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First of all, it is important to understand the difference between formative and summative assessment. Summative assessment is what most people think of as traditional assessment. It is the kind of formal assessment used to determine what a student has learned and understands about a given subject. Though it does not necessarily have to be standardized, it often is. Summative assessment includes state benchmark and end of grade exams, but can also include teacher made unit tests, quizzes, and even projects.
Formative assessment, on the other hand, is less formal, and takes place throughout the teaching and learning process. It is not conducted after a lesson is taught to see if teaching and learning happened effectively. Rather, formative assessment happens during teaching, and should be ongoing. Formative assessment allows teachers to adjust a mode of teaching mid-lesson (sometimes even mid-sentence) in order to gain better understanding. Formative assessment, in order to be most effective, is not only conducted by teachers, but should be conducted by students as well. It includes observation and questioning, open-dialogue, goal setting, peer assessment, self-accountability, and awareness of progress.
Technology can be beneficial in both kinds of assessment and is already widely used in classrooms today. Computers are used to calculate scores, organize and manipulate data, and communicate information between teachers, students, parents, and administration. Summative assessment uses computers in the creation of tests, the grading (especially of standardized tests) of the tests, and the recording of the grades. Grade-book programs allow teachers, administrators, students, and parents to have a standard method of grade calculation and a standard language of the measurement of achievement. These programs also create charts and graphs to display achievement data of a particular class. And now, all of this information is easily put online for immediate communication of student progress.
Formative assessment can also be enhanced by technology. Because formative assessment is much less formal than summative assessment, it typically happens much more often. Technology could first of all be used as a method of communication between teachers and students. Teachers are now making themselves available for homework help and questions via email and social networking. As teachers and students open communication along the lines of Facebook and Twitter, short, periodic, but ongoing dialogue can take place beyond the classroom, and provide students and teachers alike with a fairly accurate assessment of student understanding on given subjects. Additionally, students can use technology to communicate learning with one another, creating peer and self evaluation, both forms of formative assessment.
Self-assessment is a big part of formative assessment, and technology can be used for students to keep track of their own growth and development within a subject. Whether this means something like tracking progress in an online journal, or simply accessing their own online grades periodically and making adjustments in their performance as they go, technology is at work and positively complimenting the educational process.
If you can keep in mind that assessment is more than test-taking, the possibilities for incorporating technology into the process is almost endless.
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