Quick Take: Overview of educational assessment tools focusing on Summative assessment and Formative assessment.
The main components of being an educator are preparation, teaching, and assessment. Today we will dive in deeper into the discussion of educational assessment. According to Edutopia.org educational assessment is an integral part of instruction and the learning process. For this comparison, we will look at educational assessment under two categories: Summative or Formative. Each has its part to play in holistically analyzing students’ learning outcomes.
‘Evaluation at the end’ is the main perspective of Summative assessments. How can we fairly tell if a group of students has met the standards set by the teacher, school’s governing board, and the government? Traditionally, the answer lays in giving the students a test or assessment after the instructional period has been completed. Summative assessments are typically done at the end of a project, unit, course, semester, program, or school year. In a sentence, Summative assessment is to evaluate students’ learning after completion of an instructional unit by comparing it against a set standard or benchmark.
An example of summative assessment
For example, a teacher shows a group of students a few math concepts, examples and practices are given, and the teacher feels like the students have a good understanding of the concepts covered. To assess if the students were truly successful in achieving the learning objectives, a test is given at the end of the term. If the students were successful the results would be on par with the majority of the class and the standards set forth. If unsuccessful, the students’ results would be comparably lower and below the standards. Adjustments then can be made to best fit their needs for the future.
‘Evaluation as you go’ is the main perspective of Formative assessments. The teacher uses a variety of methods to conduct evaluations of students’ comprehension, learning, and progress during the course of instruction. This is usually done while the lesson is being taught and continues until it is concluded. In other words, Formative assessment is to evaluate students’ learning as they are learning.
An example of formative assessment
For example, a teacher explains a few science facts to the class. To test their understanding of the facts they are given a pop quiz at the end of the lesson. The students are assessed if they have enough understanding of the learning objectives before the class moves on. If the students are successful the results would show they have a good grasp of the materials. If unsuccessful the results would be lacking. Adjustments then can be made to best fit the students’ needs before moving on to the next lesson such as additional reviews, more practices, and teaching adjustments.
Summative assessment as the best way to evaluate students’ educational achievements is up for much debate. Many argue that Summative assessments are too archaean in a society where we see each student as individuals and should not be subjected to overarching educational benchmarks. Pitting students against each other creates an environment of competitiveness and pushes for conformity.
In addition, more extreme focus on Summative assessments brings with it many drawbacks. If teachers are prescribed a set amount of knowledge and time each student should receive for a specific learning objective to be achieved teaching and learning become mechanical. This can be clearly seen in the emphasis on standardized tests such as the SATs as the aggregation of a student’s success at school. Students tend then to study to pass a test not in accumulating knowledge. Teachers are then also graded on their teaching success base on test scores, not their teaching efforts.
On the other side of the table, supporters argue Summative assessment has its benefits. Foremost, it is the most efficient as it gives the teacher’s a method to access learning outcomes as a group. The main bulk of the evaluation process is left till the end and done all together. This results in grades being produced more efficiently. All students are graded with the same benchmarks so their less discrimination and discourages favoritism of individuals. The results of the assessments also can be reported, compared and reproduced with other classes easily.
As for supporters of Formative assessments, they argue that the main goal of teaching is to make sure students have an understanding of the concepts. By continually analyzing students’ needs the teacher has a very clear picture of their progress. Teachers can also make small adjustments to adapt to the current needs of students to ensure understanding. Not only this, the students themselves are given more practice in applying the concepts and given timely feedback.
Foremost for proponents of Formative assessment is the amount of time and effort to continually conduct periodic assessments. Formative assessments are given a few times during the instructional period such as by day, week or month, all of which is taken from class time. This adds on to both the teacher’s and students’ workload. Class time is taken to both conduct Formative assessments and review the results which draw time from covering additional learning objectives.
There are many pros and cons to Summative assessment or Formative assessments, and for most teachers, it is a balancing act of doing both. Formative assessment is used patriotically to see where students are at in their learning process, give them practice in applying the concepts, and prepare them for the Summative assessments. Summative assessments are then used to measure the cumulative results of the instructional period and produce results that can be reported for students to advance. Both types of assessments support one another and play a vital part in holistic educational assessment. To be a well-rounded educator it is important to use both these tools in combination effectively. For example, using pop-quizzes (Formative assessment) after each major lesson to see which students are struggling with the materials. Continue this, plus mixing in homework, small presentations, and practice tests. At the end of the term, students should be very well-prepared for a final test (Summative assessment) to evaluate their learning achievements. For the final grading, make sure to give weight to both types of assessments and reward students for their accumulated hard work and final assessment.
Technology is changing many aspects of education and assessment is not an outlier. For example the digitalization of course content. Classroom materials are moving from text to digital which offers much more options, such as additional content, searchability, video, images, and sharing. Teachers then can upload these materials on to classroom management software such as Google’s Classroom where it can be easily accessed by themselves and their students. Many teachers are also digitizing their homework and other course work where students can work on it individually or as a group using online tools such as chat and online forums. Another example of digitalization is the Digital whiteboards, such as ViewSonic’s Digital Whiteboard, which are great aids in the classroom as it provides more opportunities for teachers and students to interact in more ways. By using Digital whiteboards, both teachers and students are free to draw, open e-books, and conduct video lessons. Digital whiteboards can also be connected to the students’ personal computers and tablets to further aid in the sharing of ideas.
Both Summative and Formative assessments likewise are being enhanced by advances in technology. Formative assessment such as homework and quizzes can be digitalized, managed, given, and graded all on the internet connected devices. On a larger scale, Summative assessment software, such as Easy LMS, are already used for many standardized tests. Assessment software can automatically scramble questions, select questions that suit individual student’s ability, and collect test results. Assessment software can as well offers many digital tools to aid in creating, selecting, administering, grading, and sharing results of assessments.
We have learned that both Summative assessment and Formative assessment are important components of instruction and the learning process. The next time you are planning a course curriculum try integrating more Summative assessments at key points in the instruction time. Also, pay attention to the importance of Formative assessments without letting it be the driving factor of evaluating learning objectives. Use assessments as a tool to better your students learning.