Formative vs Summative Assessment

Assessment Mindset

End of term testing, completed!  Reports, completed! I can have a rest now right?  All done for a little while, won’t have to assess again until the end of next term…wonderful.  

Have you had this mindset? I know I have. Have you subconsciously decided that you have many, many weeks before ‘real’ assessment needs to happen again? Yeah, me too. Now don’t get me wrong, you deserve a break after a long term of teaching, you have every right to pop your feet up and chillax! But it’s not about the break you so rightly deserve, it’s about the mindset that many teachers have. Thinking that assessment only happens at the end of teaching and learning is misguided, wrong and not helpful for student growth. 

You see, a good teacher (like you) should be absolutely, definitely, constantly assessing their students. Before a unit of work, at the end of a day, before recess, during rotations, at the completion of a project. Always be assessing.  Summative and formative assessment go together like a horse and carriage, without the carriage…. the horse has bolted! 

Ok, so maybe that is not the best analogy, however, the point is that they are both super dooper important to learning and need to be treated as such. Let’s take some time to define the two.

What is the difference?

Formative assessment is assessment completed prior to and during teaching so that a teacher (ahem, you) knows what to teach next.  Why? 

We don’t want to teach our students what they already know (in the industry this is called boring and negative behaviour issues soon appear) 

We don’t want to teach our students a concept that is too challenging for them because that haven’t yet grasped the prior learning that is required to teach this concept (this is called ‘ploughing ahead with a blindfold on’… also a teaching industry term) .

If we don’t use formative assessment in our teaching and our planning then we will be wasting our own time, our students’ time and quite possibly end up with a class of students who are disengaged (for the reasons mentioned above). 

In contrast, summative assessment is the assessment completed after we have taught a concept to ensure that our students understood the concept.  

It is important to note that we need both formative and summative assessment in our teaching. And they don’t happen in isolation. Both formative and summative assessment can happen at the same time and in partnership with each other. (like a horse and cart… I’m sticking with the analogy).

So what does it look like in action? 

Concept: Reading timetables and calculating the differences in time using 24 hour time

Start: Do all my students have the necessary prior knowledge to understand this concept?  If they don’t, formative assessment helps us to see where they are at and teach to that rather than what the curriculum says we must get through for students of this year level.  There is no point.  It might even mean stepping back and teaching some of the prior knowledge as a whole class or differentiating as you move forward.

Next: Do your thing….Teach the topic. 

Then: Assess progress at a couple of checkpoints. Keep it simple with these easy formative assessment tips and tricks

Lastly: Have all my students understood 24 hour time, can read timetables and calculate the difference in time using 24 hour time? Summative assessment is a way for you to see if you can move on to the next topic of if you need to continue with this concept or come back to it at a later date.  In this way, Summative Assessment then becomes Formative Assessment because you use the data and information from this assessment for your future teaching and planning.  

And on and on it should go.  Formative Assessment leads to Summative Assessment which lends itself to also being Formative Assessment…. mind blowing, right?

Assessment, in any form, is not a means to an end. It is not an afterthought popped into your planning or your diary at the end of a ten-week term.  It is an everyday, every teaching moment occurrence. Do this, and reporting will be a breeze. Do this using Assessly and you will wonder why you ever did it any other way.