Center for the Advancement of Innovative Teaching

Assessment: Formative and Summative

Assessment of learning is any activity conducted to collect data on what students have learned and how well they have learned it.  Sometimes assessment is focused on student, instructor, or program accountability, and sometimes it is focused more on student, instructor or program opportunity for growth.  Assessment activities range from one-minute papers and other quick, easy, ungraded assignments (in class or online) to tests, quizzes, term papers, and exams.

HPU, in its planning process for Educational Effectiveness, has identified as one priority to extend the University's commitment to working within a culture of evidence, including the use of learning assessment techniques in all areas related to student learning. 

Motives for assessment are many, including an increasingly strident public demand that colleges be able to show measurable learning is taking place.  The demand for demonstration of accountability for learning also comes from accrediting bodies, from parents, from employers, and from students themselves.  Another major motive for assessment is the desire of students to improve their learning, of teachers to improve and update their teaching methods, or of courses/programs to consider the match between published outcomes and what course/program graduates actually have learned.   Ideally, the kinds of assessments needed will be prompted by well-written learning outcomes.

The intent of formative assessment is always growth:  the product may be growth for teachers--in updating their information about the efficacy of teaching and about the receptivity of students to learning, or it may be growth for students, in feedback about the quality of their learning and sometimes about the effectiveness of their own learning methods or effort.  For both students and teachers, formative assessments are always non-threatening opportunities for growth and change.

Grades, produced by quizzes, tests, and exams, are examples of summative assessments.  Their purpose is ranking and a reportable measure of student progress.

One adjunct faculty shared how he converted a once-summative term paper assignment into a growth-filled formative assessment, with spectacular results:  Students are assigned a 5-page paper, led through the topic-choice and research process, given a writing template (the paper's parts) and a due date.  They believe it will be graded.  After it is turned in, the instructor explains the paper will be treated as a draft, and that he will not grade it but will make substantive comments to guide improvement.  A re-write and final is then required, and it is graded.