Summative Assessments vs Formative Assessments

Summative assessments versus formative assessments: Which are better?

That depends on what you’re teaching, how you’re teaching, and who you’re teaching. Let’s look at the pros and cons of summative and formative assessments.

Summative and Formative Assessments

Summative assessments, which have been ingrained into teaching models for years, evaluate how much a student has learned at the end of a block of teaching. Summative assessments can include papers, exams, and final projects. Each student’s learning is compared against a standard or benchmark.

Formative assessments, which are gaining popularity in teaching, evaluate in “real time” how much a student has learned. Formative assessment can include strategic questioning (of one or all students), quizzes, tests that asks students to explain their thinking, and group projects.

Pros and Cons of Summative Assessments

Summative assessments can be helpful for students who are motivated by scores and grades and benefit from comparing themselves to other students. These types of assessments can also be helpful for teachers, because the collective scores of a group of students can indicate whether the teaching was effective. Summative assessments can also prepare students for tests that they’ll need to take throughout their lives, including standardized testing, SATs and ACTs, and even employment tests.

The main drawback to summative assessments is that they often compel teachers to “teach to the test.” With the increase in standardized testing that’s being required by many states and districts, testing has gotten a bad name, and for good reason. Summative assessments, at their worst, encourage memorization, rather than an understanding of the subject matter.

Pros and Cons of Formative Assessments

Formative assessments provide instant feedback for teachers, allowing them to see how well students have grasped the material and to immediately adjust their teaching styles and curriculum. Formative assessments also can encourage students to participate and can increase cooperation among students. For students who “test poorly,” this type of assessment gives teachers a more accurate view of what students are actually learning, not just what they’re able to recount in a test. Best of all, formative assessments are effective tools in personalized learning.

The disadvantage of formative assessments is that they can take time, more time than teachers might perceive that they have. To repeatedly check students’ learning takes more time than to administer one test at the end of a lesson or unit. The more time the formative assessments consume, the less time there is for teaching. Also, some students don’t respond to formative assessments as well as they do to summative assessments. Students accustomed to earning points and grades might not be as motivated if their “achievements” aren’t measured.

Education 4 Equity

At Education 4 Equity, we offer a 1-credit online course on Formative Assessments To Heighten Engagement, Guide Instruction, and Improve Learning. We also have some of the best professional development courses for teachers, delivered 100% online. We have 1-credit, 2-credit, and 3-credit online courses for teachers that qualify for graduate level credit and have been approved for LAUSD salary points through the Los Angeles Unified School District.