H. MacDonell

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Defining the Distinctions between Summative and Formative Assessment


Assessment of Learning

Summative Assessment

Assessment for Learning

Formative Assessment

 to record achievement levels of students  and to communicate this to parents

to guide the students towards the fulfillment of the outcome and to increase the students’ awareness of their progress

to ensure accountability

to allow improvement

assess students at the end of the unit

assess the students at various stages  throughout the process of the learning

hold out punishments and rewards as the prime motivation for involvement

promote the belief that success is attainable

the teacher creates tests to ensure that the students have met the outcome

teachers work with the students to design projects that allow students to meet the desired outcome in a variety of ways

students prepare for tests

students become in involved in the design of the assignment and the creation of the assessment tool or rubric

provides few opportunities for modifications

allows  opportunities for differentiated instruction

teacher marks the work

students do some self assessment

feedback provided in numeric form

feedback provided in anecdotal form providing some directions for improvement; descriptive feedback



See also www.assessmentinst.com


Imagine this scenario.  The interaction between the teacher and the student is similar to  that of a physician and her patient.  In this scenario there are two doctors, one representing assessment of learning and the other assessment for learning. Let’s call one practitioner Dr. Sue M. Mativeassessment and the other Dr. F. Orma Tiveassessment.  The patient is named Jim.



Dr Sue: Morning …uh…(looking at file)...Jim, is it.You’re looking uh a bit rough today.  Obviously there are a few problems, but we’ll just run some tests and see what we can find out.

Jim: Will I be ok?

Dr. Sue:  It doesn’t look good, but we’ll know better when the tests come back.


Several weeks later
Dr. Sue:  Yes, I was right.  The tests were as I predicted.  Terrible. 

Jim:  Do I have a chance?

Dr. Sue: Well…uh…Let’s just run a few more tests and then we’ll know for sure.


Several weeks later

Dr. Sue:  Jim, about your last tests.  Once again they were very very disappointing.  I just don’t think you’re gonna make it.  I’m sorry, but it is all we can do

Jim:  Really?

Dr. Sue:  Really.  Those test results were quite scary, but hey let’s do one final examination and see what it shows.

Jim:  Oh God.  I can’t wait.


Several weeks later

Jim:  Well doctor, how did my examination come out?

Dr. Sue:  I am very sorry Jim.  The examination showed the same thing as the tests.  You will not pull through.  Is there anything you would like to say?

Jim:  No, not really…I guess the tests showed everything.  I never really had a chance.

Dr. Sue:  Look I’m sorry…


Dialogue #2

Dr. Orma:  Jim, great to see you.  How are you?  What can we do for you today?

Jim:  Well I’ve got a bit of a problem..

Dr. Orma:  So tell me all about it…


Several weeks later

Dr. Orma:  I went over the problems that you brought up last time and I think we can help.  I’ve got a few exercises and activities I would like you to try.  I’d like to see you regain full health as soon as possible.

Jim:  Do you think I can?

Dr. Orma:  Sure. I see cases like this all the time.  I'm sure that if you practice the exercises regularly, you will improve.


Several weeks later:

Dr. Orma:  So how are feeling now Jim?  You look better, but I'd just like to take a closer look.  (examining him and making some notes)  

Right.  I'd like to change one of your exercises a bit.  We will try it this way instead.  Watch me. Have you got that.  Try it and I will watch.

Jim:  (tries the exercise)

Dr.  Orma:  What do you think?  Did that feel better?

Jim:  Yes, it did.  It felt much better.

Dr. Orma:  I'll just take a urine sample and run some blood tests to see if that nasty problem is gone


Several weeks later:

Dr. Orma:  Well congratulations Jim.  The tests showed very positive results. I am so pleased that you followed my instructions and did your part to make the necessary lifestyle changes to improve your health.  You are an excellent patient.

Jim:  Thanks Doc, but I couldn't have done it without you!

Jim and Dr. Orma smile as the curtain closes.