Maximizing formative and summative assessment in the STEM classroom

formative assessment, summative assessmentAssessment has many roles in the STEM classroom. There is the assessment of learning, assessment for learning, and assessment as learning. Assessment of learning is what is thought of as assessment in a traditional sense: tests, exams, and projects. This is an assessment of the learning that has already occurred, or summative assessment.

What teachers are often missing are the other two roles of assessment: as learning, and for learning. Assessment as learning monitors learning as it occurs, including both informal and formal formative assessments. This is a valuable tool for both teachers and students. Teachers can see what the students have mastered, while students can self-monitor their progress. Assessment for learning takes this one step further by using assessment to inform future instruction. With all three pieces in place, assessment is an invaluable tool for teachers and students alike.

What is Formative Assessment?

Formative assessment is any form of assessment that monitors student comprehension and needs while learning is taking place. It can be either formal or informal in nature. Since this form of assessment is part of the learning process, it is typically not used for grades. Instead it is viewed as practice and a check for understanding. Results of formative assessment can be used for differentiation, remediation, and student self-reflection.


Formative assessment provides valuable information about your students, including what they have mastered and what has yet to be mastered. They are diagnostic in nature, which allows you to adjust your teaching while the learning process is still taking place rather than after a unit has ended. It will not only gauge you students’ comprehension, but also help you reflect on your instruction.

How to Use Formative Assessment

Formative assessment should be used throughout a unit in order to constantly collect information to adjust teaching and learning while it is happening. Time varies, but it is often quite quick. This can be done both informally and formally in the form of homework, labs, class work, exit slips, etc. Students should be given time for self and peer assessment in order to reflect on their own learning.


Formative assessment, summative assessment• Observations
• Graphic Organizers
• Discussion
• Interview
• Exit Slip
• Questioning
• Individual Whiteboards
• Peer Review
• Think Pair Share
• Four Corners
• Quiz
• Homework

What is Summative Assessment?

Summative assessment is what traditionally comes to mind when you hear the word assessment. It is used to determine what students know and have mastered. It is sometimes called a benchmark. Many forms of summative assessment have a heavily weighted grade value. This is most often seen as a test or project at the culmination of a unit.


Summative assessment should provide a clear picture of what the student has learned and mastered over time. While this is not as diagnostic in nature, it could be used for reflection of instruction and future planning. Summative assessment provides the big picture for your classroom, grade level, school, etc.

How to Use Summative Assessment

Summative assessment should be used at the end of a unit as a culminating event. This does not always mean a test! Summative assessment comes in a variety of forms that can best capture the strengths of your students.


formative assessment, summative assessment• Test
• Project
• Paper
• Portfolio
• Presentation
• Performance Task
• Midterm or Final Exam
• Standardized Tests- including the SAT and ACT

The Best of Both Worlds

A multi-modal approach should be used in order to get the clearest picture of student learning. Having multiple data perspectives and sources will ensure that all students have an opportunity to showcase their knowledge in a mode speaks to their personal strengths. A sole test does not accurately reflect a student’s mastery. Rather, students should be engaged in problems and authentic assessments. Portfolios are one such way to collect and assess student mastery over time. Students can also use portfolios as a tool in self-reflection.

In addition, what many teachers do not take in to consideration is that a summative assessment can become a formative assessment if the student did not display mastery. Students should be provided with the opportunity to redo such assessments after remediation in order to master the goals, rather than accepting a failing grade.

When you are sitting down to plan out your next unit, try to incorporate new forms of assessment – not only at the end, but also all along the way!

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