What is a Summative Assessment?

What is a Summative Assessment?

All of us remember those chapter tests and final exams we had to take back in the school day. And we remember that they were big parts of our grades. What we didn’t know at the time is that they were called “summative assessments”. But today, organizing these is part of your job.

So let’s dig a bit deeper into the subject, shall we?

What is a Summative Assessment

A summative assessment is any method that teachers or trainers use to evaluate student mastery of a chapter, unit, course, or program, based on learning outcomes for that chunk of a curriculum.

In education, some of the common summative assessment examples are:

  • a final exam
  • a project
  • perhaps a presentation (more on these later)

In training, it may be an “exam” of sorts, an individual or group presentation, or even a gaming experience or role play, that assesses what a participant has learned over the entire training course.

Summative vs Formative Assessment

You can assess how students have retained the information in two ways – with an aforementioned summative or a formative assessment.

Formative assessments are those smaller informal ones that happen all along the way. (a worksheet, a quiz, oral questioning, etc.,) An instructor needs to know if his students are “getting it” so that he can move on. And if some students are lagging, a good teacher will provide some extra help for them. Imagine, for example, a student who has not mastered how to find the percent of a number being asked to tackle word problems that involve finding percentages. Epic fail.

For more background, read our previous post on formative assessments.

Now summative assessments take place at the end of the year. They evaluate if a student has mastered all that has been taught in a unit, module, or semester. They are often more formal (final exam, standardized test, major project, etc.) and are a big part of a grade in a subject of course.

Ultimately, the key difference between a formative and summative assessment is that the former helps track the current progress, while the latter shows ultimate mastery.

When to Use a Summative Assessment

Think of summative as “the end goal”. As a teacher, you’ll want to assess the depth of knowledge your students have obtained after doing the required number of classes and coursework.

And so, you’ll likely assign or administer any of the following:

  • End of chapter or end of unit test
  • Project or paper
  • Presentation
  • Oral responses

Also mind this: summative assessments leave no room for extra feedback. As Kay Burke writes in her book “Balanced Assessment: From Formative to Summative”, such assessments “provide no descriptive feedback telling students what they need to improve”. And even if you do provide some commentary after the grade, the student will still focus on the latter, rather than take into account your praise or criticism.

How to Plan and Give a Summative Assessment

Back in the day, all summative assessments were paper-pencil tests. Some still are. But teachers are smarter now, and they understand that students learn differently. And they also “test” differently. Different types of learners need to be able to show mastery in the best ways they can, and that means options and variety, as listed below.

But first, there are a couple of planning steps.

When teachers plan for a summative assessment, they should first identify those concepts and skills that are critical to what has been taught/learned. And as they must plan the assessment around concepts and skills and only those.

Now it is time to determine the types of summative assessments that will work for the variety of learners in the classroom. Obviously, the most common summative assessments are the following:

  • Teacher-made tests
  • Standardized testing based on state or national standards
  • End-of-chapter tests
  • Research papers (especially at the high school and college levels)
  • Formal oral interviews, presentations, etc.

But if teachers are to honor all types of learners, they will have to be more creative. Here are some examples of summative assessments that involve more than paper-pencil activities.

Three Alternative Summative Assessments to Try Out

Group work presentations: In the social sciences, project work lends itself well. Students can create films and present them in class. Or they can create subject maps related to the main concepts of a unit and explain what each item represents. Such experiential learning activities help cement the obtained knowledge and apply it in a real-world setting.

Experiments or digital dissections: This assessment approach works best for science classes. To prove comprehension, ask students to apply certain knowledge and skills within a project.

Puzzles and crosswords: Instead of standard Maths test, ask students to fill in the blanks with the right answers to the common math problems. Or propose everyone to create a math game or puzzle and exchange with their peers.

To Conclude

Summative assessments are critical in the teaching/learning process. Some of them are “forced” upon teachers (e.g., state assessments). But teachers have flexibility within the classroom to design their own. When they take the time to be a bit creative and honor all learning styles, everyone wins!

Photo by Annie Spratt

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