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A targeted question during a lesson, an end of unit quiz, fall and spring benchmarks, the large scale state mandated exams. Your experience with assessments will vary depending upon your job and the information you need to do it.

Assessment can be used to support learning, as well as validate it. Assessment can occur daily as a part of teaching, but also be scheduled to occur at certain critical points during or at the end of the school year. Which type of assessment you choose should match the purpose behind the questions you’re trying to answer.

Let’s explore what defines the different type of assessments frequently administered in our schools.

Summative Assessments

Most educators are familiar with large scale summative assessments, such as state performance exams or national tests like the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). These are become known as “high-stakes tests,” as the No Child Left Behind law required that such summative assessment results be used to determine whether a given school was succeeding or failing.

It’s important to know that not all summative tests are “high-stakes.” A summative assessment is how we refer to a culminating assessment – one that certifies and reports whether a student has learned a prescribed set of content. Variations on these assessments can be used to cover material in a single unit or over the entire school year.

Formative Assessment

While summative assessments certify learning, formative assessment supports learning. Formative assessment is a set of techniques and tools that encourages both students and teachers to continually gather evidence of learning in the classroom and use that evidence to adapt instruction moment-to-moment and day-by-day.

Used during instruction, formative practice creates an environment where educators and students:

  • collect critical information about learning progress
  • uncover opportunities for review
  • provide feedback
  • suggest adjustments to both the teacher’s approach to instruction and the student’s approach to learning.

Many different tools support the practice of formative assessment in collecting information about learning and providing feedback. Some of these tools you may already be familiar with, others may be new:

  • hand-held clickers
  • individual whiteboards
  • status indicators (red, yellow, green)
  • teacher created tests, quizzes and item banks

Interim Assessment

An interim assessment is one that may be administered at specified intervals between periods of instruction. Interim assessments help teachers better understand what a student knows and what concepts need more emphasis to ensure academic growth. They also measure student learning growth and help teachers look for patterns or trends and identify needs for additional resources.

Benchmark Assessment

In addition to measuring growth, assessments can be used to predict performance on mandatory end-of-year summative exams. Typically given in fall and spring, this form of interim assessment allows teachers to “benchmark” student performance against the requirements for the year. Teachers can then adjust instruction during the year to focus in on areas of need for students.

Diagnostic Assessment

Diagnostic assessments can be very helpful when information about a student’s prior learning is useful, such as at the beginning of the school year. These tests focus on surfacing potential difficulties or areas of learning that may need further development. Used alongside other evidence from the classroom, diagnostic tests are often used to determine if a student would benefit from remedial or accelerated learning programs.