, why, and how of formative and summative assessment. Formative: Help students to learn and practice, when - throughout the course, why - identify gaps and improve learning, how - via approaches that support specific student needs. Whereas, summative asses student performance, when at the end of an instructional period, why - collect evidence of student knowledge, skills or proficiency, how - via exit learning or a cumulative assessment.

Examples of Formative and Summative Assessments

Formative: l earn and practice.

  • In-class discussions
  • Clicker questions (e.g., Top Hat)
  • 1-minute reflection writing assignments
  • Peer review
  • Homework assignments

Summative: Assess performance

  • Instructor-created exams
  • Standardized tests
  • Final projects
  • Final essays
  • Final presentations
  • Final reports
  • Final grades

Formative Assessment Recommendations

Ideally, formative assessment strategies improve teaching and learning simultaneously. Instructors can help students grow as learners by actively encouraging them to self-assess their skills and knowledge retention, and by giving clear instructions and feedback. Seven principles (adapted from Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2007 with additions) can guide instructor strategies:

1. Keep clear criteria for what defines good performance

Instructors can explain criteria for A-F graded papers and encourage student discussion and reflection about these criteria (accomplish this through office hours, rubrics, post-grade peer review, or  exam/assignment wrappers . Instructors may also hold class-wide conversations on performance criteria at strategic moments throughout the term.

2. Encourage students' self-reflection.

Instructors can ask students to utilize course criteria to evaluate their own or peers’ work and share what kinds of feedback they find most valuable. Also, instructors can ask students to describe their best work qualities, either through writing or group discussion.

3. Give students detailed, actionable feedback

Instructors can consistently provide specific feedback tied to predefined criteria, with opportunities to revise or apply feedback before final submission. Feedback may be corrective and forward-looking, rather than just evaluative. Examples include comments on multiple paper drafts, criterion discussions during 1-on-1 conferences, and regular online quizzes.

4. Encourage teacher and peer dialogue around learning

5. promote positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem.

Students will be more motivated and engaged when assured that an instructor cares for their development. Instructors can design assignments to allow for rewrites/resubmissions in assignments to promote learning development. These rewrites might utilize low-stakes assessments, or even automated online testing that is anonymous, and (if appropriate) allows for unlimited resubmissions.

6. Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance

Related to the above; instructors can improve student motivation and engagement by making visible any opportunities to close gaps between current and desired performance. Examples include opportunities for resubmission, specific action points for writing or task-based assignments, and sharing study or process strategies that an instructor would use to succeed.

7. Collect information to help shape teaching

Instructors can feel free to collect useful information from students to provide targeted feedback and instruction. Students can identify where they are having difficulties, either on an assignment or test or in written submissions. This approach also promotes metacognition, as students reflect upon their learning. 

Instructors may find various other formative assessment techniques through  CELT’s Classroom Assessment Techniques .

Summative Assessment Recommendations

Because summative assessments are usually higher-stakes than formative assessments, it is especially important to ensure that the assessment aligns with the instruction’s goals and expected outcomes. 

1. Use a Rubric or Table of Specifications

Instructors can use a rubric to provide expected performance criteria for a range of grades. Rubrics will describe what an ideal assignment looks like, and “summarize” expected performance at the beginning of the term, providing students with a trajectory and sense of completion. 

2. Design Clear, Effective Questions

If designing essay questions, instructors can ensure that questions meet criteria while allowing students the freedom to express their knowledge creatively and in ways that honor how they digested, constructed, or mastered meaning.

3. Assess Comprehensiveness. 

Effective summative assessments allow students to consider the totality of a course’s content, make deep connections, demonstrate synthesized skills, and explore more profound concepts that drive or find a course’s ideas and content. 

4. Make Parameters Clear

When approaching a final assessment, instructors can ensure that parameters are well defined (length of assessment, depth of response, time and date, grading standards). Also, knowledge assessed relates clearly to the content covered in course; and provides students with disabilities required space and support.

5. Consider Anonymous Grading. 

Instructors may wish to know whose work they grade, to provide feedback that speaks to a student’s term-long trajectory. If instructors want to give a genuinely unbiased summative assessment, they can also consider a variety of anonymous grading techniques (see hide student names in SpeedGrader Canvas guide ).

Explore Assessment Strategies and Tools

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Academic Integrity

Explore the following approaches and methods which emphasize prevention and education.

  • Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education 31 (2): 2-19.
  • Theall, M. and Franklin J.L. (2010). Assessing Teaching Practices and Effectiveness for Formative Purposes. In: A Guide to Faculty Development . KJ Gillespie and DL Robertson (Eds). Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.
  • Trumbull, E., & Lash, A. (2013). Understanding formative assessment: Insights from learning theory and measurement theory . San Francisco: WestEd.

Formative and Summative Assessment, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 . This work, Formative and Summative Assessment, is a derivative of Formative and Summative Assessment developed by the Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning(retrieved on June 23, 2020) from https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/Formative-Summative-Assessments.

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Teaching excellence & educational innovation, what is the difference between formative and summative assessment, formative assessment.

The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. More specifically, formative assessments:

  • help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work
  • help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately

Formative assessments are generally low stakes , which means that they have low or no point value. Examples of formative assessments include asking students to:

  • draw a concept map in class to represent their understanding of a topic
  • submit one or two sentences identifying the main point of a lecture
  • turn in a research proposal for early feedback

Summative assessment

The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.

Summative assessments are often high stakes , which means that they have a high point value. Examples of summative assessments include:

  • a midterm exam
  • a final project
  • a senior recital

Information from summative assessments can be used formatively when students or faculty use it to guide their efforts and activities in subsequent courses.

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What are examples of summative assessments?

What are summative assessments in education.

Summative Assessments are—in simple words—the way educators determine what a student has learned. They are typically tests or cumulative assignments that provide teachers with insights into the overall success of their instructional methods. Summative assessments also reveal if students have or have not mastered the learning targets or standards. Additionally, summative assessments provide school administrators, districts, and other key decision makers with actionable data and insight into how successfully a curriculum or teacher performs.

A definition of what a summative assessment is

Summative assessments must be created following specific guidelines, which are outlined in detail below. In brief, summative assessments must provide valid, reliable data points that can be compared across classrooms, across time, and across graders in order to measure student growth and teacher, district, or curriculum efficacy. 

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What does a summative assessment measure?

Summative assessments measure student learning along with teacher and curriculum effectiveness. Unlike formative assessments , which are often low-stake check-ins, summative assessments are typically high stakes, serving not only as the cumulation of a unit, semester, or school year, but also frequently serving as the key factor in a student’s grade or an administrator’s decision about a teacher or curriculum. 

Teachers who incorporate mastery learning into their instructional process rely heavily on summative assessments to measure whether or not a student has mastered the content taught. When they have finished their units, teachers offer a summative—or cumulative—test, project, or essay to determine if students have reached the key learning targets. If a student does not reach a predetermined score (80%, according to most mastery learning models), teachers adjust what content comes next and often provide strategic interventions to provide students with the time needed to truly master the content. In this way, summative assessments can be thought of as formative, in that teachers inform next steps based on summative results.

Why are summative assessments used in education?

Summative assessments are highly valued in education due to the valuable data they provide. Unlike formative assessments, which are typically more subjective and rarely designed to be used across classrooms or schools for comparative purposes, summative assessments are created for validity and reliability. 

Validity in summative assessments—or the ability of an assessment to actually measure what it is supposed to measure—ensures that teachers can be confident that students have or have not mastered the key learning objective. Additionally, valid summative assessments mean that educators and administrators are able to trust the summative assessment’s data about whether or not a teacher or curriculum performed as expected. A summative assessment’s validity ensures that decisions are made according to the true learning targets and not some side topic that may have unintentionally found its way into the assessment. 

Reliability in summative assessments—or the ability of an assessment to reproduce consistent outcomes across time and setting regardless of grader—ensures that teachers and administrators are making decisions using accurate data, not outlying data. This is especially important in situations where a teacher’s salary or a controversial curriculum hangs in the balance. 

Many educators have found that online tools allow them to more effectively gather and analyze data for validity and reliability, and to measure trends over time. Additionally, online tools allow teachers to quickly spot anomalies so they know which students need enrichment or intervention.

How do you write a summative assessment?

Summative assessments must be written according to a few specific guidelines. 

Steps to create a summative assessment

First, in order to ensure a summative assessment is valid, teachers must:

  • Determine the key learning objectives or standards that they will teach. 
  • Decide on what format will best showcase whether or not that objective or standard has been met. In some cases, a multiple choice test might work best; in others, teachers may need to choose something more along the lines of an essay or project. 
  • Ensure that students understand the learning objectives, the method of the summative assessment, and the grading scale or rubric. Students are far more likely to not only perform better on summative assessments but also to engage and take ownership in their learning when they clearly understand what they are being asked to do and why.
  • Plan and teach curriculum that closely aligns with the learning objectives and parallels the summative assessment.

Second, in order to ensure a summative assessment is reliable, teachers must:

  • Create a comprehensive grading plan—or rubric—to ensure data is consistently and correctly gathered.
  • Ensure classroom instruction and curriculum follows the same plan across classrooms or year over year, depending on how the teacher is planning to use the data from the summative assessments.
  • Decide on how the summative assessment will be given in order to ensure consistent results across classrooms or time. Does it always need to be given at a specific time of day or of year? Does the classroom need to be set up a certain way? Does the teacher provide specific prompts or help during the assessment?
  • Create and execute the summative assessment according to the predetermined guidelines. Many teachers find it helpful to bring their summative assessments to their Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) for help in spotting questions that could take away from the test’s validity or reliability.
  • Grade the summative assessment according to the predetermined guidelines. Many teachers find it helpful to bring in “blind graders”—fellow staff or other experts to grade the assessments without any background knowledge of students or classroom instruction.

Third, teachers should take time to analyze the results of their summative assessment. Did students master the learning targets or standards ? Did this unit drive their understanding and comprehension forward? Or will they need intervention and help before moving on to the next unit or goal? Teachers should then make decisions about how to proceed.

Fourth, teachers should report findings to the stakeholders—students, parents, administrators, and the like. Students are far more likely to improve their learning when they receive descriptive feedback—clear, exact descriptions of what a student got right or wrong, and more importantly, why they made certain mistakes and how to correct them.

Finally, many teachers find it valuable to bring the results of their summative assessments back to their PLCs. While there, teachers find support in analyzing data, understanding results, and creating intervention plans .

summative assessment strategy

How do summative assessments fit in with the 5 types of assessment?

There are five foundational types of assessments:

  • Diagnostic assessments , or pre-assessment, which teachers use to gauge students’ pre-knowledge and zone of proximal development. These typically occur once at the beginning of a unit.
  • Formative assessments , which teachers use to determine where student knowledge is at mid-unit. These typically occur frequently throughout the unit.
  • Summative assessments , which teachers use to determine student growth at the end of a unit. These typically occur once at the end of a unit.
  • Interim assessments , which districts use to measure specific grades across schools. These typically occur once a year.
  • Benchmark assessments , which bigger bodies (e.g. states) use to measure overarching student growth and school effectiveness. These typically occur once a year.

Typically, teachers create their diagnostic assessments to mirror their summative assessments in order to easily compare the results of a summative assessment to its unit’s diagnostic assessment. This allows teachers to quickly and easily see if students grew in the desired knowledge during the unit. 

An illustration of the 5 different types of k12 assessments

Additionally, many teachers work to align the majority of their formative assessments with their summative assessments. For example, teachers may use questions similar to the questions found on the summative assessments as exit tickets throughout the unit. They do this to tap into the “testing effect” of formative assessments: by allowing students to “test” themselves in a low-stakes environment, they are enabling students to recall up to 67% more of what they’ve learned on the final summative assessment than students would have via other study methods. 

While summative assessments are not always interim and benchmark assessments, these two categories would fall under the same umbrella as summative assessments, as both teachers and administrators use interim and benchmark assessments to not only determine what students have learned, but to make decisions about staffing, curriculum, or school success.

While there is no one right summative assessment, it is important that teachers use or create summative assessments that will provide valid, reliable data across classrooms or year over year. For example, many teachers use:

3 Examples of Summative Assessments

  • Curriculum Tests : Although a teacher may tweak the test created by the curriculum here or there to align with their state or district’s learning targets, using the curriculum test provides a large degree of validity and reliability, and teachers can easily use the same test (with the same tweaks) in every class for as long as they use that curriculum.
  • Rubrics : It is essential that teachers create strong, detailed rubrics when they choose to use writing assignments or final projects. Although it may take the teacher a few rounds with their Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and iterations in classrooms, eventually teachers should land on a rubric that they can use year over year for reliable data.
  • Multiple Choice Tests : These are perhaps the easiest summative assessments to use in terms of gathering and comparing data. However, it can be easy to create multiple-choice questions that don’t align well with the learning objectives, which compromises the validity of the test. Teachers do well to bring their multiple-choice tests to PLCs to get peer feedback on their summative assessments before bringing them to their class.

Again, it’s important to note that regardless of what type of assessments teachers choose to use, these assessments should be used to gauge student learning and make critical decisions about how to enhance the learning process so students receive the best learning opportunities possible.

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What is summative assessment? How to further learning with final exams

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Understanding the meaning and function of summative assessment helps clarify its role within education as a critical component of bridging teaching and learning. In this post, we take a closer look at summative assessment’s qualities with the end goal of ensuring that summative assessment supports learning and informs teaching.

Assessment is a term that describes tests, quizzes, exams, and assignments that measure student learning. Each of these methodologies can provide students and teachers with insights. Educators receive data on what students have and have not learned and gain observations into teaching efficacy and exam design. Students, in turn, recognize any learning gaps they might have, and when they receive feedback, understand next steps to further learning.

The most high-stakes type of assessment is called summative assessment. Summative assessment often comes at the endpoint of learning, whether at the end of a unit, course, or curriculum, serving largely as a pure evaluation of knowledge.

It’s easy to consider summative assessments as a final chapter to learning, but summative assessments can also act as a milestone and inform next steps for both educators and students. By examining the definition of summative assessment as well as its capabilities, educators can embrace its strengths, bolster its shortcomings, and foster learning.

Summative assessment is a specific type of assessment that evaluates learning and offers little opportunity for providing student feedback because of its positioning at the end of a learning unit. They are usually high-stakes, contributing to a large portion of a student’s course grade (e.g., final exams) or an exam that has a high impact on a student’s educational outcome. (e.g., standardized exams or entrance exams). Summative assessments include heavily weighted midterm exams, final exams, licensure tests, and standardized exams like A levels in the UK, SATs in the United States, Matriculation Exams in Finland, National Boards in India, or the CSAT in South Korea.

In such a high-stakes context, failing or struggling on summative assessments can negate student effort in other areas of study. On the other hand, summative assessment can be an effective tool to evaluate student knowledge and in the realm of licensure and certification exams, determine qualification for beginning a career.

While we aim to focus discussion on summative assessment, it’s important to describe another type of assessment to provide context; formative assessments not only evaluate learning but provide feedback to students and data to instructors. While formative assessments may or may not be given a grade, they most certainly further learning and occur throughout the course to support student learning needs, and often provide a safe space for failure . Formative assessments include assignments, tests, in-class activities, quizzes, and even midterm exams when they include feedback and opportunities for instructor intervention.

Best practices in formative assessment include providing timely and actionable feedback to students before the next assessment ( Hattie & Timperley, 2007 ).

While formative assessment is the measurement and support of learning as it takes place, summative assessments are evaluations of what a student has learned at the end of a given period (e.g., semester or training course). By assessing students at the end of a module, course, or curriculum, educators gain insight into how well their students have mastered the content and how effective their teaching methods were.

Even though summative assessments are situated at a point where students will find it hard to action results, data from summative assessments can still be used to inform curriculum planning and teaching, as well as any future exam adjustments.

That said, when possible, it’s important to balance formative and summative assessments within a term or curriculum. Fortifying summative assessments with prior formative assessments can support a student’s educational journey. Students who understand what they know and what they need to know in order to move forward are more likely to be prepared for final evaluation. Furthermore, preparing students for final evaluation with frequent opportunities to fail safely and receive feedback reduces stress, increases learning outcomes, and can mitigate academic misconduct .

While every type of assessment has its function to evaluate, every type of assessment, too, can be maximized for learning and teaching. Mid-course exams, for example, have the potential for both summative and formative qualities, serving to evaluate mastery (summative) and provide feedback to promote student learning (formative).

Without feedback, a midterm exam is purely summative. And while a summative component to a mid-course exam is reasonable, there is a lot more potential to them. It is important to provide feedback on mid-course exams so that students understand what they do and do not know and have the tools to bridge learning gaps for the next assessment and ultimately their final exam.

When assessments are provided with timely and actionable feedback, students have the information they need to facilitate their own learning; in this way, even high-stakes midterm exams can pivot towards formative learning opportunities for students. Additionally, summative assessments contain information critical for teacher and curriculum intervention as well as future exam design.

While formative assessments hinge on providing students with immediate feedback to help with the learning process, summative assessments happen after the student learning occurs. However, this doesn’t mean that communicating students’ performance is any less important.

For students to understand what content they have mastered and which topics might need additional study time, they need a detailed breakdown of their performance.

Categorizing summative assessment questions can give instructors the granular performance data they (and their students) need. By tagging exam items to course topics or learning objectives, faculty can provide the detailed feedback students need to be more focused in their study efforts.

Summative assessments are an important part of the assessment process and are incredibly valuable to both students and faculty. By ensuring high-stakes exams are secure, and providing students with performance feedback, educators can gain insight into how well students have learned the content and how well instructors have presented it.

Summative assessments evaluate content mastery. Generally, they are end-of-course or end-of-year exams; however, these are not the only applicable uses of summative assessments. Evaluating student learning could also come at the end of a chapter or learning module with mid-course exams.

Summative exams can also be multi-functional, as they, like all assessments, are rich with data. When item analysis and psychometrics accompany summative assessment, instruction is bolstered. When an assessment occurs at the end of a course or year or curriculum, data insights help educators make adjustments to teaching and curriculum so that future learning can be bolstered. When category-tagging is employed in tools like ExamSoft, educators can pinpoint student preparation for things like licensure exams. And conducting item analysis can inform effective exam design.

Summative assessments are by nature, high-stakes, and very stressful.

Who hasn’t woken from a nightmare in panic about missing or failing a final exam, even decades out from school? The reality that summative assessments can make or break academic success is deeply implanted in our psyche.

While there is little disagreement among educators about the need for or utility of summative assessments, debates and disagreements tend to center on issues of fairness and effectiveness, especially when summative-assessment results are used for high-stakes purposes.

Fair and inclusive assessments uphold accurate assessments. When exams are not fair nor inclusive, they become vulnerable to misconduct, resulting in missed learning opportunities. When exams do not cover what was taught, students may feel stressed and vulnerable. These missed opportunities can compound and widen learning gaps.

Assessments need to contain a variety of formats and question styles to measure different components of learning and include different learning styles. Summative assessments, when poorly designed, reward memorization rather than deep understanding of concepts. Encouraging competition between students, which can happen when grading on a curve, can also increase stress and decrease fairness.

Additionally, when test-takers are not sure how they will be evaluated, summative assessments can be unfair and inaccurate. Providing rubrics to students and graders ensures clarity of expectations and ensuing measurement of learning.

When summative assessments are stressful, do not accurately measure learning, aren’t preceded with learning opportunities beforehand, and/or don’t test what has been taught, they also become more vulnerable to academic misconduct and shortcut solutions like cheating, plagiarism, and AI Writing misuse.

Assessments are a checkpoint for student learning and teaching efficacy; consequently, accurate student responses are critical to increasing learning outcomes.

Most summative assessments are given with the understanding that the student’s score counts toward their final grade. As such, keeping these secure from academic dishonesty is paramount to providing a fair experience for all exam-takers. Though many educational institutions are moving to computer-based testing (CBT), taking exams on laptops or other devices brings a new list of potential security issues, such as access to the internet or other applications during an exam. An effective way to ensure exam integrity is testing software that does not allow use of the internet during an exam and prevents students from accessing other applications on their device.

Preventing academic dishonesty by blocking exam-takers’ information sources isn’t the only point to consider; ensuring students don’t share assessment items is also a concern. Once a test question is compromised, it’s no longer a valid measurement of student learning. Thus, keeping questions secure is vital.

Assessment security is a focus of Professor Phillip Dawson, an authority on assessment security from Deakin University in Australia, who defines assessment security as: “Measures taken to harden assessment against attempts to cheat. This includes approaches to detect and evidence attempts to cheat, as well as measures to make cheating more difficult.”

Dawson suggests a multilayered approach to assessment design, with seven standards for assessment security that institutions ought to consider:

  • Coverage across a program - how much of a degree should be secured?
  • Authentication - how do we ensure the student is who they say they are?
  • Control of circumstances - how can we be sure the task was done in the intended circumstances?
  • Difficulty to cheat metrics - we need to know how hard it may be to cheat a task.
  • Detection accuracy metrics - we need to know if our detection methods work.
  • Proof metrics - we need to be able to prove cases of cheating.
  • Prevalence metrics - we need to know approximate rates of undetected, detected, and proven cheating ( Dawson, 2021 ).

According to Professor Roseanna Bourke, Director of Educational Psychology programme and Institute of Education at Massey University, there is a link between student cheating and student understanding and investment in the assigned tasks; when students don’t understand questions and lack confidence, learning itself becomes the barrier ( Bourke, Integrity Matters, n.d. ).

Providing support to students throughout a course or curriculum mitigates academic dishonesty in summative assessments. When students feel seen and supported with formative feedback in their educational journey, they are less likely to cheat. Additionally, rubrics can make clear the purpose of each question.

As stated, summative assessment is useful when the data exchange is maximized and accurate. Not only should it provide information about content mastery to instructors, it can also act as a reservoir of statistics about learning trends, item analysis, and exam effectiveness. Finally, and when possible, summative exams can take on formative qualities when feedback is provided. All of these data points directly benefit student learning.

Because it is a platform to demonstrate a culmination of knowledge, designing summative assessments is particularly critical to make the test accessible and inclusive for all different types of learners, and thus promote accurate measurement and data insights. Exam design principles include:

  • Test what has been taught; aligning summative assessment with instruction models and promotes integrity for students.
  • Design assessments that focus on measuring both breadth and depth of student knowledge and consider eliminating components that do not inform learning. Offer a variety of assessment formats. Multiple-choice questions can effectively breadth of knowledge in a limited time while short-answer and long-answer formats can evaluate higher-order thinking.
  • Offering a variety of formats and questions styles within a summative assessment can also accommodate different learning styles. When diverse formats are offered, a larger spectrum of learning can be assessed. Additionally, diverse formats provide different ways for students to demonstrate their learning.
  • And consider eliminating grading on a curve, which can increase competition between students, some of whom may be cheating ( UC Berkeley, 2020 ). Researchers Schinske and Tanner state, “Moving away from curving sets the expectation that all students have the opportunity to achieve the highest possible grade” ( Schinske & Tanner, 2014 ).
  • A rubric, too, benefits students by clarifying expectations and acts as added assurance that tests align to previously-communicated learning goals.

Finally, the summative assessment itself is a living document, one that can be continuously optimized.

Analyze student responses to ensure assessments are fair, and to examine answer patterns to see if shortcut solutions have been utilized. Item analysis , or formally examining student responses and patterns, can show whether or not summative assessments are accurately assessing student knowledge. The data (Did every student get one particular question wrong? Did every student get one particular question correct? What kinds of answers are your test questions eliciting? Did you get the answers you expected?) can inform both exam design and teaching. Furthermore, item analysis supports exam robustness by highlighting questions on exams that may need adjustment.

Category tagging , a feature in ExamSoft assessment software, can offer more in-depth insights into future testing. A nursing program, for instance, can evaluate readiness for certification and the strength of curriculum to prepare students for standardized exams. Of course, category tagging can also fortify summative assessment within the curriculum.

In conclusion, summative assessments function largely as a way to evaluate learning at critical learning junctions, whether at the end of a term, end of a curriculum, or for advancement into the next level of schooling or licensure. The nature of summative assessments make them high-stakes, sometimes to the extent that they can negatively impact all prior learning. Moreover, they lack the opportunity for feedback, given their position in the educational journey.

That said, summative assessments are not wholly an endpoint. They are an intersection rich with data for educators to inform teaching, curriculum, and exam design. For students, too, there can be opportunities to learn, either by feedback or via data analysis, their own learning gaps and how to bridge them.

When educators maximize the potential of summative assessment, they can foster learning.

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  • Summative Assessment Techniques: An Overview

This article provides an overview of summative assessment techniques and how they can be used in the classroom.

Summative Assessment Techniques: An Overview

Assessment is an integral part of any teaching and learning process. Summative assessment techniques are a key component of this process, as they provide a way to measure student understanding and performance. This article provides an overview of summative assessment techniques, their importance and uses, as well as strategies for effective implementation. It is an invaluable resource for teachers and educators looking to enhance their assessment strategies and ensure their students are receiving the best possible instruction.

Summative assessment is a critical part of the educational process, providing feedback to both teachers and students about the effectiveness of instruction and learning. For those looking for additional help, Spires online astronomy tutors can provide personalized guidance and support. This type of assessment focuses on measuring student performance at the end of a unit, semester, or course. Summative assessments typically involve standardized tests, such as multiple-choice, short answer, and essay questions. They can also involve portfolios and projects that allow students to demonstrate their understanding in an authentic context. By using summative assessments, teachers can assess student progress and identify areas for improvement in instruction.

Essays allow for students to demonstrate their writing skills and critical thinking. The benefits of summative assessment include providing feedback on student progress, providing an accurate picture of student achievement, and allowing teachers to identify areas where students may need additional help or support. Summative assessment also allows teachers to adjust their teaching methods accordingly. When implementing summative assessment techniques, it is important to ensure that they are fair and valid.

This means that they should accurately reflect the knowledge and skills that students should have acquired from their learning experience. It is also important that the assessment materials are appropriate for the age and ability level of the students. In order to make summative assessment more effective, teachers should ensure that students are familiar with the assessment materials prior to beginning the assessment. This can be done through providing practice materials or providing instruction on how to use the assessment materials.

In addition, teachers should provide clear guidelines for students on how to approach the assessment materials. This will help ensure that students understand what is expected of them during the assessment and will help them to perform better. Finally, teachers should provide feedback on student performance following the completion of the summative assessment. This feedback should focus on areas where students performed well and areas which need improvement.

Benefits of Summative Assessment

Through summative assessment, teachers can receive feedback on student performance and identify areas where students may need additional help or support. This type of assessment is also beneficial in that it provides an accurate picture of student achievement. Summative assessments provide teachers with the data they need to inform instruction and drive their lesson plans. By assessing student performance with summative assessment, teachers can determine how well students are mastering content, identify areas of weakness, and adjust instructional strategies as needed.

Another benefit of summative assessments is that they can be used to assess the effectiveness of teaching strategies. By assessing student performance after instruction has occurred, teachers can gain insight into which strategies are working and which may need to be adjusted or changed. Finally, summative assessments can be used to assess student knowledge over an extended period of time. By administering multiple assessments throughout the school year, teachers can track student progress and ensure they are meeting learning objectives.

Making Summative Assessment Effective

This will help ensure that students have a better understanding of what is expected of them and can prepare accordingly. Finally, teachers should provide feedback on the summative assessment. This feedback should be timely and provide students with an understanding of their performance on the assessment. This feedback should also address any areas where students struggled and provide suggestions on how they can improve their performance in the future. In conclusion, summative assessment techniques can be beneficial for both teachers and students. By using these techniques effectively, teachers can gain insight into student achievement, adjust their teaching methods accordingly, and provide feedback on student progress.

Additionally, summative assessment can help identify areas where students may need additional help or support. Thus, it is important for teachers to make sure they are using summative assessment techniques in an effective way to ensure the best outcomes for both students and teachers.

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Shahid Lakha

Shahid Lakha

Shahid Lakha is a seasoned educational consultant with a rich history in the independent education sector and EdTech. With a solid background in Physics, Shahid has cultivated a career that spans tutoring, consulting, and entrepreneurship. As an Educational Consultant at Spires Online Tutoring since October 2016, he has been instrumental in fostering educational excellence in the online tutoring space. Shahid is also the founder and director of Specialist Science Tutors, a tutoring agency based in West London, where he has successfully managed various facets of the business, including marketing, web design, and client relationships. His dedication to education is further evidenced by his role as a self-employed tutor, where he has been teaching Maths, Physics, and Engineering to students up to university level since September 2011. Shahid holds a Master of Science in Photon Science from the University of Manchester and a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of Bath.

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  • Formative and Summative Assessment

Assessment is the process of gathering data. More specifically, assessment is the ways instructors gather data about their teaching and their students’ learning (Hanna & Dettmer, 2004). The data provide a picture of a range of activities using different forms of assessment such as: pre-tests, observations, and examinations. Once these data are gathered, you can then evaluate the student’s performance. Evaluation, therefore, draws on one’s judgment to determine the overall value of an outcome based on the assessment data. It is in the decision-making process then, where we design ways to improve the recognized weaknesses, gaps, or deficiencies.

Types of Assessment

There are three types of assessment: diagnostic, formative, and summative. Although are three are generally referred to simply as assessment, there are distinct differences between the three.

There are three types of assessment: diagnostic, formative, and summative.

Diagnostic Assessment

Diagnostic assessment can help you identify your students’ current knowledge of a subject, their skill sets and capabilities, and to clarify misconceptions before teaching takes place (Just Science Now!, n.d.). Knowing students’ strengths and weaknesses can help you better plan what to teach and how to teach it.

Types of Diagnostic Assessments

  • Pre-tests (on content and abilities)
  • Self-assessments (identifying skills and competencies)
  • Discussion board responses (on content-specific prompts)
  • Interviews (brief, private, 10-minute interview of each student)

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment provides feedback and information during the instructional process, while learning is taking place, and while learning is occurring. Formative assessment measures student progress but it can also assess your own progress as an instructor. For example, when implementing a new activity in class, you can, through observation and/or surveying the students, determine whether or not the activity should be used again (or modified). A primary focus of formative assessment is to identify areas that may need improvement. These assessments typically are not graded and act as a gauge to students’ learning progress and to determine teaching effectiveness (implementing appropriate methods and activities).

A primary focus of formative assessment is to identify areas that may need improvement.

Types of Formative Assessment

  • Observations during in-class activities; of students non-verbal feedback during lecture
  • Homework exercises as review for exams and class discussions)
  • Reflections journals that are reviewed periodically during the semester
  • Question and answer sessions, both formal—planned and informal—spontaneous
  • Conferences between the instructor and student at various points in the semester
  • In-class activities where students informally present their results
  • Student feedback collected by periodically answering specific question about the instruction and their self-evaluation of performance and progress

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment takes place after the learning has been completed and provides information and feedback that sums up the teaching and learning process. Typically, no more formal learning is taking place at this stage, other than incidental learning which might take place through the completion of projects and assignments.

Rubrics, often developed around a set of standards or expectations, can be used for summative assessment. Rubrics can be given to students before they begin working on a particular project so they know what is expected of them (precisely what they have to do) for each of the criteria. Rubrics also can help you to be more objective when deriving a final, summative grade by following the same criteria students used to complete the project.

Rubrics also can help you to be more objective when deriving a final, summative grade by following the same criteria students used to complete the project.

High-stakes summative assessments typically are given to students at the end of a set point during or at the end of the semester to assess what has been learned and how well it was learned. Grades are usually an outcome of summative assessment: they indicate whether the student has an acceptable level of knowledge-gain—is the student able to effectively progress to the next part of the class? To the next course in the curriculum? To the next level of academic standing? See the section “Grading” for further information on grading and its affect on student achievement.

Summative assessment is more product-oriented and assesses the final product, whereas formative assessment focuses on the process toward completing the product. Once the project is completed, no further revisions can be made. If, however, students are allowed to make revisions, the assessment becomes formative, where students can take advantage of the opportunity to improve.

Summative assessment...assesses the final product, whereas formative assessment focuses on the process...

Types of Summative Assessment

  • Examinations (major, high-stakes exams)
  • Final examination (a truly summative assessment)
  • Term papers (drafts submitted throughout the semester would be a formative assessment)
  • Projects (project phases submitted at various completion points could be formatively assessed)
  • Portfolios (could also be assessed during it’s development as a formative assessment)
  • Performances
  • Student evaluation of the course (teaching effectiveness)
  • Instructor self-evaluation

Assessment measures if and how students are learning and if the teaching methods are effectively relaying the intended messages. Hanna and Dettmer (2004) suggest that you should strive to develop a range of assessments strategies that match all aspects of their instructional plans. Instead of trying to differentiate between formative and summative assessments it may be more beneficial to begin planning assessment strategies to match instructional goals and objectives at the beginning of the semester and implement them throughout the entire instructional experience. The selection of appropriate assessments should also match course and program objectives necessary for accreditation requirements.

Hanna, G. S., & Dettmer, P. A. (2004). Assessment for effective teaching: Using context-adaptive planning. Boston, MA: Pearson A&B.

Just Science Now! (n.d.). Assessment-inquiry connection. https://www.justsciencenow.com/assessment/index.htm

Selected Resources

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Suggested citation

Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2012). Formative and summative assessment. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide

  • Active Learning Activities
  • Assessing Student Learning
  • Direct vs. Indirect Assessment
  • Examples of Classroom Assessment Techniques
  • Peer and Self-Assessment
  • Reflective Journals and Learning Logs
  • Rubrics for Assessment
  • The Process of Grading

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What is Summative Assesment? Examples, Importance & More

Report card after summative assessment

Teaching is not just an intellectual process anymore. Today, it is also a logical process. Teachers need to assess individual students’ performance with tools like a summative assessment to provide customized classroom learning environments. 

Therefore, modern teachers use formative and summative assessments to improve learning standards. Both assessments help educators achieve high learning goals in the classrooms. 

But which assessment method is better in today’s education system?

This blog post will help teachers and learners understand summative assessments. We will also share the differences between formative and summative assessments . 

What is Summative Assessment? 

What is summative assessment infographic by Chapman King

A summative assessment is an evaluation conducted at the end of a course or academic year. It depends on the grading and scoring system. Some of the common summative assessments are:

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  • Mid-term tests
  • Reports 
  • Detailed papers
  • End-of-class tests, etc. 

The main objective of summative assessment is to evaluate the overall progress. This assessment shows how much a student has learned through a course, subject, or project in a particular timeline. 

These assessments have high value as they take place in a controlled environment. You can use summative assessments to evaluate the comprehensive performance of the classroom to gain more insight. In a way, summative assessments can help you in two ways:

  • Evaluate what your students have learned during the course
  • Understand how prepared your students are for the next academic year 

Summative Assessment Examples

Notes scattered on a table

1. In-depth reports

A typical SA example is asking students to pick a topic and write a full report. It helps students research in-depth and use their creativity to write a report. You can evaluate passion, intelligence, and overall student performance through reports. 

2. Projects 

You can give group or individual projects to your students. This SA will show what your students have learned throughout the year and how they can work together.  

3. Personal evaluation papers

This summative assessment example is helpful for financial, business, or other technical subjects. In this, you can understand the in-depth opinions of students. These papers allow students to evaluate topics through different perspectives and build an unbiased view.  

Why is Summative Assessment Important?

A kid giving an exam an important summative assessment

Today, many scholars are against summative assessments. They think it lacks real-time performance evaluation benefits like formative assessments. 

However, we will suggest to teachers that both assessments are equally important to sustain in the modern education system. If formative assessments help monitor progress in real-time , then summative assessments set benchmarks to evaluate performance. 

Summative assessments help to improve curriculums. When you note the gap between students’ knowledge and learning targets, this will indicate you want to change your curriculum. You can better plan the curriculum with summative assessments to conduct formative assessments. 

Summative Assessment Benefits 

A student throwing notes in the air

Summative assessments can benefit both teachers and students in many ways, such as:

1. Motivates to study

For many students, periodic evaluation is the best motivation to study. Many students can only perform under pressure. So, summative assessment is the perfect motivation for some students to study hard. 

2. Implements learning 

Summative assessments allow students to implement their learning in a real problem. For example, memorizing the periodic table is one thing. However using the periodic table data in a chemical equation is different.  

Thus, summative assessments like multiple-choice tests allow students to test their learning. 

3. Finds learning gaps 

Summative assessment provides an overview of your class’s performance. This will help you evaluate the weaknesses and strengths of your students. 

For example, you have taken a multiplication and factorization test in your class. Most students score high in multiplication tests, and only 50% score higher in factorization. This tells you that you need to improve your class’s teaching factorization. 

4. Identifies teaching gaps 

Summative assessment helps evaluate learning gaps and teaching gaps. It works as a wake-up call when you grade your student’s tests and the test results are not as expected.

This means your current teaching methods are not up to the mark. You need to adopt a new teaching method or strategy in your classroom, like:

  • Use visual learning components
  • Provide a stimulating learning environment 
  • Use different summative assessment methods, etc. 

5. Provides insight 

Summative assessments provide comprehensive insights to teachers. It shows what worked and what didn’t work in the academic year. Teachers can use this information to tweak their curriculum to raise learning standards for the following year. 

6. Controls learning environment 

Summative assessment scores provide standards for local, national, and global evaluation. Depending upon the standard scores, the government can fund the schools. 

Summative Assessment Limitations 

Two kids studying together

1. Reduces creativity 

As strict criteria are set for summative assessment, it reduces creative involvement. Students have little room to showcase their creativity when following a standard assessment method. 

2. Reflects on teaching ability 

Teachers only have one chance to evaluate students’ performance, which reduces their teaching standards. They can’t make real-time changes in their teaching methods. 

3. Can be biased 

Summative assessments can be biased. If teachers want, they can favor some students while grading their tests. The success of summative assessments depends upon the integrity and honesty of the teacher. 

Creative Ways to Use Summative Assessment in Your Classroom

Kids making crafts

Indeed, summative assessment has limitations that can impact teaching and learning standards. But if you twist up a standard summative assessment method using your creativity, you can gain immense value from SA. Here are a few creative ways to use summative assessments:

1. Short films 

Instead of MCQs or essays, you can ask your students to record their reports on a camera. This way, students can use their creativity to make a unique report. For example, they can use visual charts, stories, or interviews to make their points compelling. 

2. Podcasts 

You can give a group or individual project to students to create podcasts. It is an interactive way to demonstrate learning and creative skills. 

3. Infographics

Creating visual infographics for the final project allows students to show creativity. Students can use attractive visuals to cover different aspects of a topic, like definitions, statistics, etc. 

4. Venn diagrams

Venn diagrams are an old yet effective way to visualize learning. This comparison technique helps compare different histories, social studies, and other concepts. 

5. Living museum

You can ask students to create a small popup museum in the classrooms. This will help you teach one concept to the entire class excitingly. For teaching history or science concepts, this summative assessment mode is perfect. 

Differences Between Summative Assessment and Formative Assessment

Are you confused about using summative or formative assessment in your class? Well, let’s understand what is difference between summative and formative assessment to get a better idea:

A table of differences between formative summative assessment

1. Time for evaluation 

Teachers use formative assessments multiple times during lessons or chapters to evaluate students’ performance. 

The summative assessment comes after completing a project to evaluate a student’s overall understanding. 

2. Learning level 

Formative assessment means constant monitoring of a student’s performance during a lesson. This allows teachers to evaluate a student’s learning level at different stages. Thus, they make instant decisions to improve the learning standards further. 

In contrast, the summative assessment provides a one-time wholesome overview of the student’s performance. This is useful to know the complete learning level of your class. 

3. Scale 

The summative assessment covers a larger area than the formative assessment. For example, teaching a math chapter and taking a test is a formative assessment. But when you take a test of 5-6 chapters together, that’s a summative assessment. 

4. Evaluation style 

Formative assessment is helpful to monitor the progress of individual students. It helps teachers to catch problems using the right approach. 

Summative assessment is a grading system in which overall performance is graded. It helps to evaluate the understanding of a student during a specific period. 

5. Objective

Formative assessment is designed to promote student-centered learning. When teachers evaluate individual students’ performance, they can use personalized teaching methods based on a student’s weaknesses and strengths. 

On the flip side, summative assessment is targeted to provide absolute value. It emphasizes a student’s grade at the end of the academic year. 

Which Is Better –  Formative or Summative Assessment?

Both formative and summative assessments are essential. Teachers need to conduct both assessments in classrooms to improve learning levels. 

Using formative assessments , teachers can keep constant tabs on students’ progress and make instant decisions to improve their performance. At the same time, teachers should evaluate the complete performance of students to ensure that they understand the concepts before their next academic year.

So, it would help if you balanced formative and summative assessment strategies to drive maximum results from your students. 

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SplashLearn’s tool for teachers has elements that cater to both summative and formative assessments. With practice sessions and assignments that can be used after completion of every topic, students will solve their doubts time after time. With end-of-the-year assessments, you can ensure your students are well-prepared for the next academic year! 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are examples of formative and summative assessments .

Examples of Formative assessment are homework assignments, quizzes, polls, surveys, entry slips, exit slips, etc. Summative assessment examples are – final projects, reports, presentations, essays, etc.  

How do you make a summative assessment? 

  • Focus on a child’s strengths and make them stand out. 
  • Draw parents’ attention towards their children’s knowledge level. 
  • Summative assessment should be free from bias. 
  • Write in a clean and easy-to-understand manner. 

What makes a good summative assessment? 

A good summative assessment reflects a wide range of skills of a student. Authenticity and reliability are the two traits of an excellent summative assessment that helps to improve the overall learning level in a classroom. 

summative assessment strategy

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summative assessment strategy

SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENTS: MEANING, EXAMPLES AND TYPES

As an educator, you must have heard of formative and summative evaluations. But, do you know what they are and…

Summative Assessment Definition

As an educator, you must have heard of formative and summative evaluations . But, do you know what they are and how they differ from one another?

Formative and summative evaluations are two overlapping ways of assessing pupils. Both formative and summative evaluations complement each other while examining a learner’ progress. The end goal of both is to establish the strengths, weaknesses and developmental patterns of students. Formative and summative evaluations are designed so that each type of evaluation gives actionable insights to educationists.

A holistic assessment practice would combine the best features of both formative and summative evaluations , depending on how they can contribute toward the end goal. A combination of the two can improve educational attainment levels and maximize efficacy.

The Meaning Of Summative Assessments

Definition of summative assessment, summative assessment meaning, summative assessment examples, types of summative assessments, benefits of summative assessment, how to use summative assessment, characteristics of summative assessment, assess and evaluate with harappa.

Which are the most effective summative evaluations ? Which formative evaluations are more creative? It appears that summative evaluation has a much greater online presence. Educators are liberally using online tools to track summative evaluations compared to formative evaluations.

Summative assessments are evaluative instead of diagnostic and help ascertain if the stated objectives of the course are being met. They help evaluate the performance of the learner against a predetermined benchmark. The stakes for such assessments are usually very high and have a high value point. These consist of clear instructions and grading rubric to see how much the student has understood and retained. Rubric is a tool that describes the instructor’s performance expectations from an assignment.

Summative assessments can be complemented with materials that help the teacher analyze results and take better actions for strategic learning. This strategy is also now also being incorporated in a number of e-learning modules.

Let’s dive deeper by examining the key differences between summative and formative evaluations , the different types of summative evaluations, the purpose of summative assessments and how summative evaluation is essential to learner development. We’ll gloss over the advantages and disadvantages of summative assessment , and finally review some examples.

A simple definition of summative assessment is that it helps evaluate student learning, knowledge gained and proficiency at the end of an instructional course or learning program. The definition of summative assessment is better understood if we also understand the meaning of formative assessments. When both approaches are combined, chances of success are maximized.

The meaning of summative assessment is that it judges a student’s level of learning and academic prowess at the end of the year or term of learning. This is done by comparing the evaluation against a set, universal standard or benchmark that’s been established in advance.

Now that we’ve outlined the meaning of summative assessment , let’s view some examples.

You can find many examples of summative assessment . Here we’ll list some summative assessment examples that are directly related to student performance. These are:

  • Half-yearly, mid-term and end-of-term exams
  •  Unit tests or chapter tests
  • Projects, assignments and creative portfolios
  • Tests that are standardized and demonstrate the proficiency of a school. These are often used in admissions. Some of these summative assessment examples are SAT, GCSEs and A-Levels

Summative assessments are indispensable within the learning framework and every individual should acknowledge their profound importance in learning and development of an individual.

There can be several types of summative assessment . Some of these are:

  • Teacher-designed quizzes and tests that include short essays, multiple-choice questions, short answers, matching activities and fill in the blanks
  • Writing and analytical skills are tested through research papers, media reviews, articles, blogs, pamphlets and brochures
  • Descriptive presentations for various audiences can include role play, drama, panel discussions, exhibitions, clay models, debates, musical pieces and dioramas
  • Technical creations such as machines, blueprints, spreadsheets, computer programs, podcasts, web pages, collages and channels
  • Kinesthetic practices such as aerobics and dance are a unique type of summative assessment

These different types of summative assessment should be designed to align with the goals and outcomes that are needed from these assessments.

There are a host of summative assessment benefits that can help students and teachers reap long-term rewards. These are:

1. Student Motivation

The importance of summative assessment is in its ability to keep students motivated to study throughout the year. Good grades can benefit students and encourage them to put in more effort. For example, SAT practice tests are usually associated with a higher-than-average point increase.

2. Applying Learning

Summative assessments and evaluations are not just about memorizing math multiplication tables. Well-designed assessments can help students apply these skills to the real world. Tests such as multiple-choice questions help students critically analyze what they have learnt and apply that knowledge.

3. Identifying Gaps In Learning

Another importance of summative assessments is that they identify any learning gaps and help bridge them. Most teachers conduct unit tests at the end of each chapter to understand how much students have retained and then progress to the next unit. The students who lag behind can be given extra coaching or encouragement to catch up with the rest of the class.

4. Identifying Teaching Gaps

Another important benefit of summative assessments is that they reveal teaching gaps. Teaching styles may not necessarily be perfect and sometimes teachers miss their mark. One purpose of summative assessment could be making the learning program more student-friendly. If all students are faring poorly, then the grading is probably not related to study time. Some ways by which gaps in teaching can be addressed are:

  • Including visual aids in the program
  • Excluding or including word problems
  • Incorporating interesting and innovative teaching styles that facilitate better student assessment

5. Giving Valuable Insights

Summative assessments benefits also include giving evaluators necessary insights and feedback on student progress and performance. It can highlight what worked and what didn’t. The management can make informed and calculated decisions on which part of the curriculum needs tweaking. This makes it easier on both students and evaluators.The importance of summative assessments can’t be overlooked. Some summative assessments are so well-structured that they give valuable data to academicians at the national and global levels. The entire curriculum can be overhauled if need be. The average test scores of a particular school impact its overall grading. This also determines whether the academic institution will continue to be eligible for further funding or attract the same caliber of student.

The purpose of summative assessment is to enhance learning. The structured and standardized exams that form a part of the curriculum leave little room for innovation or imagination. However, there are other ways by which summative assessments can be made extremely interesting.

We are entering the virtual era where online platforms for student learning abound.Digital literacy can help to re-engage students and divert their attention from the conventional classroom formats. Dragging and dropping answers, MCQs and podcasts are just a few of the tools that can foster learning through summative assessments. Students should be allowed to express themselves comfortably.

Multi-modal summative assessments test the learners’ prowess in different ways. Teachers can get an accurate picture of how much the student has grasped. Final exams can be set in a format that prepares students for job applications and increases their vocational proficiency.

Ideally, a combination of formative and summative assessments is needed to get the best results.

Summative assessments usually have a higher value or stakes compared to formative assessments. Here are some characteristics of summative assessments that you need to know:

  • One purpose of a summative assessment is using  rubric to lay out the expected criteria of performance for different grade ranges
  • Questions have a clear design and meaning, allowing students to creatively express themselves
  • Most summative assessments are structured in a way to assess comprehension. These give opportunities to students to consider courses as a holistic element, making broader connections and exhibiting specific skills
  • The parameters of summative assessments are usually extremely well-defined. Such parameters include response time, grading method, time and date. This allows students with disabilities to adapt and attempt tests with the right support
  • Blind grading techniques are also a part of summative assessments. These give unbiased feedback to students, eliminating the possibility of favoritism

While there are advantages and disadvantages of summative assessments , the pros outnumber the cons. Overall, a comprehensive summative assessment program gives the best insights into where someone stands compared to their peers. It’s a well established way of transforming the classroom environment.

For students and teachers, learning and evaluating is a continuous process. It can be liberating and empowering when you have the chance to build a new skill set. Harappa’s Inspiring faculty program teaches how to learn from experience, get critical insights, reflect on your performance and acquire a new edge.

These insights can be applied to your career and vocation. Assessment tools can open a whole new world of agile learning and adept performance. Our courses offer a strategic path to success. With resilience and diligence, you can take on newer assessment challenges that will prepare you well for the future. Push yourself to learn and grow. Enroll today and unlock expert advice from some of our leading faculty.

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7 Smart, Fast Ways to Do Formative Assessment

Within these methods you’ll find close to 40 tools and tricks for finding out what your students know while they’re still learning.

Formative assessment—discovering what students know while they’re still in the process of learning it—can be tricky. Designing just the right assessment can feel high stakes—for teachers, not students—because we’re using it to figure out what comes next. Are we ready to move on? Do our students need a different path into the concepts? Or, more likely, which students are ready to move on and which need a different path?

When it comes to figuring out what our students really know, we have to look at more than one kind of information. A single data point—no matter how well designed the quiz, presentation, or problem behind it—isn’t enough information to help us plan the next step in our instruction.

Add to that the fact that different learning tasks are best measured in different ways, and we can see why we need a variety of formative assessment tools we can deploy quickly, seamlessly, and in a low-stakes way—all while not creating an unmanageable workload. That’s why it’s important to keep it simple: Formative assessments generally just need to be checked, not graded, as the point is to get a basic read on the progress of individuals, or the class as a whole.

7 Approaches to Formative Assessment

1. Entry and exit slips: Those marginal minutes at the beginning and end of class can provide some great opportunities to find out what kids remember. Start the class off with a quick question about the previous day’s work while students are getting settled—you can ask differentiated questions written out on chart paper or projected on the board, for example.

Exit slips can take lots of forms beyond the old-school pencil and scrap paper. Whether you’re assessing at the bottom of Bloom’s taxonomy or the top, you can use tools like Padlet or Poll Everywhere , or measure progress toward attainment or retention of essential content or standards with tools like Google Classroom’s Question tool , Google Forms with Flubaroo , and Edulastic , all of which make seeing what students know a snap.

A quick way to see the big picture if you use paper exit tickets is to sort the papers into three piles : Students got the point; they sort of got it; and they didn’t get it. The size of the stacks is your clue about what to do next.

No matter the tool, the key to keeping students engaged in the process of just-walked-in or almost-out-the-door formative assessment is the questions. Ask students to write for one minute on the most meaningful thing they learned. You can try prompts like:

  • What are three things you learned, two things you’re still curious about, and one thing you don’t understand?
  • How would you have done things differently today, if you had the choice?
  • What I found interesting about this work was...
  • Right now I’m feeling...
  • Today was hard because...

Or skip the words completely and have students draw or circle emojis to represent their assessment of their understanding.

2. Low-stakes quizzes and polls: If you want to find out whether your students really know as much as you think they know, polls and quizzes created with Socrative or Quizlet or in-class games and tools like Quizalize , Kahoot , FlipQuiz, Gimkit , Plickers , and Flippity can help you get a better sense of how much they really understand. (Grading quizzes but assigning low point values is a great way to make sure students really try: The quizzes matter, but an individual low score can’t kill a student’s grade.) Kids in many classes are always logged in to these tools, so formative assessments can be done very quickly. Teachers can see each kid’s response, and determine both individually and in aggregate how students are doing.

Because you can design the questions yourself, you determine the level of complexity. Ask questions at the bottom of Bloom’s taxonomy and you’ll get insight into what facts, vocabulary terms, or processes kids remember. Ask more complicated questions (“What advice do you think Katniss Everdeen would offer Scout Finch if the two of them were talking at the end of chapter 3?”), and you’ll get more sophisticated insights.

3. Dipsticks: So-called alternative formative assessments are meant to be as easy and quick as checking the oil in your car, so they’re sometimes referred to as dipsticks . These can be things like asking students to:

  • write a letter explaining a key idea to a friend,
  • draw a sketch to visually represent new knowledge, or
  • do a think, pair, share exercise with a partner.

Your own observations of students at work in class can provide valuable data as well, but they can be tricky to keep track of. Taking quick notes on a tablet or smartphone, or using a copy of your roster, is one approach. A focused observation form is more formal and can help you narrow your note-taking focus as you watch students work.

4. Interview assessments: If you want to dig a little deeper into students’ understanding of content, try discussion-based assessment methods. Casual chats with students in the classroom can help them feel at ease even as you get a sense of what they know, and you may find that five-minute interview assessments work really well. Five minutes per student would take quite a bit of time, but you don’t have to talk to every student about every project or lesson.

You can also shift some of this work to students using a peer-feedback process called TAG feedback (Tell your peer something they did well, Ask a thoughtful question, Give a positive suggestion). When you have students share the feedback they have for a peer, you gain insight into both students’ learning.

For more introverted students—or for more private assessments—use Flipgrid , Explain Everything , or Seesaw to have students record their answers to prompts and demonstrate what they can do.

5. Methods that incorporate art: Consider using visual art or photography or videography as an assessment tool. Whether students draw, create a collage, or sculpt, you may find that the assessment helps them synthesize their learning . Or think beyond the visual and have kids act out their understanding of the content. They can create a dance to model cell mitosis or act out stories like Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” to explore the subtext.

6. Misconceptions and errors: Sometimes it’s helpful to see if students understand why something is incorrect or why a concept is hard. Ask students to explain the “ muddiest point ” in the lesson—the place where things got confusing or particularly difficult or where they still lack clarity. Or do a misconception check : Present students with a common misunderstanding and ask them to apply previous knowledge to correct the mistake, or ask them to decide if a statement contains any mistakes at all, and then discuss their answers.

7. Self-assessment: Don’t forget to consult the experts—the kids. Often you can give your rubric to your students and have them spot their strengths and weaknesses.

You can use sticky notes to get a quick insight into what areas your kids think they need to work on. Ask them to pick their own trouble spot from three or four areas where you think the class as a whole needs work, and write those areas in separate columns on a whiteboard. Have you students answer on a sticky note and then put the note in the correct column—you can see the results at a glance.

Several self-assessments let the teacher see what every kid thinks very quickly. For example, you can use colored stacking cups that allow kids to flag that they’re all set (green cup), working through some confusion (yellow), or really confused and in need of help (red).

Similar strategies involve using participation cards for discussions (each student has three cards—“I agree,” “I disagree,” and “I don’t know how to respond”) and thumbs-up responses (instead of raising a hand, students hold a fist at their belly and put their thumb up when they’re ready to contribute). Students can instead use six hand gestures to silently signal that they agree, disagree, have something to add, and more. All of these strategies give teachers an unobtrusive way to see what students are thinking.

No matter which tools you select, make time to do your own reflection to ensure that you’re only assessing the content and not getting lost in the assessment fog . If a tool is too complicated, is not reliable or accessible, or takes up a disproportionate amount of time, it’s OK to put it aside and try something different.

Ace the Test: Build a Summative Assessment Strategy with Study Island

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Every year, as the spring semester ticks by, testing season and all the emotions it brings slowly creep up on veteran and first-year teachers alike. Between lesson planning, pacing with curriculum guides, and providing targeted instruction for individual students’ needs, preparing for spring summative assessment season can quickly begin to feel overwhelming.

The good news is that there are tools that can help you! In our webinar Ace the Test: Developing a Test Prep Strategy with Study Island , we discussed how weaving some of Study Island’s key test preparation components into your daily instruction can ensure that your students are prepared to demonstrate mastery. And with a good strategy in place, you’ll save time and start to calm a few of those stressors you may be feeling.

How to Build a Summative Assessment Strategy with Study Island

summative assessment strategy

Ready to jump-start your summative assessment strategies? Check out the five-step strategy (with a bonus!) you’ll need to follow to weave test preparation into instruction with Study Island. You can also watch the full webinar recording for additional information.

Step 1: Identify your state’s priority standards

The first step in the summative assessment timeline is to identify your state’s priority standards if there are any (remember that not all states have priority standards). Some states might call these “essential standards” or “power standards.” These are the essential learnings a student must master to advance to the next grade level and are highly prioritized on summative exams.

If you’re not sure what your priority standards are, another helpful approach could be analyzing your state’s released tests to identify which standards are assessed most prominently on the test. There will usually be a few key standards that are covered more than others. Focus your efforts on the standards that correspond to the most questions on the test to get the most out of your test-prep efforts.

Step 2: Assess standards knowledge with a Built Test in Study Island

Once you’ve identified the standards to focus on, it’s time to see what your students already know. This will serve as a starting point to assess where any blind spots may lie or, on the flip side, determine the skills that don’t need to be covered because your students have already mastered them!

In the webinar, our Study Island expert, Wendy Teffeteller, suggests starting this process by using the Suggested Topics Report if you’ve already been using Study Island frequently. This report gives educators a better understanding of which topics students need a little extra support with. 

Once you’ve identified where students need additional practice, you can head over to the Built Test library to create customized and unique assessments that leverage questions from Study Island’s standards-based items for a comprehensive test you can trust. The best part? You won’t have to grade the tests; the results are available in real-time.

summative assessment strategy

If this is your first time getting back into Study Island for the school year, don’t worry! You can still use the Built Test library to create a test with questions from each of your academic standards.

Step 3: Measure and review success with reporting

Now that you’ve assessed your students with a Built Test, you’re ready to analyze the results. Remember, by using a Built Test, the data will already be populated into a robust, easy-to-read report as soon as the students finish the exam.

Another benefit of utilizing a Built Test in Study Island is accessing the Item Analysis Report, which breaks down your students’ results by topic and academic standard. Even further, you can see the questions that students missed on these topics and standards to help you diagnose why students saw less success on some questions.

The ability to dial in on these details in the Built Test Reports is particularly helpful when strategizing assigned practice for each student, as you likely won’t have time to cover every standard that will be featured on the state assessments. Pinpointing what needs to be reviewed further and what doesn’t will save you precious time during summative assessment season!

summative assessment strategy

Step 4: Assign Study Island practice and instruction

You’ve pre-assessed your students with a custom test and analyzed the data to determine your plan—now, it’s time to get to work. Study Island makes this transition seamless by easily building practice into your everyday instruction . 

Assigning practice and instruction assignments built off standards-aligned work is easy in Study Island, as you can assign work directly to individual students from your Teacher Page or to the whole class in Class Manager. Just as you can choose the questions for your assessments in Built Tests, you can also make the assigned practice fit your classroom needs. One size doesn’t fit all, and Study Island knows that.

You can also customize options like the pass percentage rate to ensure your students are mastering the skill to a standard your school expects. As students answer questions correctly, they’re rewarded with a quick, one-minute game before heading to the next question. Game-based motivation is an exciting way to keep students engaged during test-prep season, especially as the big state assessment creeps closer.

summative assessment strategy

Step 5: Reassess with a Group Session

After students have practiced their skills and mastered concepts (earning those Blue Ribbons!), it’s time to let them show what they know. Instead of using another Built Test, Wendy suggests using Study Island’s Group Sessions , as you’re still measuring students’ standards mastery while keeping students excited and engaged with a little friendly classroom competition.

If you’re new to Group Sessions, this feature uses stimulating collaborative practice to challenge students while they demonstrate their standards-mastery skills. Group Sessions also serve up results immediately so you can review missed questions with the class on the fly, making it the perfect opportunity to address misconceptions. Determining how to best utilize the short amount of time between the present and the state exam is invaluable to educators and students, and Group Sessions allow you to accomplish that.

summative assessment strategy

BONUS: Allow students to work in the topic tree to earn blue ribbons

If you’re finding that you have students who’ve mastered all the essential standards you want to cover for summative assessment prep, but you still want them to shore up any other missing pieces, you’re in luck. With the topic tree, students can self-select topics for a specific grade and subject, earning any Blue Ribbons they might be missing. Keeping students practicing in all the right areas before the big test is essential, and this is another option to help students keep their skills sharp.

summative assessment strategy

Another great way to utilize the topic tree to fill gaps is by creating a Study Island Blue Ribbon contest. Adding an incentive will motivate students and bring a sense of community to your classroom. If that sounds like something you’d like to enjoy, but you’re not sure where to begin, check out our Design Your Own Study Island Contest Toolkit !

Build a Summative Assessment with Study Island: Final Thoughts

Building summative assessment practice into your daily instruction can seem daunting, but breaking things down into a step-by-step process will make it quicker and easier. So, take a deep breath and follow this Study Island summative asssemsnet strategy; from there, your students will be well on their way to acing the test. You can also check out our Test-Prep Toolkit if you’re looking for more resources for assessment-preparation support.

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Effective assessment

Assessments of all types provide evidence for the practitioner to make decisions, often in collaboration with the learner, about the next steps forward in the learning program.

Assessment tasks

Assessments may be formal or informal and they may be formative or summative. Assessment tasks vary from informal questions during a learning activity to a formal written tests at the end of a learning program. Assessments of all types provide evidence for the practitioner to make decisions, often in collaboration with the learner, about the next steps forward in the learning program. 

​​​​​Formative assessment

Practitioners engage in both formal and informal assessment as learners progress along the learning continuum. Much informal assessment occurs during a class or group session when practitioners ask questions of individual learners attempting a learning activity and when they engage the group in discussion or ask them to perform an action, for example retrieve a file or throw a ball.  

Practitioners undertake informal assessments to understand how well the learner is progressing towards achieving the learning intentions and success criteria, and the assessment is often tailored to the individual learner. These formative assessments provide the practitioner with evidence of the learner’s progress and concepts, knowledge and skills not yet understood. The practitioner uses this evidence to adjust the learning program to meet the learner’s needs. 

Formative assessments may be conducted in a more formal manner. Formal assessments are often written tasks that require the learner to respond in a particular way, for example to write an essay, perform a dance, or create a movie. The response will be assessed according to a rubric or marking scheme developed against the success criteria.  

A common type of formal assessment is the written test. Writing effective written tests is a whole topic in itself and advice about these will be provided in the coming months. Tests are usually timed assessments and may comprise multiple choice, short answer, and extended answer questions sometimes in response to case studies or scenarios. The practitioner selects particular types of tests and questions depending on the purpose of the assessment, the depth of response required and how quickly they wish to give feedback. Multiple choice tests can be marked quickly and feedback given almost immediately but tests requiring extended responses take longer to mark and the feedback will be slower in reaching the learners.  

Summative assessment

Summative assessments are often developed as formal assessment tasks that provide evidence of the learner’s mastery of knowledge, skills and understandings at a point in time. They measure what the learner has achieved against the achievement standards. The practitioner may use summative assessments for reporting to the learner and their parents about the learner’s achievement.  

Whilst a summative assessment provides evidence of a learner’s achievement at a point in time, it can also be regarded as formative assessment since the evidence indicates what a learner has mastered and what knowledge, skills and understandings they still need to learn. As summative assessment usually occurs at the end of a learning program, unit or semester, the evidence can be provided to the next practitioner to work with the learner so that they will understand where the learner is on the learning continuum. They can then plan a more appropriate learning program. 

Qualities of effective formal assessment tasks

Practitioners may develop their own formal assessment tasks that are specific to their learning domain and the context in which they are teaching, for example assignments, role plays, and simulations. It should be noted that when practitioners engage learners in co-construction of an assessment task learners are more likely to take ownership of their learning. 

Effective assessment tasks are transparent and co-constructed so the learner knows the purpose of the task, what is expected and how the task will be assessed. 

The type of assessment task set depends on the purpose of the task. Sometimes there is an emphasis on tasks that are authentic, open-ended and require deep understanding of an area of content. In other circumstances administering a simple multiple choice assessment will provide the practitioner with useful information. An effective assessment is always appropriate to its purpose and able to be readily administered by the practitioner.  In selecting an appropriate assessment, consideration is given to these characteristics: reliability, validity, inclusivity, objectivity and practicality.  

Effective formal assessment tasks

Practitioners need access to a wide repertoire of assessment tasks to gather evidence of the different forms of learning across the curriculum. Increasingly as learning encourages more open-ended aspirations, tasks need to be developed that are fit for the purpose of gathering information about a wider variety of skills and understandings, for example critical and creative thinking and collaboration. 

Practitioners provide learners with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and understanding if the assessment tasks: 

  • directly relate to the learning intentions or particular learning outcome
  • are explicit about what learners are required to do
  • are time efficient and manageable
  • include clear and explicit assessment criteria
  • provide challenge for the full range of learners being assessed
  • are fair to all students including those with additional needs
  • are scored or marked based on transparent rubrics
  • are appropriate to where learners are in their learning

Assessment criteria

Learners can effectively demonstrate what they know, understand and can do if they are provided with, or collaboratively develop with the practitioner, the assessment criteria for an assessment task. Effective assessment criteria: 

  • are known to the learners​​
  • are clear and explicit
  • focus on the important criteria and substance of the task (not every tiny detail)
  • allow learners to achieve at a high level
  • provide for a range of quality in the work

Assessment materials

Informing learners about the materials or activities they are expected to submit for an assessment task ensures they have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and understanding in the form expected by the practitioner and that all elements of a task are completed. Learners should be provided with: 

  • stimulus material, case study, problem
  • questions/activities to be completed
  • assessment criteria or rubric​
  • list of what must be submitted​​

Designing effective assessment tasks

An assessment task is a tool, device or constructed situation that creates the opportunity for learners to demonstrate or display the nature and depth of their learning. 

Effective teachers design assessment tasks that require students to demonstrate knowledge and skills at man levels.  Tasks will include lower order processes like comprehension, and higher order processes like synthesis and evaluation. 

  • When teachers explain the connections between learning goals, learning activities and assessment tasks, then the students can use learning goals to monitor and progress their learning. 
  • Assessments should be:
  • Authentic, fit for purpose and reflect the learning program and objectives.
  • Aligned to curriculum achievement standards.
  • Integrated into a learning sequence.

Assessment tasks should include a  range of formative and summative assessment strategies, and teachers will be able to clearly explain the connections between learning goals, learning activities and assessment tasks so that students can use learning goals to monitor and progress their learning. 

Further reading

Department of Education and Training, 2018. High impact teaching strategies  Principle one 

Department of Education and Training, 2018. Practice principles for excellence in teaching and learning – Rigorous assessment practices - Principle six 

A rubric is a set of criteria for evaluating learner performance on an assessment task.

Rubrics are most effective when learners and practitioners co-construct them as they assist learners to take responsibility for their own learning.

​​​​​Assessing with rubrics

A rubric is a tool that describes the expected qualities to be evident in learner responses to an assessment task. It states the assessment criteria and the characteristics of different levels of performance in responses to the elements of the task. The assessment criteria should be drawn from the success criteria that accompany the learning intentions for the topic, unit of work or learning program.

A rubric provides a clear indication to learners of the expectations about the depth and breadth of knowledge and skills required to be demonstrated.  Learners can use the descriptions of performance characteristics to unpick the assessment criteria and develop understanding about what they mean.  Since the rubric is open and known to everyone the assessment is seen as fair.

When learners are involved in co-constructing the rubric with the practitioner at the beginning of the learning program they develop ownership of the assessment and the learning associated with it. They can use the rubric to plan, guide and review their work as they proceed thus becoming self-directed learners. Understanding the requirements and taking control of their learning engages and motivates learners to improve their performance.

A rubric enables learners to self-assess and review their work as they progress with the task. They may also seek feedback from peer review to indicate what others perceive they need to improve.

Rubrics may be designed in many formats and the example shows a common format.

Sample rubric template

This format suggests a simple marking scheme ranging from 4 for Very high to 1 for Low might be appropriate but this is not helpful to learners.

Each cell in the Rubric should contain a description of the characteristics of the work expected at that level.

This will provide feedback to the learner about what they know, understand and can do well and what they need to work on to progress their learning.

A rubric is most often used for the summative assessment but it is also a formative assessment tool in that the comments about the levels the learner has achieved provide feedback about what the learners needs to work on to progress their learning.

A rubric might also be completed sometime during the task as formative assessment to the learner and this can be compared with the final summative assessment to show how the learner has progressed during the course of the assessment period.

Tips for creating effective rubrics​

  • rubrics are more powerful when used in conjunction with samples of learners' work or exemplars
  • consider ready-made rubrics only as starting points –constantly modify them with learner input
  • consider having learners assess a model piece of work using a rubric
  • use rubrics as guides during the process of completing an assessment
  • practise creating rubrics with learners about a familiar topic, ensuring that you take into account developmental stages and background experience
  • collaborate with learners to put rubrics into learner-friendly language.
  • encourage learners to highlight or checkmark rubrics, using them as a visual guide while completing assessments

Further Reading

  • Saddler B. & Andrade H. (2004). 'The writing rubric​' in Educational Leadership. ASCD website The authors explain the value of rubrics in helping students to become self-regulated writers, providing feedback, their use in self-assessment and peer feedback and they provide an example rubric.
  • Marking and grading with rubrics

Assessment techniques

Effective questioning.

Much assessment occurs during classroom interactions between practitioner and learners. The quality of questions asked by the teacher and learners, the depth of answers supplied by learners, the quality of class discussions and the detailed observations practitioners make of learners at work all provide evidence of learning including shallow or deep understanding and misconceptions.

Questioning is quick, effective method for gathering evidence of learners' understanding of ideas, knowledge and concepts and skills to be applied. Effective questions encourage learners to think more deeply and provide the practitioner with greater insight into the level of understanding of whole groups and individuals.  The practitioner can quickly adjust their practice to meet the learner's needs as identified through using effective questioning techn​iques.​

Effective questioning techniques

​Learners' responses to questions give the practitioner feedback about their level of understanding if the questions are open-ended and formed to elicit informative responses.​

A more comprehensive discussion about the types of questions that encourage learners to think and reveal their level of understanding is found in the McComas and Abraham paper,  Asking more effective questions .

Digital portfolios , or learning journals in whi​ch learners record their learning goals and learning experiences provide the practitioner with useful evidence about what learners understand and what skills and knowledge they believe they need to develop.

  • Why rubrics?
  • 54 different examples of formative assessment

summative assessment strategy

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Home » Blog » Formative and Summative Assessments: Examples and Differences

Formative and Summative Assessments: Examples and Differences

formative vs summative

One of the primary benefits of using formative and summative assessments is that you aren’t forced to choose between them. They work exceptionally well when used in combination.

In this article, we’ll be breaking down precisely what formative and summative assessments are, the key differences between them, the benefits of their use, and providing a range of examples to help illustrate how they can be implemented in the classroom.

If you’re looking for an effective way to assess student learning and measure progress, read on to find out how formative and summative assessments can help.

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Formative assessments: definition and purpose.

Before we get into examples of their use, it’s essential that we first define precisely what both formative and summative assessments are and how they differ.

Formative assessments are employed regularly throughout a set learning period, be that a chapter, unit, or term, and help track progress and identify areas where students may struggle or need more support.

They also give the teacher and course designer the data they need to improve the learning experience and make any necessary changes that may be required throughout a system.

Rather than strict exams, formative assessments are usually relatively low-stakes, meaning they do not always need to be graded or even marked. This helps to create a non-threatening atmosphere and encourages students to take risks in their learning without fear of failure.

Formative assessment tasks usually rely on feedback from both students and the teacher, with learners receiving feedback on performance as soon as possible.

Uses of Formative Assessments

As mentioned, one of the primary uses of a formative assessment is to gauge student understanding and identify knowledge gaps that may need extra work.

Formative assessments can also be used to help inform curricular decisions, provide valuable data on the effectiveness of a course or lesson, and allow students to monitor their progress over time.

In addition, formative assessments are valuable in helping teachers gain real-time insight into a group’s collective understanding, allowing them to rapidly adapt their training or lessons accordingly.

Benefits of Using Formative Assessments

There are a range of benefits to employing formative assessments as part of your teaching strategy, including the following:

  • Improved student or employee engagement and motivation – By allowing students to track their learning journey, you can help them take ownership of their learning experience. This can be highly motivating for students, as it encourages a sense of progress and accomplishment.
  • Better assessment of real-world understanding – By using formative assessments that involve practical skills or application, you can better understand how well your students understand the real-world implications of the content they are studying.
  • Enables rapid identification of areas of difficulty for learners – Through formative assessments, you can quickly identify areas that students may be struggling with. This helps to ensure that these areas are addressed rapidly and effectively.
  • Allows teachers to tailor their lessons to the needs of the group – Teachers and course designers can use the data from formative assessments to tailor their studies according to the group’s needs and ensure that they meet all learning objectives.

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Examples of Formative Assessments

To clarify how formative assessments can be used, below are a few examples of tasks that could be used both in the classroom and in a digital learning environment.

Classroom-Based Examples

The following examples can be valuable to employ in a classroom setting:

1. Quizzes and polls

Simple and easy to execute, quizzes and polls are a low-effort way of gauging student understanding at regular intervals throughout a lesson.

2. Peer feedback and self-assessment

Peer-based feedback sessions and self-assessment questionnaires can help identify areas where students may need extra support or guidance while giving vital insight into how students perceive their progress.

3. Class discussions and debates

Encouraging students to discuss their different perspectives on a given topic or concept allows teachers to better understand how well they comprehend the material. It also gives students the opportunity to have their ideas heard and helps create a sense of solidarity within the classroom.

Online and Digital Examples

With the rise in the use of digital learning tools and technologies , there is also a range of online-based practices that can be used as formative assessments, including:

1. Interactive quizzes and games

The gamification of quizzes or other learning activities can provide an engaging way to assess student understanding and offer real-time feedback.

2. Virtual simulations and case studies

Where more vocational skills are being taught, virtual simulations and case studies can test students’ problem-solving capabilities in a low-stakes environment.

3. Online discussion forums and feedback platforms

One of the benefits of using an online learning platform is the wide range of features available to assess student understanding. Discussion forums, peer feedback platforms, and automated feedback systems can all be used as formative assessment tools.

definition

Summative Assessments: Definition and Purpose

Compared to formative assessments, summative assessments are conducted at the end of a defined learning period and often represent the final grade for the course.

To provide a comprehensive assessment grade, summative assessments evaluate a student’s overall understanding and performance of the skill or concept studied.

They can also be used to track educational progress over time, such as in standardised testing, as well as help to inform curricular decisions and the effectiveness of teaching methods.

Uses of Summative Assessments

Summative assessments test student mastery of content, assess their overall understanding of a subject or topic area and generally give them a final mark.

For teachers and course designers, a summative assessment allows them to measure the effectiveness of their teaching and make any necessary changes or improvements.

Summative assessments can also be used to compare student performance across different classes, courses, and programs.

Benefits of Summative Assessments

As with formative assessments, there is a range of benefits associated with the use of summative assessments, including:

  • Provides an overall assessment score – Summative assessments can provide a more accurate assessment of student understanding and performance, offering an overall grade or score.
  • Helps track educational progress over time – Educators can track student progress to identify improvement areas through standardised testing or other summative assessments.
  • Helps inform curricular decisions – Summative assessments can assess the effectiveness of a particular course or program and help inform future curricular choices.
  • Offers an efficient way to measure learning outcomes – By providing an overall assessment grade, summative assessments offer a convenient way to measure the success of a teaching strategy in one go.

examples

Examples of Summative Assessments

To clarify how summative assessments can be implemented, here are a few examples of traditional assessment methods, such as essays and exams, and performance-based assessments, such as presentations and projects.

Traditional Assessment Methods

Below are some examples of traditional assessment methods:

1. Examinations and final tests

Examinations are widely used to assess student knowledge and understanding at the end of a course or program. They are easy to implement and provide a quick and efficient way to evaluate student performance.

2. Term papers and essays

Essays and term papers are another traditional assessment method used alongside examinations. Essays test students’ ability to analyse a given topic or concept in detail, providing insight into their understanding of the subject matter.

3. Projects and presentations

Where skill-based or vocational courses are being taught, projects and presentations can test a student’s performance in class. These assessments allow students to demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter and show their ability to apply and transfer the knowledge in a practical context.

Performance-Based Assessments

Performance-based assessments are best employed when assessing practical skills or processes. Examples of performance-based summative assessments include:

1. Practical exams and demonstrations

Practical tests and demonstrations are often used to assess students’ physical abilities, such as in sports or vocational courses. These assessments test a student’s understanding of a particular skill or concept by having them demonstrate it in a real-world setting.

2. Portfolios and showcases

Where creative or design-based courses are being taught, portfolios and showcases allow students to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts in a practical way. These assessments require students to use their creative skills to produce a tangible output, such as an artwork or multimedia presentation.

3. Capstone projects and dissertations

Dissertations and capstone projects are often used to assess students’ understanding of complex topics or skills. These assessments require students to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject matter by producing an in-depth research or project that meets specific criteria.

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Critical Differences Between Formative and Summative Assessments

Now that you have a fuller understanding of what both formative and summative assessments represent and how they can be employed, here’s a summary outlining the key differences between the two:

Timing and Frequency

One of the most essential distinctions between the two types of assessment is when they are conducted. Formative assessments occur throughout the course and act as checkpoints to monitor student progress.

In contrast, summative assessments are shown at the end of a defined learning period and only count towards an overall grade or score.

Purpose and Focus

Formative assessments are designed to provide feedback on understanding and inform instruction in real-time. In contrast, summative assessments evaluate student performance of a skill or concept and can help inform curriculum decisions.

Feedback and Evaluation Process

The feedback and evaluation process for formative and summative assessments differs significantly. Formative assessments are designed to offer real-time feedback on performance.

In contrast, summative assessments provide an overall assessment score or grade that reflects the student’s understanding of the subject matter at the end of a course or program.

not-sure

Which is the Right Assessment Approach to Utilise?

Choosing the correct assessment approach for your students ultimately depends on the goals you are trying to achieve, the type of course or program being taught and the knowledge and skills that need to be assessed.

To help you decide, consider the following:

Considerations for Selecting Formative Assessments

Some of the critical considerations for making use of formative assessments include:

  • Regular feedback – Formative assessments should be implemented regularly to ensure students receive regular feedback on their understanding and performance.
  • Low-stakes testing – As formative tests don’t count towards an overall grade, they should be designed as low-stakes tests to help encourage participation.
  • Inform instruction – Formative assessment results can inform instruction in real-time, allowing educators to tailor their teaching approach to student needs.

Considerations for Selecting Summative Assessments

When making use of summative assessments, it’s essential to consider the following points:

  • Assessment goals – Before designing a summative assessment, clearly define the purposes of the evaluation and how it will be used to evaluate student performance.
  • Assessment criteria – When creating a summative assessment, ensure that you set clear and concise evaluation criteria that allow students to demonstrate their understanding fully.
  • Inter-rater reliability – To ensure fairness and accuracy, consider having multiple assessors score each student’s work when creating a summative assessment.

Using Both Formative and Summative Assessments in Learning and Development

As mentioned, one of the primary benefits of using formative and summative assessments in learning and development is that they can provide a more comprehensive evaluation of student performance.

By implementing both assessment forms, educators can better understand their student’s progress and tailor their instruction for maximum impact.

Formative assessments can measure progress and inform instruction in real-time, while summative assessments provide an overall score or grade that indicates learning success.

Final Thoughts

While formative and summative assessments have apparent differences, such as in their purpose, timing and feedback mechanisms, there are significant benefits to using both assessment types in learning and development.

Educators can better assess student performance and tailor instruction by implementing formative and summative assessments. Additionally, the use of both reviews provides a comprehensive view of understanding that can be used to inform curriculum decisions.

If you are looking for more guidance and resources on creating and implementing formative and summative assessments, check out the other articles on the Skillshub blog .

As experts in developing eLearning content , Skillshub can help create customised learning materials tailored to your organisation’s needs. To learn more about our services, get in touch with us today.

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Sean McPheat

Sean is the CEO of Skillshub. He’s a published author and has been featured on CNN, BBC and ITV as a leading authority in the learning and development industry. Sean is responsible for the vision and strategy at Skillshub, helping to ensure innovation within the company.

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Updated on: 20 September, 2023

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  • Student Self-Assessment

Self-assessments encourage students to reflect on their growing skills and knowledge, learning goals and processes, products of their learning, and progress in the course. Student self-assessment can take many forms, from low-stakes check-ins on their understanding of the day’s lecture content to self-assessment and self-evaluation of their performance on major projects. Student self-assessment is also an important practice in courses that use alternative grading approaches . While the foci and mechanisms of self-assessment vary widely, at their core the purpose of all self-assessment is to “generate feedback that promotes learning and improvements in performance” (Andrade, 2019). Fostering students’ self-assessment skills can also help them develop an array of transferable lifelong learning skills, including:

  • Metacognition: Thinking about one’s own thinking. Metacognitive skills allow learners to “monitor, plan, and control their mental processing and accurately judge how well they’ve learned something” (McGuire & McGuire 2015).
  • Critical thinking: Carefully reasoning about the evidence and strength of evidence presented in support of a claim or argument.
  • Reflective thinking: Examining or questioning one’s own assumptions, positionality, basis of your beliefs, growth, etc.
  • Self-regulated learning: Setting goals, checking in on one’s own progress, reflecting on what learning or study strategies are working well or not so well, being intentional about where/when/how one studies, etc.

Students' skills to self-assess can vary, especially if they have not encountered many opportunities for structured self-assessment. Therefore, it is important to provide structure, guidance, and support to help them develop these skills over time.

  • Create a supportive learning environment so that students feel comfortable sharing their self-assessment experiences ( Create a Supportive Course Climate ).
  • Foster a growth-mindset in students by using strategies that show students that abilities can be grown through hard work, effective strategies, and help from others when needed ( Fostering Growth Mindset ; Identifying teaching behaviors that foster growth mindset classroom cultures ).
  • Set clear, specific, measurable, and achievable learning outcomes so that students know what is expected of them and can better assess their progress ( Creating and Using Learning Outcomes ).
  • Explain the concept of self-assessment and some of the benefits (above).
  • Provide students with specific prompts and/or rubrics to guide self-assessment ( assessing student learning with Rubrics ).
  • Provide clear instructions (see an example under Rubrics below).
  • Encourage students to make adjustments to their learning strategies (e.g., retrieval, spacing, interleaving, elaboration, generation, reflection, calibration; Make It Stick , pp. 200-225) and/or set new goals based on their identified areas for improvement.

Self-Assessment Techniques

Expand the boxes below to learn more about techniques you can use to engage students in self-assessment and decide which would work best for your context.

To foster self-assessment as part of students’ regular learning practice you can embed prompts directly into your formative and summative assignments and assessments. 

  • What do you think is a fair grade for the work you have handed in, and why do you think so?
  • What did you do best in this task?
  • What did you do least well in this task?
  • What did you find was the hardest part of completing this task?
  • What was the most important thing you learned in doing this task?
  • If you had more time to complete the task, what (if anything) would you change, and why?

Providing students the opportunity to regularly engage in writing that allows them to reflect on their learning experiences, habits, and practices can help students retain learning, identify challenges, and strengthen their metacognitive skills. Reflective writing may take the form of short writing prompts related to assignments (see Embedded self-assessment prompts above and Classroom Assessment Techniques ) or writing more broadly about recent learning experiences (e.g., What? So What? Now What? Journals ). Reflective writing is a skill that takes practice and is most effective when done regularly throughout the course ( Using Reflective Writing to Deepen Student Learning ).

Rubrics are an important tool to help students self-assess their work, especially for self-assessment that includes multiple prompts about the same piece of work. If you’re providing a rubric to guide self-assessment, it is important to also provide instructions on how to use the rubric.

Students are using a rubric (e.g., grading rubric for written assignments (docx) ) to self-assess a draft essay before turning it in or making revisions. As part of that process, you want them to assess their use of textual evidence to support their claim. Here are example instructions you could provide (adapted from Beard, 2021):

To self-assess your use of textual evidence to support your claim, please follow these steps:

  • In your draft, highlight your claim sentence and where you used textual evidence to support your claim
  • Based on the textual evidence you used, circle your current level of skill on the provided rubric
  • Use the information on the provided rubric to list one action you can take to make your textual evidence stronger

Self-assessment surveys can be helpful if you are asking students to self-assess their skills, knowledge, attitudes, and/or effectiveness of study methods they used. These may take the form of 2-3 free-response questions or a questionnaire where students rate their agreement with a series of statements (e.g., I am skilled at creating formulas in Excel”, “I can define ‘promissory coup’”, “I feel confident in my study skills”). A Background Knowledge Probe administered at the very beginning of the course (or when starting a new unit) can help you better understand what students already know (or don’t know) about the class subject. Self-assessment surveys administered over time can help you and students assess their progress toward meeting defined learning outcomes (and provide you with feedback on the effectiveness of your teaching methods). Student Assessment of their Learning Gains is a free tool that you can use to create and administer self-assessment surveys for your course.

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Wrappers are tools that learners use after completing and receiving feedback on an exam or assignment ( exam and assignment wrappers , post-test analysis ) or even after listening to a lecture ( lecture wrappers ). Instead of focusing on content, wrappers focus on the process of learning and are designed to provide students with a chance to reflect on their learning strategies and plan new strategies before the next assignment or assessment. The Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon includes multiple examples of exam, homework, and paper wrappers for several disciplines.

References:

Andrade, H. L. (2019). A critical review of research on student self-assessment . Frontiers in Education , 4, Article 87. 

Beard, E. (2021, April 27). The importance of student self-assessment . Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

Brown, P. C., Roediger III, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

McGuire, S. Y., & McGuire, S. (2015). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation . New York, NY: Routledge. 

McMillan, J. H., & Hearn, J. (2008). Student Self-Assessment: The Key to Stronger Student Motivation and Higher Achievement . Educational Horizons , 87 (1), 40–49.

Race, P. (2001). A briefing on self, peer and group assessment (pdf) . LTSN Generic Centre, Assessment Series No. 9. 

RCampus. (2023, June 7). Student self-assessments: Importance, benefits, and implementation . 

Teaching (n.d.). Student Self-Assessment . University of New South Wales Sydney.

Further Reading & Resources: 

Bjork, R. (n.d.). Applying cognitive psychology to enhance educational practice . UCLA Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab.

Center for Teaching and Learning (n.d.). Classroom Assessment Techniques . University of Colorado Boulder.

Center for Teaching and Learning (n.d.). Formative Assessments . University of Colorado Boulder.

Center for Teaching and Learning (n.d.). Student Peer Assessment . University of Colorado Boulder.

Center for Teaching and Learning (n.d.). Summative Assessments . University of Colorado Boulder

Center for Teaching and Learning (n.d.). Summative Assessments: Types . University of Colorado Boulder

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  1. Summative Assessment and Feedback

    Summative assessments are given to students at the end of a course and should measure the skills and knowledge a student has gained over the entire instructional period. Summative feedback is aimed at helping students understand how well they have done in meeting the overall learning goals of the course. Effective summative assessments

  2. 10 Summative Assessment Examples to Try This School Year

    So, what is a summative assessment? Credit: Alberto G. It occurs at the end of a unit, chapter, or term and is most commonly associated with final projects, standardized tests, or district benchmarks. Typically heavily weighted and graded, it evaluates what a student has learned and how much they understand.

  3. Summative Assessments

    Summative assessments can be viewed through two broad assessment strategies: assessments of learning and assessments as learning. Assessment of learning (AoL) provides data to confirm course outcomes and students the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in the learning objectives.

  4. Formative and Summative Assessments

    Summative assessment can be used to great effect in conjunction and alignment with formative assessment, and instructors can consider a variety of ways to combine these approaches. Examples of Formative and Summative Assessments Both forms of assessment can vary across several dimensions (Trumbull and Lash, 2013): Informal / formal

  5. Summative Assessments

    Rigorous: Set high expectations and encourage students to engage in cognitively demanding tasks. Designing rigorous assessments communicates the belief that all students, regardless of their background, have the potential to succeed on challenging tasks if given sufficient support.

  6. Best practices in summative assessment

    Best practices in summative assessment Jonathan D. Kibble 10 Feb 2017 https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00116.2016 Sections PDF (140 KB) Tools Abstract The goal of this review is to highlight key elements underpinning excellent high-stakes summative assessment.

  7. Formative and Summative Assessment

    Summative assessments evaluate learning, knowledge, proficiency, or success at the conclusion of an instructional period. Below you will find formative and summative descriptions along with a diagram, examples, recommendations, and strategies/tools for the next steps. Descriptions

  8. Formative vs Summative Assessment

    The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark. Summative assessments are often high stakes, which means that they have a high point value. Examples of summative assessments include: a midterm exam a final project a paper a senior recital

  9. The Ultimate Guide to Summative Assessments (2024)

    Guides | 18 minutes What are summative assessments in education? Summative Assessments are—in simple words—the way educators determine what a student has learned. They are typically tests or cumulative assignments that provide teachers with insights into the overall success of their instructional methods.

  10. What is summative assessment? How to further learning with ...

    Summative assessment is a specific type of assessment that evaluates learning and offers little opportunity for providing student feedback because of its positioning at the end of a learning unit. They are usually high-stakes, contributing to a large portion of a student's course grade (e.g., final exams) or an exam that has a high impact on ...

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  12. Summative Assessment in Distance Learning

    Implementing Summative Assessment in Distance Learning Stop assessing everything: By everything, I mean every single content standard. In order to make a " guaranteed and viable curriculum ," we need to make strategic decisions about what is "need to know" and what is "nice to know."

  13. Formative and Summative Assessment

    Summative assessment takes place after the learning has been completed and provides information and feedback that sums up the teaching and learning process. ... of trying to differentiate between formative and summative assessments it may be more beneficial to begin planning assessment strategies to match instructional goals and objectives at ...

  14. What is Summative Assessment?

    The definition of summative assessment is any method of evaluation performed at the end of a unit that allows a teacher to measure a student's understanding, typically against standardized...

  15. Summative Assessment: A Step-by-Step Guide for Teachers

    Summative assessment is used to measure the overall achievement of students in a course or program. It usually takes place at the end of a unit, term, or school year and can include tests, essays, projects, or portfolios. When creating a summative assessment, it is crucial to keep the following in mind:

  16. What is Summative Assesment? Examples, Importance & More

    Detailed papers End-of-class tests, etc. The main objective of summative assessment is to evaluate the overall progress. This assessment shows how much a student has learned through a course, subject, or project in a particular timeline. These assessments have high value as they take place in a controlled environment.

  17. SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENTS: MEANING, EXAMPLES AND TYPES

    Here we'll list some summative assessment examples that are directly related to student performance. These are: Half-yearly, mid-term and end-of-term exams. Unit tests or chapter tests. Projects, assignments and creative portfolios. Tests that are standardized and demonstrate the proficiency of a school.

  18. 7 Smart, Fast Formative Assessment Strategies

    1. Entry and exit slips: Those marginal minutes at the beginning and end of class can provide some great opportunities to find out what kids remember.

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  20. Effective assessment

    Assessment tasks should include a range of formative and summative assessment strategies, and teachers will be able to clearly explain the connections between learning goals, learning activities and assessment tasks so that students can use learning goals to monitor and progress their learning.

  21. Formative & Summative Assessment Strategies

    Formative and summative assessment can be understood as: Formative assessment is ongoing and provides a measure of progress toward the learning goal. Recognizing common misconceptions, employing strategies, and closing gaps in understanding all contribute to students' growth. Formative assessment also referred to as, 'assessment for learning ...

  22. Formative and Summative Assessments: Examples and Differences

    By implementing both assessment forms, educators can better understand their student's progress and tailor their instruction for maximum impact. Formative assessments can measure progress and inform instruction in real-time, while summative assessments provide an overall score or grade that indicates learning success.

  23. Summative & Evaluation Assessment Strategies for Instructional Design

    4 Types of Summative Assessment & Evaluation Strategies for Instructional Design Evaluations and assessments are essential components of the instructional design process. The purpose of evaluations and assessments is to determine whether or not the learners have achieved the desired level of proficiency of given learning objectives in a module ...

  24. Student Self-Assessment

    Student self-assessment can take many forms, from low-stakes check-ins on their understanding of the day's lecture content to self-assessment and self-evaluation of their performance on major projects. Student self-assessment is also an important practice in courses that use alternative grading approaches. While the foci and mechanisms of ...