Summative vs formative assessment is the topic of our blog post today!

Navigating the realm of educational assessments can feel like a tightrope walk. On one side, we have formative assessments—those ongoing checks that help us tweak our teaching and help students steer their learning. On the other, there are summative assessments, which act as final verdicts on what a student has grasped. But how do they differ, and when should you use one over the other?

I’ve sifted through some compelling resources, including Frey and Fisher’s “Literacy 2.0” and the Eberly Center’s insights, to bring you a detailed guide that unpacks the essentials. Whether you’re a seasoned educator or a parent trying to understand your child’s academic journey, this post is your roadmap to making sense of formative and summative assessments.

Frey and Fisher’s Perspective

In their book, Frey and Fisher advocate for a balanced approach. They emphasize that formative assessment is like your GPS during a road trip—it helps you make timely adjustments, whether that’s rerouting or changing speed. You’re essentially “assessing for learning.” On the other hand, summative assessment is your final destination, a comprehensive look at what has been learned or “assessment of learning.”

Gleaning Insights from Eberly Center

I also brought in some more food for thought from the Eberly Center ‘s page. According to their resources, formative assessments are ongoing and can happen in the form of real-time feedback, quizzes, or class discussions. Summative assessments, in contrast, are generally high stakes and include finals, standardized tests, and end-of-unit projects.

Personal Take

In my years in the classroom and current research work, I’ve found formative assessments to be a lifesaver. They not only gauge where the students are at but also provide insights for me as an educator to modify my teaching techniques. I recall a time when a quick, formative quiz revealed that a majority of the class was struggling with a concept. It allowed me to re-tailor my lesson plans on the spot. Summative assessments are vital too, don’t get me wrong. They give a holistic view of a student’s skills and knowledge, but they should never be the sole focus.

Diverse Viewpoints

Of course, the debate around formative vs. summative assessments is nuanced. Some educators argue that formative assessments can create a continuous feedback loop, enabling a more learner-centric environment. However, critics often point out that too many formative assessments can lead to ‘assessment fatigue’ for both teachers and students.

Summative Vs Formative Assessment

To break it down, I’ve created a visual aid that serves as your quick guide to the two. The visual elaborates on the key differences and showcases examples so you can easily grasp how each fits into your teaching strategy.

Final thoughts

So there we have it—the ins and outs of formative versus summative assessments. Both have their unique strengths and challenges, but it’s their combined use that creates a well-rounded educational experience. Formative assessments are like your trusted co-pilot, giving you real-time feedback for course correction, while summative assessments are your final destination, offering a comprehensive overview of the journey. From my time in the classroom and my current research, it’s clear that a balanced approach is key to maximizing student success and fostering effective teaching strategies.


Literacy 2.0 : Reading and Writing in The 21st Century Classroom by Frey and Fisher

What is the difference between formative and summative assessment? Eberly Centre

Further Reading

If you’re looking to delve deeper into this, check out this list of books on formative assessment. These reads will give you a more rounded understanding, offering both theoretical foundations and practical applications.

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