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Formative vs. Summative Assessment

November 27, 2016

Learning the difference between Formative and Summative Assessment has been an important part in my journey to rethinking how to assess and grade students.

What is Formative Assessment?

Formative Assessment is assessment that happens during a learning period. Formative assessments are like progress checks, and they are intended for the teacher to gather information about how students are progressing toward a goal of knowing or being able to do something.

Examples of Formative Assessment

In language classes, some examples of formative assessment include:

What is Summative Assessment?

Summative Assessment is assessment that happens at the end of a learning period. It is an opportunity for students to prove that they know or can do what you think they know or can do. "Test" is generally a synonym for Summative Assessment, and Chapter Tests, Midterms, Portfolios, and Final Projects are all examples of Summative Assessment.

As Steve Wheeler expressed the difference, formative assessment is like when the chef tastes the soup, and summative assessment is when the guests taste the soup. The chef tastes the soup as they are making it and adds different ingredients to get it to where it needs to be. A chef generally tastes their soup many times before they determine that it is finally ready! Once they do, the guests get one chance to taste the soup. The chef brings it out to them because the chef thinks that they'll like it, and then they find out if their suspicions were correct!

Formative vs Summative by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

Grading Formative and Summative Assessments

Generally, formative assessments are quick and informal. While some schools have grading policies that include categories for formative assessment, I do not recommend this. Because Formative Assessments are administered during a learning period, assigning a grade is like grading students on how quickly they learn or get the hang of something. If the expectation in my course is that students can interpret a story by the end of a unit, then it is not fair for me to grade them in the middle of the unit for their ability to interpret a story.

Summative assessments generally must be graded, and carefully. In my classes, I administer interpretive listening, interpretive reading, and presentational writing assessments. All of these are short and low stress, even though they are summative.

Learn more about assessment

Learn more about my vision for assessment in this post.

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