Internal - Faculty & Staff

Formative, Summative and Self-Check Assessment

Formative vs. Summative Assessment

The primary function of assessment is to measure student learning. There are two types of assessment, formative and summative. Formative assessments are often said to be for learning, while summative assessments are of learning.

Formative assessment is used to check students’ understanding and to plan subsequent instruction. The information gained from formative assessments guides the next steps in instruction and helps teachers and students consider the additional learning opportunities needed to ensure success.

The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning, skill acquisition, and academic achievement at the end of a unit or course by comparing it against some standard or benchmark. Summative assessment provides teachers and students with information about the attainment of content knowledge.

It is quite common in higher education to see a very heavy focus on summative assessment, with very little formative assessment opportunities. Effective online instruction, however is dependent upon opportunities for students to practice and receive feedback. Formative assessment provides feedback to learners as they are learning content.  Opportunities for practice and feedback are crucial to the efficacy of online instruction.

Self-assessments and Self-Tests

Self-assessments are an important tool that can be used to both assess and aid learning. Using self-assessments in online learning environments allows students to test new knowledge, receive meaningful feedback, and focus their learning. Further, self-assessments can provide an opportunity for immediate application of content. Feedback is one of the most important parts of self-assessment because this is often when learning takes place or is confirmed.

Online Assessment: Best Practices
  1. Assessments should be designed to provide students with immediate feedback and help them to understand and apply what they have learned.
  2. Assessments should be authentic and help students see how the course material is relevant in the “real world”.
  3. Assessments should include three key elements:  
    1. Measurement of learning objectives
    2. Self-assessments
    3. Feedback between and among the instructor and students
  4. In an online course, tests are not enough. Tests assess one type of learning and are catered to one learning style. Tests generally measure knowledge acquisition but not application. Use varied assessment tools to provide opportunity for all students to demonstrate their learning. Emphasize performance-based assessment tasks.
  5. Carefully align assessments with learning objectives and the course content to avoid assessing students on material that was not covered in the course. What we want students to learn and be able to do should guide the choice and design of the assessment.
  6. Assessment should be ongoing throughout the semester to inform both students and the instructor about student learning.
  7. Effective assessment should help students become better self-directed learners.
  8. Encourage students to develop skills in giving feedback by providing guidelines for good feedback and by modeling what is expected.
  9. Design assessments that are clear, easy to understand, and that are likely to work in the online environment.
  10. Ask for and incorporate student input into how assessment should be conducted.

Advantages and Challenges

  • It is easier to evaluate overall student learning in an online course. When an instructor asks a question online, all students will respond, and their understanding can be assessed, rather than one student answering the question in a traditional classroom setting.
  • Online courses require much more written communication, which can be used to assess student learning and show growth over time.
  • Instructors can easily create online portfolios of student work to evaluate students’ progress in the course.
  • Students receive immediate feedback with the use of self-tests and checkpoint questions.
  • The immediacy of informal assessment and feedback that occurs during face-to-face class time through class discussions and teacher observations is harder to achieve in an online environment.
  • Cheating can occur in many ways.