10 Principles of Assessment

Principle #6

Summative assessments must be based on clear criteria (aligned to core competencies and learning standards) and include a variety of opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning.

Periodically we ask (the students) to demonstrate their level of achievement by means of summative assessments of learning, which are a culmination of what they have learned and comprise of the most recent evidence of achievement.

—Jan Chappius

Summative assessment is designed to:

  • provide information about a student’s achievement at the end of a unit of instruction
  • be completed in a short period of time
  • make judgements about student achievement or progress over time
  • communicate important information about student progress in relation to expected learning standards
  • confirm what students know, demonstrate whether they have met learning standards, or the goals of their IEP, and to make decisions about future placements (Earl & Katz, 2006)
  • determine how much learning has occurred over a period of instruction in relation to learning standards or goals
  • determine report card performance scales, comments, and/or letter grades

Summative Assessment is generally done at the end of learning to document the achievement levels of the students at that point in time. This information is useful for teachers to measure the effectiveness of their program.

Wiliam and Black’s (1996) reminder that the terms “formative” and “summative” assessment should be considered in terms of the function they serve, rather than the form they take. Many assessments such as quizzes, projects, and class assignments, can serve either as formative or summative assessments.

How often teachers use formative and summative assessments in their classrooms is directly linked to student progress. While summative assessment serves the purpose of evaluating students’ progress, it provides limited feedback for students. While teachers have to evaluate student work and assign marks, research tells us that placing a number or letter grade on everything a student does can negatively impact motivation and learning. Giving fewer marks and more feedback can lead to improved student achievement.

Classroom Examples/Teacher Testimonials

1. An Elementary Teacher uses The Six Facets of Understanding (Wiggins & McTighe, 2004) to develop a comprehensive summative assessment for a unit on nutrition. Students have choice in demonstrating their understanding by considering assessment tasks that focus on explanation (e.g., Canada’s Food Guide), application (reading food labels), perspective (specific diets), self-knowledge (evaluating one’s own eating habits), empathy (different cultures’ dietary restrictions), and interpretation of the learning (personal goal setting).

2. A Secondary Teacher allows students to rewrite or redo any assessed and evaluated assignment in Humanities so they can demonstrate learning and improvement. The expectation for any re-write is that the student must substantially change the content to improve the quality and that the changes must involve more than superficial changes such as grammar and mechanics. Students must attach the original assignment when they submit the rewrite (O’Connor, 2011, p. 124).

Teacher Tips

1. Provide students, who are unsuccessful in meeting the learning targets, with the option to retake a test or redo an assignment to show later mastery. If the student improves his or her results, he/she receives the higher grade (not an average of the two test scores).

2. Provide students with the criteria and corresponding assessment method simultaneously. It helps students understand what they need to do and how they might approach the task to demonstrate their understanding.

3. Summative assessments do not have to be high stakes every time. Try making the summative assessment a low stakes endeavour.