Formative and Summative Assessment

With the implementation of Common Core State Standards, it is no surprise that assessment has been a topic of discussion from the beginning. There are proponents for almost every possibility who claim a particular assessment option is required for CCSS. And the terms are certainly flying...rigor, depth of knowledge, task, inquiry learning, PBL (does that mean project-based learning, problem-based learning, or performance-based learning?!?). Perhaps if everyone had a common meaning for each "buzz" word then significant analysis could occur.

Meanwhile, let's not get overwhelmed by one right way. Each student is different; fair isn't always equal...and equal isn't always fair. Focus on the big picture first. Categorize the types of assessment used in a classroom as formative or summative. Confused by those terms? Consider the road test that is required to receive a driver's license as an analogy...
What if, before getting your driver's license, you received a grade every time you sat behind the wheel to practice driving? What if your final grade for the driving test was the average of all of the grades you received while practicing? Because of the initial low grades you received during the process of learning to drive, your final grade would not accurately reflect your ability to drive a car. In the beginning of learning to drive, how confident or motivated to learn would you feel? Would any of the grades you received provide you with guidance on what you needed to do next to improve your driving skills? Your final driving test, or summative assessment, would be the accountability measure that establishes whether or not you have the driving skills necessary for a driver's licensenot a reflection of all the driving practice that leads to it. --Catherine Garrison and Michael Ehringhaus in Formative and Summative Assessments in the Classroom 
Students need the driving practice [formative assessment]. And the detailed feedback provided before, during, and after those practice sessions is critical to (1) influence the design of the next practice session and (2) enable the student to realize the key skills they are using effectively and the ones that need refining for continued growth. The final driving test [summative assessment] definitely paints a picture of how well students combine a variety of skills. Caution: Do you know anyone who has a driver's license and cannot parallel park? Students can understand a concept, make connections between concepts, and still lack depth in skill. Find a balanced approach to assessment in the classroom that checks both skills and connections.

With that being said, there is a difference between students demonstrating their mathematical understanding via tasks that have one correct solution and tasks in which multiple solutions can be accurately justified. When using tasks with one correct solution, let's strive for multiple paths to arrive at that solution. For example, review the following fundraiser problem. There is only one correct answer; however, students are not required to follow a particular path to reach the solution. A student could begin problem solving by using a graph while another student could generate data to initially solve the problem. Furthermore, the detail with which they communicate their reasoning will also reflect comprehension.

Sample Assessment Resource

Thoughts? What do you find most effective in gauging student understanding? Try the sample assessment above and provide feedback. What adjustments needed to be made for your students?

This assessment document highlights Common Core State Standard 8.EE.C.8 included in MATH-8 and Accelerated Algebra 1.

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