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How to Effectively Use Educational Assessment Tools

Summative assessment and formative assessment are two valuable tools for teachers. Though very different, they are equally important for holistic education. Summative assessments are delivered at the end of an instructional period. Formative assessments are delivered throughout instruction to check on progress and understanding. Like most things in education, both are also assisted with the effective application of technology.

Read on for how to best use summative assessment and formative assessment in your teaching.

The main components of being an educator are preparation, teaching, and assessment. Today we will dive deeper into the discussion of educational assessment. According to, 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 and formative. Each has its part to play in holistically analyzing students’ learning outcomes.

What Is a Summative Assessment?

A summative assessment is an evaluation at the end. 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 practice 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.

What Are the Different Forms of Summative Assessment

  • Midterm
  • Final
  • Term Projects
  • Papers/Essays
  • Standardized tests (Common Core Testing, AP, SAT, High-school Exit Exam, College Entrance Exams, GED)

When to Use Summative Assessment

  • End of a project, unit, course, semester, program, or school year

Benefits of Summative Assessment

  • Scaleable: Assessments can be used for any number of students.
  • Duplicatable: Assessments can be used over and over with different sets of students.
  • Standardized: Assessments are the same for all students in the subject matter.
  • Traceable: Results are not based on obscure factors but set benchmarks.
  • Comparable: Results can be compared to a benchmark and to other students.
  • Fast: All students are given the same assessment at the same time.

Drawbacks of Summative Assessment

  • Low creativity: Teachers lose individualism and range of teaching topics.
  • Low adaptability: Teachers lose the ability to adjust to students’ needs as they progress.
  • Lag: Teachers do not know the outcome of learning success until the end of the instructional period.

What Is a Formative Assessment?

Formative assessments are evaluations as you go. 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 assessments evaluate students’ learning as they are learning.

An Example of a 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.

Different Forms of Formative Assessment

  • Quizzes
  • Votes/polls
  • Homework
  • Reviews
  • In-class assignments
  • End of chapter questions
  • Summary presentations
  • Practice tests

When to Use Summative Assessment

  • Between topics, concepts, lessons, chapters, or before formal exams

Benefits of Summative Assessment

  • Creativity: Teachers are more inclined to come up with novel ways to judge students’ abilities and understanding of the concepts.
  • Adaptability: Teachers can adjust to students’ needs as they progress.
  • Instant Feedback: Teachers can quickly pinpoint problem areas or speed through concepts that are too easy.
  • Continual Application: Students are continually applying and being tested on what they are learning.

Drawbacks of Formative Assessment

  • Lack of scalability:  Not all assessments can be replicated and given to other students as they are tailored to a specific group of students and the current needs of the class.
  • Lack of duplication: Assessments vary widely and given periodically.
  • Lack of standardization: Assessments are given at the discretion of the teacher.
  • Non-influential: Results normally do not have the same weight as formal testing in final grading.
  • Non-Comparable: As the assessments are given at the discretion of the teacher, results cannot be universally shared or compared with others.
  • Time-consuming: Many assessments are given multiple times during the course taking away from the time that could have been used for instruction.
  • Increase workload: Multiple assessments add to the teacher’s workload and grading has to be done quickly for formative assessment’s adaptability to be beneficial to students. Students also need to continue to spend time studying for and working on the assessments.

Debate Between Summative Assessment and Formative Assessment

Summative assessment as the best way to evaluate students’ educational achievements is up for much debate. Many argue that summative assessments are outdated 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, a 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 altogether. 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. This adds 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. 

Summative Assessment and Formative Assessment in Holistic Education

There are many pros and cons to both summative assessment and formative assessments, and for most teachers, it is a balancing act of doing both. Formative assessment is used periodically 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, mixing in homework, small presentations, and practice tests.

At the end of the term, students should be 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.

How To Effectively Use Educational Assessment Tools

Improving Summative Assessment and Formative Assessment with Technology

Technology is changing many aspects of education including assessment. For example the digitalization of course content. Classroom materials are moving from text to digital which offers 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 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 myViewBoard, 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 ebooks, 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 assessments such as homework and quizzes can be digitized, managed, given, and graded all on the Internet-connected devices. On a larger scale, summative assessment software, such as Easy LMS, is already used for many standardized tests. Assessment software can automatically scramble questions, select questions that suit individual students’ abilities, and collect test results. Assessment software offers many digital tools to aid in creating, selecting, administering, grading, and sharing results of assessments.

Integrating Summative Assessment and Formative Assessment in the Classroom

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 formative assessments at key points in the instruction time. Also, pay attention to the importance of summative assessments without letting it be the driving factor of evaluating learning objectives. Use assessments as a tool to better your students’ learning.