Teachers are constantly assessing student performance and achievement. Questions are continually asked.
Are students where we want them to be? Are they understanding the content? Are they making appropriate gains? Will they meet state benchmarks? Should modifications be made to instruction or curriculum?
In a balanced assessment system, both summative and formative assessments are an integral part of gathering information that leads to instructional decisions.
Summative assessments are given periodically to determine what a student knows, or can do, in relation to content standards. They summarize that knowledge or ability and are most often used for accountability purposes. The following are a few examples:
• State or national assessments.
• End-of-unit or chapter tests.
• End-of-term or semester exams.
• Scores from projects that are used for report card grades.
Summative assessments are spread out and occur after instruction every few weeks, months or once a year. They are tools that help evaluate the effectiveness of programs, school improvement goals, alignment of curriculum, and/or student placement in specific programs.
Summative assessments happen toward the end of a learning journey. While they can be used for some instructional adjustments and interventions, it’s the formative assessments that drive change during the learning process.
Formative assessments, incorporated into daily classroom practice, provide information needed to adjust teaching and learning as it’s happening. Formative assessments inform both teachers and students at a point when timely adjustments can be made. These adjustments help ensure students’ movement toward standards based learning targets.
Some examples of formative assessments include:
• Questioning techniques and discussions.
• Exit slips.
• Visual representations and graphic organizers.
• Student responses through “clickers.”
• Think, pair, share interaction.
• Individual whiteboard responses.
• Practice presentations.
The most familiar summative tests are the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs), which are administered in the spring of the year. Grades 3-8 and 10 complete reading. Grades 3-8 and 11 complete math. Grades 5, 8 and 10 are also tested in science. Grade 9 is tested in writing.
In the past, all the MCA tests were “paper and pencil” assessments with results sent to districts mid-summer or the following fall. District staff were able to use the results to analyze year end achievement and curriculum, but not to inform instruction.
Now, the Minnesota Department of Education is offering some tests online and have added a practice math test called the Optional Local Purpose Assessments (OLPA.) The online OLPA is similar to the MCA, but is more formative as it will provide:
• Students a risk-free environment to familiarize themselves with the online testing.
• Teachers immediate, individual student results in four math strands: number and operation; algebra; geometry and measurement; and data analysis and probability.
At the end of January into February, all Pequot Lakes 3rd-8th graders will complete a math OLPA. We look forward to gaining the information mid-year. It will inform and drive instruction — helping our students grow and prepare for the spring MCA.
(Laurie Wig is director of curriculum, assessment and instructional technology for the Pequot Lakes School District.)