1. George Champlin

    A book can be summative and still be an ongoing project. I do not think you are incorrect in calling your book summative while still learning. School law for South Carolina educators : a handbook for teachers, administrators, and trustees http://goo.gl/YoPKoj is just such a book. It is a living document, subject to change as the content changes. We are all continually a work in progress. As usual, a great reflection.

  2. Great question…

    I think that the definition you have chosen for formative and summative assessment is problematic for a few reasons but the BIG reason is that the definition places the focus solely on the teacher. A key role of formative assessment is to shift ownership of the assessment and, therefore, of the learning to the learner (rather than the teacher).

    The main goal of formative assessment is to providing ongoing feedback to the learner (teacher, peer, self) to drive learning forward. There is intention and criteria for success to help in this process.

    The main goal of summative assessment is to provide a snapshot of learning at that point in time. It is never to say that learning is done but rather, here is where the learner is at at this point in time. It is more of an event. Formative assessment often stays within the classroom or learning environment (a conversation between teacher and student/peers) while summative assessment is shared out (to parents/caregivers/provinces/states) beyond the classroom. When it is shared out, the assessment may be “done” at that point in time but this should not imply that the learning is “done”. Consider the skill of reading – we report out to parents strengths and struggles of a child’s reading ability, but this skill continues to be taught and learned over many years.

    My friend Tom Schimmer uses the terms practice and games when talking about assessment. Formative assessment is the coaching, feedback, and chance to practice skill development. Summative is the games where these skills are applied to an audience and/or situation that can involve people from outside the learning environment.

    No analogy is going to be perfect but the blog vs books is an interesting one in which I see value. In a blog post like this one, your purpose is to gain feedback with a clear learning intention that you, as the learner, has created. Your readers are the coaches/teachers that can provide a similar or different lens to help drive your learning forwards. However, many blogs are not this open. They state an idea without being open to feedback. There are also other purposes of blogging spreading ideas and sharing stories that may not necessarily have the intent of specific learning. If we were to compare blogging to formative, it would be higher level of formative (think Assessment AS Learning) as the learning resides so much on the learner (you). By comparing your book to summative, I see the links there and I would say that “this is your learning at this point in time” and by no means do we mean learning has ended. You cannot go back and change the book (without a new edition) whereas a blog post can be changed (sort of… it can be changed for the learner but necessarily the reader as they have moved on after reading).

    At some point, summative has been given a bad rap. Likely when summative is equated to standardized tests and high stakes assessments, it is given a bad lens (which I would agree with). However, if we consider summative as just a way to share a snapshot of learning at that point in time to people beyond the classroom, I don’t see this is as necessarily a bad thing. What I do see as a bad thing is when summative is the dominant form of assessment (think everything is marked, recorded and averaged for a final mark).

    So that is a long-winded version of clarifying the role of formative assessment while also saying that summative should not mean that learning is done. :-)

    • Chris, although I agree with your opinion that formative assessment should shift ownership to the student, that is only possible if the assessments have first informed the teacher’s instruction.
      I believe in formative (and summative) assessments as a teacher from ON but as a parent now living in BC, I have yet to experience any form of formative assessment for my son in 4 years (It’s almost December and all I can hope for is a report card BC style). That’s a lot of lost learning time and potential. There has to be accountability and I hope digital portfolios are one way to begin that conversation.

      • Hey Navjot. When you say that you have not received any formative assessment for your child, what do you mean? Formative should be for the student in the form of feedback based on criteria. Yes, it should also be used to tweak teaching but the ultimate goal is student ownership of assessment and, thus, learning.

        Can you clarify what you mean?

  3. Julian Edwards

    In an inquiry setting I’d prefer to go to the root of those terms and think of ‘formative’ as forming the next stages of an inquiry or learning and summative as a summary of the learning so far. Unfortunately unlike academic learning in a doctoral setting we all too often have to ‘pack up shop’ on our learning directions and move on to a new topic, unit or theme. ‘Summary’ assessment gets to that: this is how far I was able to reach as a student with my learning in the time allowed. Perhaps if our ‘summatives’ always included the question ‘if you were going to study this for four more weeks what would you want to learning next and why’ we would reinforce the message.

  4. Ben

    I feel like you’re coming up against one of the problems with education. Classes are summative. When you take US History, if you pass the class it’s done in June. There are no retakes unless you fail and therefore there is a finality to your grade and your completion of the course.

    Of course that does not mean the end of learning or even the subject. In Virginia you take US History in 4th, 6th, 7th, 11th grade and most likely in college. As human beings we are constantly learning all the time, in and out of the classroom, but the structure of education has a finite endpoint and therefore the terms make sense to me from a structural sense.

    I understand your point of explaining that learning and skill work continues forever but I personally don’t have a problem with the terms because they are dealing with an institutional reality.

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