Formative & Summative Assessment Research Paper Starter

Formative & Summative Assessment

(Research Starters)

This article focuses on the use formative and summative assessments for evaluating student progress. Discussion is presented on the positive and negative aspects of each, their commonalities, as well as how they differ from each other. Examples of formative and summative assessments are also included. Comments on assessment for district reporting and high stakes testing are also provided.

Keywords Assessment; Classroom Testing; Cognition; Diagnostic Assessment; Evaluation; Formative Assessment; High-Stakes Testing; Learning Styles; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Portfolio; Predictive Assessment; Reflection; Rubric; Summative Assessment; Valid Feedback


There are two major types of assessments being used in classrooms today-summative and formative. These assessments have very obvious differences but also share some similarities depending on how they are administered and evaluated. Summative assessments are intended to summarize what students have learned and occur after instruction has been completed at the end of a predetermined point in time or instructional component. It can occur at the end of the school year or term; at the end of an instructional unit or chapter; and at the end of elementary, middle or high school. Formative assessments are generally considered part of the instructional process and are intended to provide information needed to help instructors adjust their instruction and help students learn while instruction is occurring. Formative assessment is not graded and is used as an ongoing diagnostic tool, which means it should occur regularly and the results should be shared with students in a timely manner in order to be effective. Any adjustments that need to be made in instruction are intended to ensure that all students meet pre-established learning goals within a specific timeframe (Garrison & Ehringhaus, n.d.).


There are quite a few similarities between formative and summative assessments. Both assessments require active instructor involvement to be effective. It also does not matter what kind of assessment is used; instructors must be able to help motivate their students to learn and get them excited about the learning process. However, the similarities stem more from how the two need to be codependent in order to produce the desired results for students. The formative assessment must align with the summative to produce valid grades and scores. This can be accomplished by reviewing student work and looking at past test questions and answers to determine any areas of weakness and then successfully addressing them before the summative assessment is administered (Harlen, 2005).

There are a few distinct differences between formative and summative assessments. The primary goal of summative assessment is to be able to provide an overall measure of student performance at a particular point in time in a grade or score format. This report can be given to parents, districts, states, and others and can have serious consequences attached to it for both the student and the school, such as students not being promoted to the next grade, not getting into their college of choice or the school not receiving funding. The primary goal of formative assessment is to provide feedback within the classroom with no real consequences attached (Starkman, 2006). Another way to distinguish between formative and summative assessments is that formative assessments can be considered a type of practice for students because they are not being graded, whereas summative assessments depend completely on a grade or score. Formative assessments depend on student involvement and feedback to be effective and summative assessments do not (Garrison & Ehringhaus, n.d.).

Examples of Formative

Almost any assessment can be either formative or summative, depending on whether a grade or score is given and recorded and whether or not feedback and reflection are involved in the process. Some of the more familiar examples of summative assessments include tests, final exams, graded projects, work portfolios, PSAT exams and SAT and ACT exams. Some examples of formative assessments, which can be both formal and informal, include ungraded quizzes, instructor questioning and observations, draft work, and portfolio reviews (McTighe & O'Connor, 2005). Other examples of formative assessments include “reviewing homework and classroom work for errors or misunderstandings; observing students as they read, work with others, carry out assignments, or solve problems; talking with students”; and listening to student responses during a lesson. Instructors may also give a pretest before beginning a unit or chapter to determine students' existing knowledge (Nitko, 1994, p.7). A post-test would work as a formative assessment if the knowledge of the completed unit or chapter is necessary for understanding the next unit or chapter. This can be especially true for mathematics where one concept can build on all previously learned concepts and a solid foundation is crucial for any future success (Nitko, 1994). Any opportunity for revisions on tests or any other type of assessment that gives students a chance to work through, think about, and eventually understand an area they did not understand or were not able to clearly articulate before, is a type of formative assessment ("The Relationship Between Formative," 2001).

Some formative assessment ideas that can work for practically any grade are having students write a paragraph, having students keep a journal, asking text-based questions, checking students' notebooks, conducting impromptu quizzes, creating and handing out worksheets, assigning homework, conducting oral questioning and having all students respond, having daily review questions before beginning the new lesson, and having students compare answers.

Some ideas for summative assessment include creating a newsletter, critiquing an article or book, having students create their own books, assigning research papers, having students present to the rest of the class, having students analyze a book or specific text, and basically assigning anything that can be graded once students have a clear understanding of the grading rubric and what is expected of them (Minneapolis Public Schools, 2005).

Often, predictive-- or diagnostic-- assessment is used before more formal assessments. These can be considered a combination of both summative and formative assessment that has become more prevalent with the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Predictive/diagnostic assessments may also be known as pre-assessments and are designed to closely follow what will more than likely be asked on a summative assessment. The intent for using predictive/diagnostic assessments is to predict how well students will perform on high-stakes tests used to meet NCLB guidelines and state standards. Diagnostic reports can show specific errors that students make so teachers can target instruction to classroom needs, which makes it simpler to increase student performance and help schools, districts, and states meet their achievement goals. In fact, at least one publishing company has developed predictive assessments that are specifically aligned to each state's high-stakes tests (Starkman, 2006). A purely diagnostic assessment can be used to profile students' interests and help determine their preferred learning styles. They can also help instructors plan their instruction and develop curriculum by helping to determine whether or not classroom instruction is closely aligned with federal and/or state high-stakes tests. Since these assessments are intended for diagnostic/predictive purposes, they are generally not graded (McTighe & O'Connor, 2005).


Formative Assessment

Positive Aspects of Formative Assessment

Provides feedback to Instructors

Formative assessments occur at the same time as instruction. This means that formative assessments can provide specific feedback to both instructors and students regarding each student's learning, thus allowing instructors to modify and improve instruction midstream. Formative assessment can provide immediate, contextualized feedback. With formative assessment, there is improved feedback between students and their teachers; and students become actively involved in their own learning, which can help stimulate student motivation, engagement, and learning. Instructors can use the feedback attained to adapt their teaching practices to specific student needs. Since formative assessment does occur concurrently with instruction, teachers can determine what concepts and skills have been mastered and revisit as often as necessary those concepts and skills that have not been mastered. Formative assessment can also influence other factors that come into play when discussing student achievement. When instructors determine that they are simply not reaching the class using their own preferred teaching techniques and methods, they are forced to rethink how they teach. Attempting to use different techniques to reach students with different learning styles challenges instructors and keeps them engaged in the learning process since formative assessment provides immediate feedback about any success or failure that any particular technique may produce. Evaluation of all the feedback received from various formative assessments can show where there are deficiencies and strengths. This can help the instructor arrange for additional resources to help those students who are not thriving or doing well in class instead of waiting until after the high-stakes test (Irving, 2007).

Reveals Learning Gap

Formative assessments may also reveal that there is a learning gap since it may be assumed that students know concepts that were taught in previous classes, for example, in mathematics and algebra classes. It is generally assumed...

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