<span class='p-name'>Formative & Summative Assessments</span>

Formative & Summative Assessments

In this post I’ll discuss assessment, a fundamental component of the teaching & learning processes. I’ll then describe formative & summative assessments, which can provide meaningful opportunities to meet diverse needs of students.

Learning Pathways

It’s important to first note that learning isn’t linear. If we were to think about the pathways that brought us to our current professional and personal places in life, I don’t think we could identify a straight line that would bring us here.

Image CC-BY-ND by BryanMMathers

I believe that learners have a series of learning pathways that identifies a route as they learn and build knowledge. These pathways could be in a specific unit, or full grade level. They could be a bit more expansive and identify steps to proficiency in a career. Assessment can be a guidepost in these pathways to help learners, and their mentors as they proceed on their way.

What is Assessment?

Assessment can be viewed as the methods, tools, and practices that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document the academic readiness, learning progress, skills acquisition, or educational needs of students.

Many times we consider assessment to be something that we administer to a learner…and we learn more about the learner. In my classes, I reframe this and suggest that we are instead assessing the instructor, and learning more about the successful presentation of materials through assessment. As an example, if I were to give a class a vocabulary test, and they all failed…would this be evidence that they all didn’t study, didn’t know, or are inadequate? Perhaps, but a far more progressive lens would be to think about what I did, or did not do, or could do differently to impact student comprehension.

Formative & Summative

There are two major types of assessment that we can focus on in this examination of assessments. Formative and Summative.

Formative Assessment provides students with information on the gaps that exist between their current knowledge and stated learning goals (Ramaprasad, 1983). Providing feedback on specific errors helps students understand low performance can be improved and is not the result of a lack of ability (Vispoel & Austin, 1995).

Summative Assessment is “data for the purposes of assessing academic progress at the end of a specified time period (i.e., a unit of material or an entire school year) & for the purposes of establishing a student’s academic standing relative to some established criterion” (Dunn & Mulvenon, 2009).

Designing your assessments

As you design, develop, and identify criteria to be used as you administer assessments, I have three questions to help guide you. These are taken from backward design philosophies. As a reminder, please make sure that you focus on the individual and the collective as you design and develop assessments. One size should not…and will not fit all.

Where do I want to bring students cognitively?

Many times in our classes we think about activities, or ways to get through the day. We should focus on the big ideas, skills, and practices that students should be able to know, understand, and do.

This may take one lesson, it could take a week, it could take the entire year. But, there should be an understanding of what these principles, theories, concepts, points of view, and/or themes might include.

Where am I now?

Once you understand where you want to go…where are your students currently? This will require assessment as you make sense of what has already happened pedagogically. This may be an assessment of work that has been conducted in earlier grades, or something you did last class or week.

Determine, identify, and/or develop the assessment tools and practices that will get you the evidence you’ll need to know where everyone is now. This should be as granular as possible…meaning you’ll want to know individual levels of individual students, as well as an understanding of groupings.

How will I get them there?

Finally, you’ll want to use this data to understand and anticipate future instruction. What knowledge, skills, and practices do students need to get them to that cognitive place that you identified in the first question.

What teaching methods, sequencing of lessons, and presentation of resource materials will get them to this place. What other tasks and assessments will you need to ensure that everyone has been successful in achieving these goals?

Assessing the whole human being

It should go without saying, but keep in mind that you’re assessing the whole human being in this process. As I begin my units on assessment, I have the students collectively brainstorm to identify what they want students to “look like” as they leave K-12 or higher education.

What knowledge, skills, and dispositions should these human beings have as they enter the world? What thumbprint, or DNA will they have, and you as the educator, mentor, and guide can look at that and say…I was a part of that.

Most times, this has us focus on the affective variables, or dispositions that we’d like to see either on a professional, or personal level. This could be empathy, creativity, humility, passion, self-actualization, etc. As you identify these elements, the final question is how will you bring students there…and how will you assess this along the way?

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Cover image credit. Thanks to Bryan M. Mathers for the images throughout the post.

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