The term “formative assessment” refers to a certain understanding and philosophy of evaluation in education, as well as practices and approaches based on this understanding and intended for educators’ use. Formative assessment is the evaluation of the teaching process in the course of it. In contrast, summative assessment is an evaluation based on certain benchmarks and occurring regularly at the end of certain periods, e.g. tests, quizzes, midterm exams, and final exams.
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Garrison and Ehringhaus (2007) state that “formative assessment is part of the instructional process. When incorporated into classroom practice, it provides the information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are happening” (p. 1). This approach has been popular within recent decades because it manages to critically estimate the effectiveness of delivered education. It has been argued that summative assessment fails to recognize the needs of learners that are newly arising or had been overlooked when education programs were designed. Formative assessment activities, such as student-led conferences, provide educators with valuable feedback, which allows modifying the learning process toward addressing the needs of learners more effectively.
Summative and formative assessment in education can be compared to different approaches to gardening (“The garden analogy,” n.d.). A summative assessment is measuring plants. Certain criteria can be developed to conclude whether the plants’ growth and development are normal. However, it can be argued that such measurements do not contribute to the growth and development of the plants. Formative assessment, on the other hand, is similar to nourishing and watering the plants according to their needs.
Ussher and Earl (2010) argued that the terms “formative assessment” and “summative assessment” can be confusing and misleading because they were initially shortenings of more meaningful expressions: “assessment for formative purposes” and “assessment for summative purposes” respectively. The authors explain that some assessment methods are aimed at summarizing the achievements of learners, while other assessment methods are used for critical evaluation, i.e. to find out what should be changed and improved about teaching. The latter has proved to be beneficial for education overall.
Garrison, C., & Ehringhaus, M. (2007). Formative and summative assessments in the classroom. NMSA’s Annual Conference and Exhibit, 34(11), 1-3.
The garden analogy. (n.d.). Web.
Ussher, B., & Earl, K. (2010). ‘Summative’ and ‘formative’: Confused by the assessment terms? New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, 7(1), 53-63.