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Informing your Instructional Decisions after a Summative Assessment

Summative assessments that have questions aligned with the essential questions and learning targets from the unit will provide feedback to both the learner and the teacher. 

One question we are often asked is how to integrate data from summative assessments into classrooms which have a strong focus on formative assessment. Mark Kevesdy is back with some thoughts on implementation.

Inform your instructional decisions constructing high quality summative assessments. This requires two basic components, focus and balance. After spending several weeks on a particular unit, the end game is the summative assessment. Along the way, instructional decisions are made at various checkpoints using a variety of formative assessments. The greatest opportunity for learning is through the regular use of formative assessments. However, this doesn’t meaning learning can’t take place after a summative assessment. At times, educators look at the summative assessment as final analysis. Yes, much of the learning has taken place prior to the demonstration of knowledge, reasoning, and skill. Yet, there is much the student can learn from a well-constructed summative assessment.

Summative assessments that have questions aligned with the essential questions and learning targets from the unit will provide feedback to both the learner and the teacher. If a summative assessment is balanced with a variety of question formats and centered on learning targets, then a clearer picture will result that better measures student growth. Learning targets can be clustered within various sections of the summative assessment. Each section would have well written multiple choice and short response questions. In this way, students can demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and reasoning in each section of the summative assessment. If a student performs well in one section of a summative but not in another, then that student can retake the section of the assessment where weaknesses in knowledge, skill, and reasoning are evident. The summative becomes an informational piece rather than just an evaluative measure. Therefore, the summative assessment can be used to inform your decisions about how to better measure student growth.

A one time, winner take all approach, may not necessarily be best way to encourage learners to relearn. Allowing students to analyze and interpret their errors with the chance to improve on their previous performance is a better measure of student growth in the long run. This may challenge some of our beliefs about accountability and work ethic. However, student accountability and work ethic are not compromised if a student is willing to use the summative assessment as a means to relearn. This allows an educator to inform their instructional decisions after a summative assessment, which in turn, can provide a more accurate measure of student growth. The learning process does not have to end at the summative assessment. Design your questions around learning targets that accurately reflect student learning. In addition, allow re-takes on those sections where students do not demonstrate acceptable growth. The student is still responsible for their own learning but you as the educator are still in charge of setting a higher standard for academic performance. Ultimately, you will be more informed about your impact on student learning and will be able to provide better measures of student growth during the teacher evaluation process.


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  • Firoj says...

    On December 21, 2015

    Russ- Thanks for the comment. I’ll try to clirfay the best that I can, though admittedly there are many who can explain this much more thoroughly. Check out for more, or read anything by Rick Wormeli or Grant Wiggins that you can. They’re great with this.Formative and summative assessments are not determined by their length. They are determined by their nature. A summative assessment is a final assessment to see what a student has learned based on a specific set of standards. Typically, standardized assessments are thought of as summative because the results inform how a student has performed in a given year on a given set of standards, and it also informs, to some degree, how a program or school is performing with their curriculum. Although, that assumption can be terribly flawed. That’s why I wrote this post. To see if we can actually use those data to move us into a formative assessment mindset.Formative assessments are ongoing checks to see how a student is doing. The difference with a formative assessment is that is typically doesn’t count for a grade, and both students and teachers can do something with the data immediately after receiving it. Like the article above references, students going out on the road with a driving instructor is a type of formative assessment.So, it’s really how we approach the assessment and what we do with the information it yields that determines if something is formative or summative.I hope this helps. Feel free to push back or challenge or disagree with any of this.

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