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Clarifying Types of Assessments

​​Understanding Formative and Summative Assessments

The assessment of teaching and learning can be viewed as overlapping activities within the instruction of students. Assessment is the process of gathering data. More specifically, assessment is the ways instructors gather data about their teaching and their students’ learning.  You can see the difference between formative and summative assessments in their names. A formative assessment assists the teacher in forming new lessons, while a summative assessment comes at the end of a lesson, semester or year for a summary of what the student has learned.


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.

Formative assessments are generally low stakes, and can be a very quick assessment of whether the child has learned the content.  

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

Examples of formative assessments include asking students to:

  • observations, conferences, questioning
  • drawing concept maps, reflections
  • in class activities, student feedback
  • self-evaluations and self-assessments

Summative Assessment

The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against standards and/or benchmarks.

Rubrics, often developed around a set of standards or expectations, can be used for summative assessment.

Summative assessments are often high stakes, which means that they have a high point value.

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.

Summative assessment is characterized as assessment of learning and is contrasted with formative assessment, which is assessment for learning.

Examples of summative assessments include:

  • a midterm exam or end-of-course exam
  • a final project
  • a presentation or report
The outcome of a summative assessment can be used formatively when students or faculty take the results and use them to guide their efforts and activities in subsequent activities to reteach.
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 Formative and Summative Assessments

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