Teaching & Learning Tips

A collection of tips and tools designed to aid in transitioning instruction online.

Distinguishing Between Formative and Summative Assessments

Aug 11, 2021

Formative and Summative Assessment

Prof M is excited about flipping her course. She knows that moving her lectures online will afford more time in the classroom for the kinds of interactive learning activities that she never had enough time for, but this is a big change from the standard tests or papers she’s used to grading. Are ‘learning activities’ the same things as assessments, and how should they be graded?

Assessments fall into two main categories: formative, which describe tasks or skills that are in-process or being formed, and summative, which evaluate the sum total of skills or comprehension achieved. Both types of assessments are used to identify levels of mastery and provide students and instructors with diagnostic information. Formative and summative assessments may also be used interchangeably depending on your learning goals or used in tandem to promote scaffolded learning opportunities over time.

Deciding when and how to grade interactive learning activities can be challenging. We want our students to feel relaxed and engaged in the classroom without worrying about constantly being evaluated. Still, we also want them to take these interactions seriously and get the most out of them. Prof M might start by listing the online and in-class activities she’s thinking of using and sorting them into formative or summative. In some cases, the same activity might be used both ways, so she’ll also need to decide where in the lesson plan they occur. For example, using an online debate tool like Kialo can help students research positions (low-stakes formative assessment) before they take part in a team-based debate in class (high-stakes summative assessment); or an in-class discussion (non-graded) may be used to set students up for an online competition in Kialo (graded summative assessment).

Low-stakes grading of formative activities may involve:

  • Observing participation.
  • Collecting in-class quick-writes.
  • Rating online discussion posts.
  • Taking the best of three online quiz scores.

Higher stakes grading usually requires a detailed rubric that describes the learning goals being evaluated. This is especially true for alternative assessments like video projects, graphic novels, presentations, or portfolios. Well-constructed grading rubrics, sometimes in addition to peer review, can help pinpoint where a project demonstrates and applies key concepts or where improvements could be made. Providing students with detailed instructions and feedback before, during, and after these assessments also helps them stay on track and stay motivated.

CITL staff can assist with selecting different forms of formative and summative assessments as well as the construction of grading rubrics to help your students participate in, and be evaluated on, interactive learning activities that support enjoyment and mastery of course content.  

Examples of Formative Assessments

Examples of Summative Assessments

· In-class or online discussions

· Low-stakes quiz or homework

· Group brainstorming

· Clicker questions

· Minute papers or reflective writing

· Practice problems

· Jeopardy or Kahoot

· Create-Rotate-Critique-Rewrite

· Jigsaw or fishbowl

· Create a storyboard

· Tests, papers

· Oral presentation

· Mini-projects

· Zines, comics, or graphic novels

· Create a video

· Publish a blogpost

· Submit a pitch or proposal

· Reacting to the Past immersive roleplay

· Create a game or picture book

· Create a portfolio