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Formative vs Summative

Formative vs Summative

Sometimes my students believe learning should be easy—you snap your fingers and presto chango you’ve got it. However, real life is not like that. Sometimes you have to do things again and again until—you get it! Sometimes you also have to work through a step-by-step process to gain mastery. Clearly learning activities and assignments need to challenge—not too much, not too little—our students. The question is: how do you find the right amount of challenge for your students? Let’s look at Goldilocks and her quest to find the perfect bowl of porridge. Goldilocks tasted each bowl until she found the perfect one. She chose the porridge that was right for her, and determined which porridge was best based on her own requirements. Shouldn’t our students be able to do the same? If authentic assessment is to exist in our classrooms, the answer to that question is “yes”. In order to challenge our students properly we should include them in the assessment process as much as possible—either through contribution or awareness.

According to the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (2005), student performance improves when 1) the classroom culture encourages interaction and the use of assessment tools; 2) learning goals are established and tracked as the individual student works towards these goals; and 3) students are actively involved in the learning process. Similarly, the Assessment Reform Group (1999) believes student performance is more likely to improve if pupils are able to assess themselves and understand how to improve.

One of the best ways to involve students in the assessment process is to use formative assessments. The achievement gains associated with formative assessment have been described as “among the largest ever reported for educational interventions” (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, 2005). Formative assessments can involve simple things like checklists, surveys, concept maps, exit tickets, journal entries, think-pair-share and the 3-minute pause. Students can help create these assessments as well—especially checklists, surveys and exit tickets. More importantly, these types of assessments can also be used for self-assessment. One of the best things about formative assessment is that it provides immediate feedback. Research reveals that “timely feedback has been shown to deepen one’s memory for the material assessed” (as cited by Whitman). Moreover, “students who knew they would get immediate feedback performed better on a task than those who were told that feedback would be delayed” (as cited by Whitman).

What Kids Can Do (2001) also provides a quick overview of what authentic assessment is:

  • Assessment is for students (has personal relevance, builds confidence, instills ownership).
  • Assessment is faithful to the work students actually do (notebooks, work-in-progress, routine presentations, reflection).
  • Assessment is public (includes student goals and a visible criteria for judgement eg. wall charts)
  • Assessment promotes ongoing self-reflection and critical inquiry (what is good work and how is it attained). (p. 12)

For Heroes Rise (a PBL project), I have included both formative and summative assessments. In the past I have relied more on summative assessments than formative. For this project I have intentionally focused on both types of assessments! The formative assessment checklists I have designed so far can be used in various ways. For instance, students can utilize the checklist to: set goals, stay on task, self-assess, and comment coach (peer assessment). The student contract and accompanying checklist is new for me; I look forward to testing it with my students this fall. Basically the contract handout helps students draft their own group contract and checklist based on team goals and interests. This is a great way to get students involved in the assessment process, plus it makes the group (and its members) more accountable for their behaviours and actions. The reflective blog checklist and rubric will allow me to assess student progress (formative) as well as student learning (critical thinking skills) once the blog is completed and the driving question is answered (summative). Students can also use the journal blog checklist to self-monitor their progress. In the past, my students have built rubrics for various activities or assignments, and I would definitely like to try that again—after the first run through perhaps! When students are not involved in rubric design, I always include the rubric with the assignment. I want them to know up front how they will be evaluated. I also like to provide student exemplars whenever possible. Our department often creates what we call “tutorial” rubrics. These rubrics often provide student friendly language below each descriptor / standard so students know what needs to be done when. Because Google forms are user-friendly, I will use one to survey the students about the project’s assessments (checklists, contracts, and rubrics) in order to learn what worked, what didn’t and why.


Assessment Reform Group. (1999). Assessment for learning: Beyond the black box. Cambridge: University of Cambridge, School of Education.

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. (2005). Formative assessment: Improving learning in secondary classrooms. Paris: OECD.

Earl, L. M. (2004). Assessment as learning: Using classroom assessment to maximize student learning. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

What Kids Can Do. (2001). Making youth known: Behind the video camera. WKCD News Series. Retrieved from http://whatkidscando.org/archives/shorttakes/EVC.pdf

Whitman, G. (June 17, 2014) Assessment, choice, and the learning brain. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/assessment-choice-and-learning-brain-glenn-whitman

Additional Resources:

Formative Assessment Strategies: https://daretodifferentiate.wikispaces.com/file/view/03+-+Formative+Assessment+Strategies.pdf

Teach 21 Assessment: http://wvde.state.wv.us/teach21/ExamplesofFormativeAssessment.html

Teach 21 PBL Tools: http://wvde.state.wv.us/teach21/PBLTools.html