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What is a summative assessment?

Summative assessments serve as a way to evaluate students’ proficiency at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it to state or national standards and benchmarks.

Despite being siloed for years, summative assessments should work hand-in-hand with formative assessments. The two help paint a portrait of student growth and help shape instruction.

What’s the difference between a summative assessment and a formative assessment?

Summative Assessments: Summative assessments are all about the end result. What have students learned? What did they retain? How much have they progressed? These tests are used to measure students’ overall grasp on material and have a significant impact on final grades. They typically take the form of a final project or midterm/finals test.

Formative Assessments: Formative assessments differ from summative assessments in a few ways. For one, formative assessments don’t necessarily need to be graded. Since they serve as checkups, it is more about the information rather than the end score. The information gleaned helps shape instruction and future content. Whereas a summative assessment takes the form a final pen-and-paper test or final project, a formative assessment can take the form of many things. It could be a simple writing assignment, a chance to draw, a quiz, or even a short discussion with a student.

An easy way to remember the difference is that formative assessments are often referred to as tests for learning, while summative assessments are tests on learning.

Are summative assessments the best way to measure proficiency?

Short answer—no. There are always going to be better, more efficient ways to measure students’ proficiency. The problem is finding something that would replace summative assessments on a national scale. Summative assessments provide the information you need to shape instruction. Paired with formative assessments, the two can work together and help you lead students to success.

Why does it matter, anyway?

Summative assessments measure students’ grasp on different subjects and are used to identify school effectiveness, college admission, or end-of-course evaluation. Providing key insight into students’ overall grasp of key topics give educators like you insight into student growth and how to continually improve the curriculum. Despite the bad rap, summative assessments are crucial to further students’ learning.

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