Why Assess?

Formative and Summative

Assessments can be categorized as either formative or summative in terms of purpose.

Formative assessments are assessments FOR learning. They indicate to both students and teachers how well the lesson objective(s) have been met. Formative assessments take on many forms and are used continuously throughout a class period. Used effectively, they allow teachers to adjust instruction as needed to improve learning. Students can also use formative assessments to make decisions about their own needs for further study and practice to improve their performance.

Examples of formative assessments: 

  • Standard classroom practices to quickly check if students understand an explanation, example, instructions, etc.:
    • Thumbs up/Thumbs down: Students signal with thumbs up if they understand, and thumbs down if they don't understand.
    • Red, yellow, green cards: Students have a red, a yellow, a green card on their desk. Green is "Go" to indicate that the student understands the lesson. Yellow is "Caution" to indicate that the student needs more practice and/or further explanation. Red is "Stop" to indicate that the student doesn't understand the lesson. Students can select the card that describes their current understanding at any point during the lesson, without waiting for the teacher to ask. This strategy is particularly helpful in monitoring individual, pair, and group work.

  • Visual representations to demonstrate understanding of a concept, relationships, story, etc:
  • Technology to assist in checking what students know and understand:
  • Summary learning checks at the end of class verify that the lesson objectives have been met:
    • 3-2-1: Students write down three things they learned, two things that they found interesting, one question they still have
    • Ticket out: Students respond to a question or give an example of something they learned during class on a "ticket" (small piece of paper). They hand their ticket to the teacher as they leave.
    • Turn and talk: Students work in pairs to explain or give examples of what they learned during class.


Boston, C. (2002). The concept of formative assessment. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation8(9). Available online at:http://PAREonline.net/getvn.asp?v=8&n=9

Brookhart, S.M. (2013). How to create and use Rubrics for formative assessment and grading. Alexandria. VA: ASCD.

Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2014). Checking for understanding; Formative assessment techniques for your classroom Second Edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Moss, C.M. & Brookhart, S.M. (2009). Advancing formative assessment in every classroom: A guide for instructional leaders. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


Summative assessments are assessments OF learning. They indicate how well the student has achieved the multiple goals of a unit of instruction, the course goals at the end a grading period. In the case of standards-based performance assessments of the three modes of communication, it is not necessary, and many times not appropriate, to assess all the unit goals on the last day of the unit. For example, assessment of the Interpretive mode may take place after students have completed their investigation of a topic. The Presentational mode assessment may take place near the end of the unit to reflect the polished performance. The Interpersonal mode assessment might be at the very end of the unit of instruction as a summary discussion of what was learned during the unit. Ultimately the instructor strives to seamlessly integrate assessments with instruction.

Examples of summative assessments: Integrated performance assessments, district benchmark assessments, final projects.


Adair-Hauck, B., Glisan, E.W., Troyan, F.J. (2013). Implementing integrated performance assessment. Alexandria, VA: ACTFL.

Sandrock, P. (2010). The keys to assessing language performance: A teacher's manual for measuring student progress. Alexandria, VA: ACTFL.

Tomlinson, C.A. & Moon, T.R. (2013). Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classsroom. A Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


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