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Home > Blog > Formative vs. Summative Assessment

Formative vs. Summative Assessment

Posted by David Brannan on Jan 2, 2011 at 5:19 PM

Research shows us that the quality of education students receive depends on the effectiveness of instructional delivery by the teacher. Yet, how does a teacher determine whether students are benefiting from their methods of instruction?

Enter the realm of formative and summative assessments.

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.

Doug Reeves (2001) used a medical analogy as he contended that formative assessments are like a physical examination while summative assessments are comparable to an autopsy. There is a need to assess student progress throughout the school year while there is still time to implement interventions that increase student learning.


Formative Assessment

Educators use formative assessments to assist and guide classroom instruction, and are not typically factored into the grade point average of students. Types of formative assessment include informal observation, worksheets, short quizzes, journals and diagnostic tests. This enables the teacher to assess how well students are understanding the material. Master teachers use formative assessments to better design their course of instruction.


One form of formative assessment is observing students as they work on assignments, projects or problems. The teacher keeps mobile in the classroom, visiting each student, occasionally offering guidance and encouragement, and monitoring how well students are working together in groups or individually. The teacher takes notes on how students are performing and also whether any modifications need to be made.


Teachers may use worksheets to gauge how well the student understands the material being covered. The teacher may find that the work is too easy for some students or that basic understanding of an important concept is not present.

Short Quizzes

Often teachers use pop quizzes to gauge student comprehension. Traditionally teachers ask students as a whole, probing to see if students understand what has been taught, what is currently being covered, and if they are ready for the next topic. Teachers can also give individual quizzes to students or have groups of students complete a quiz. Frequent assessments serve both as a learning tool for the student, and a feedback mechanism to the teacher.


Another effective means of formative assessment is the journal, blog, or wiki. Students are required to periodically write their thoughts and feelings about how they are progressing, what they liked or didn’t understand, or to reflect about a particular assignment or project. If a student wishes to keep the information more private, a simple email or anonymous web form can be used. Information gathered frequently can give teachers a quick look at how effective their method of instruction was and if adjustments are in order.

Diagnostic Tests

Generally used toward the beginning of the term, diagnostic tests allow a teacher to determine the proper level of instruction and placement for students. Frequent and well-designed diagnostics help teachers see students strong and weak areas, thus allowing adjustments that bring students up to speed.

Formative Assessments and Grades

One of the questions that often arises is whether formative assessments should be used for student grades. According to the latest educational research, frequent formative assessments should not be used to assign grades to students. By definition, a formative assessment is used to (1) identify students needing additional time and support, and (2) evaluate the effectiveness of instructional strategies. In contrast, a summative assessment is used to assess how well the student learned the material at the end of a unit or period of study and is commonly used for grading.


Summative Assessment

Summative assessment is the process of evaluating (and grading) the learning of students at a point in time. Many associate summative assessments only with standardized tests such as state assessments, but they are also used at and are an important part of district and classroom programs. Summative assessment at the district/classroom level is an accountability measure that is generally used as part of the grading process.

The list is long, but here are some examples of summative assessments:

  • State assessments
  • District benchmark or interim assessments
  • End-of-unit or chapter tests
  • End-of-term or semester exams
  • Scores that are used for accountability for schools (AYP) and students (report card grades).

It is important to understand that summative assessment cannot reflect the efficiency of teaching in its process, because assessment is carried out only after the instruction.

In summary, formative assessments are used by teachers on a daily basis, whereas summative assessments are cumulative in nature and usually implemented at the end of a semester or school year.

Using Exam Professor for Formative and Sumative Assessments

While most teachers recognize the value of analyzing assessment data they often struggle with collecting the data. Collecting assessment data is possible without technology, but its use allows reporting in both a timely and user-friendly way.

Exam Professor is a great formative assessment tool because creating quizzes is so quick and easy. Assessments can be in the class or as homework, grading is automatic, and feedback can be instantaneous for the student. Exam Professor graded reports can help teachers see which questions are missed frequently, and graded quizzes can be viewed with correct answers, student answers, averages, and scores - ready for export to Excel or PDF.



Bilyaminu Aminu Kangere

Bilyaminu Aminu Kangere wrote on 11/17/19 12:44 PM

We are very happy for those post

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