When we think about assessment we typically think of summative student assessment as we consider the following questions:

How will students make progress on objectives you have chosen for your course? What activities will promote development of those skills, concepts, experiences? How will you and your students check their progress on objectives? What assessments will provide that feedback?

The following definitions from Carneige Mellon differentiate between two types of student assessment: formative and summative:

Formative Assessment

The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. More specifically, formative assessments:

  • help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work
  • help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately

Formative assessments are generally low stakes, which means that they have low or no point value. Examples of formative assessments include asking students to:

  • draw a concept map in class to represent their understanding of a topic
  • submit one or two sentences identifying the main point of a lecture
  • turn in a research proposal for early feedback

The key text about classroom assessment is Angelo, T.A. and K.P. Cross. 1993 Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. This text has detailed descriptions of 50 different CATs including instructions on how to implement them and examples of use in various courses. The text categorizes CATs by the type of goal the CAT helps you assess. Additionally this text contains a self-scorable Teaching Goals Inventory. Available from the Center for Faculty Development Library.

Mid-term Feedback

Midterm break offers an opportunity to gather student feedback and make minor course corrections before the end of the semester. This short survey is one way to gather information about teaching effectiveness and to help to make timely adjustments in courses during the semester. 

Summative Assessment

The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.

Summative assessments are often high stakes, which means that they have a high point value. Examples of summative assessments include:

  • a midterm exam
  • a final project
  • a paper
  • a senior recital