Using Summative and Formative Assessment in the Classroom

Summative and formative assessment are two different forms of assessment that have their own purpose and role in measuring learning progress and evaluating individual learning abilities of students.

It’s important to understand the differences of each and how they can be used to improve teaching, learning and performance in the classroom.


What is the difference between Summative and Formative Assessment?


The primary difference between summative and formative assessment is the time period when the assessments are given. Summative evaluation is done upon completion of the curriculum content for the school year whereas formative testing is done to test memory retention of a topic regularly throughout each term and the school year.

To assess a student’s learning of a topic using formative testing, a recommended guide to timeframes is as follows: for pre-primary – year 2; 2 days after topic has been covered, for years 3 – year 12; 1 week after the topic is covered.  Due to the rapid rate of learning in years 7 and 8 the ideal timeframe for formative testing is 2 – 4 weeks after the topic has been covered in the classroom.


Summative Assessment


Summative assessment is the method of evaluating what a student has learned at the end of a program or school year, it measures a student’s understanding and is usually compared against a standard or benchmark.

Summative testing should be done at the start of an academic school year to set a benchmark even though they have not covered any of that years curriculum thus far. Then at the end of the year to evaluate what a student has learned over this period. This also forms the basis of the growth report for the student over the school year.

The purpose of summative testing is to determine if the content that has been delivered by a teacher has been absorbed, retained and understood by a student at the end of a period or academic school year.

Summative assessment allows teachers and school leaders to gauge how well students have mastered the content that has been taught and delivered and has a significant weighting on final scores and grades. Summative testing at the beginning of the year in term 1 can also form a lead into formative testing as it shows the teacher exactly what understanding a student has at that point in time.

Teachers and school leaders can use summative testing to improve teaching methods and improve curriculum and curriculum planning.

Examples of summative assessments include:

  • End-of-year exam
  • End-of-term or semester exam
  • End-of-unit or chapter tests
  • Final projects, portfolios and presentations
  • Standardised tests such as NAPLAN National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy


Formative Assessment


Formative assessment monitors student learning and progress while learning is taking place and provides ongoing feedback to teachers on where students are at. Formative assessments are done regularly throughout the term and school year.

The purpose of formative testing is to understand what a student is learning, where there is room for improvement and what they need to learn next. Formative testing results are not usually included in student grades or to judge a teacher’s performance.

Teachers can use formative assessments to determine learning gaps or weaknesses and modify their classroom lessons and teaching strategies to address these areas during the process.

Its important that teachers receive results and feedback from formative assessments regularly and timely so they can make real-time changes to their classroom lessons and address learning gaps when it really matters. You can see the how powerful formative assessments can be and the impact they can have on improving student learning and performance when used effectively.

Examples of formative assessment include:

  • Quizzes
  • Tests
  • Concept maps and diagrams
  • Opinion and reflective journals on a topic


Using both Summative and Formative Assessments in the Classroom


Using a combination of both formative and summative assessments in the classroom gives students the opportunity to learn and perform at their best.

Using a range of both assessments also provides teachers and school leaders with the knowledge and understanding they need to improve the learning experience for students, teaching practices and ultimately the performance of their school.

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