Difference Between Formative and Summative Assessment

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Understanding what students learn each day is important so that teachers can support student progress. Formative assessment is used daily and weekly to measure student progress as it happens. Summative assessment reveals the content knowledge and skills students have gained by the end of a unit or school year.

1 Monitoring Student Growth

Before a unit or lesson begins, the teacher may ask students to answer questions to find out what they already know about the topics to be studied. This pre-assessment is ungraded and helps the teacher tailor the unit to address areas of student weakness and harness knowledge students already possess. During a unit, the teacher might use formative assessment to test student understanding of a particular lesson. After a lesson about similes and metaphors, for instance, the students may write down the definition of a simile and metaphor and include an example of each on an index card. This ungraded assignment shows the teacher if students learned what was intended during that day’s lesson. Using the results of the formative assessment, the teacher can reinforce what students learned and clear up any misconceptions the next time the class meets.

2 Showing Evidence of Learning

Summative assessments evaluate the knowledge students possess after a unit or school year, often through major projects like a science fair presentation or mid-terms and final exams. For example, summative assessments include a graded math test at the end of a unit, a writing portfolio for an English class, and a standardized test given at the end of the school year.

Leighann Lincoln has been a teacher for several years, with experience in public and private schools and online teaching. She studied English at Miami University and earned a Master's of Education in educational psychology from the University of Virginia. She is a frequent presenter at national education conferences, such as the National Association for Gifted Children. Her writing is published in newsletters, magazines, and journals geared toward teachers, parents, and academics. Her curriculum is published in a textbook for teachers.