Assess for the sake of learning

Assess for the sake of learning

After several engaging discussions with my PLN on the roles of formative and summative assessment, I felt the need to get some ideas down on pap…well, get some ideas down.

Practice FOR learning

The nature of formative assessment is that it is FOR learning.  I prefer the term formative practice, because to me that is the heart of formative assessment.  I use a sports analogy to explain to students how our classroom works.  Formative practice is just like training for any athlete.  Formative work is low stakes when taking a risk to learn something new.  Failure at first is expected, but equally expected is a rise from it to find success.  If an athlete doesn’t do the work to improve and get better, they are not going to perform when it is game time. The same is true of the learners in my classroom.  If they have not practiced their speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills in Spanish, the summative assessments will not show proficiency or growth.  Feedback is the key to learning during formative practice.  Scores, numbers, and letters are not necessary and can be in fact detrimental during the practice phase.

Show me the learning!

Summative assessments ‘sum up’ the learning and put it all together.  In the sports reference, the summative assessment is the game, meet, or competition.  Time to show what you can do and what you have been working toward.  There are those that argue that if you have been collecting evidence with the formative work that a summative is not necessary.  I disagree with this for several reasons.  I feel that the summative assessment is the time to synthesize concepts, ideas, and understandings and apply them.  A summative assessment also gives additional evidence of what the final score, rating, or grade should be.  Evidence tells the story of a student’s growth and achievement and eventually drives grades.  The more evidence, the better in my opinion.

Chatting about standards based learning and grading ignites my passion as an educator.  I want to create the best learning environment possible for my students and I love the way my PLN challenges me to ‘bring it’ each day.  October is Connected Educator’s Month, and I would not be the teacher I am today without so many of the inspiring people I have met on Twitter.

How do you use formative and summative assessment in your classroom?  Leave a comment and keep the discussion going!

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  1. swartz creek October 4, 2013 at 3:54 PM - Reply

    The sports analogy makes complete sense and I will use this with my colleagues. You hit the nail on the head that feedback is the KEY to learning. I would add that feedback happens all of the time in sports. When my son is at football practice, the coaches have the team run a play and then pull my son to the side to give him feedback. They show him what he did well that needs to be repeated every time he plays that position and also what he needs to do differently next time. Even at the games, they will give him feedback when he comes off the field in this same way. He has never received a grade at football practice or at a game. Grades wouldn’t help him become a better football player. Lots of practice with feedback does. Thanks again for sharing a thought-provoking post!
    ~Michele Corbat @MicheleCorbat

  2. Jasper Fox Sr. October 3, 2013 at 8:51 PM - Reply

    Great post, I really like the “show me the learning” idea. I use the term deliverables to describe the evidence that students create to showcase their understandings. In the traditional model each student sits passively while the teacher showcases their understandings in front of the class. What I appreciate about our chatting on #sbgchat is the explosive growth and shifting of ideas that occurs in terms of grading (and feedback) processes. These transformations ensure that our students are the ones showcasing the learning, not us as the teachers.

  3. Jim Cordery October 3, 2013 at 8:46 PM - Reply

    I really like your sports analogy describing the difference between formative and summative assessments. I agree that summatives are still needed, but they can be used as formatives as well. I have really tried using more formatives in my lessons. I like how SBG forces teachers to think about every aspect of your instruction. Well done Garnett.

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