Summative Classroom Assessment

Summative assessments are designed to measure student understanding following a sustained period of instruction with the focus on identifying the level of student mastery and the effectiveness of instruction.  As such, summative assessments are outcome measures that emphasize student achievement rather than aptitude or effort.  From a student perspective, summative assessments are primarily utilized to determine final course grades; from an instructor perspective, they are a means of accountability.  Most educators believe that summative assessments are a vital part of the educational process due to the wealth of information they provide, but the high stakes nature mandates that these assessments are valid, reliable, authentic, and varied.  The controversy surrounding the over-reliance on summative assessments is raising a host of concerns in higher education about their effectiveness and utility; thus, it is important that instructors invest the necessary time and resources to develop quality summative assessments.

Summative Assessments Provide:

  • Information concerning a student's mastery of specific course material

  • A basis for comparing student achievement to reference groups and/or external performance criteria

  • A means of determining the effectiveness of instructional activities

  • Objective information for assigning course grades

  • Comparative data to determine student placement

  • A means of holding teachers and schools accountable for student learning

  • Content-specific information to inform parents and future teachers

  • Diagnostic information about strengths and weaknesses in student performance

  • Data to determine achievement of departmental or curriculum performance standards

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Guidelines for Enhancing Summative Assessments:

Like all assessments, summative evaluations should target the instructor's instructional objectives and/or curriculum emphases.  With this in mind, it is vital that instructors review their educational objectives prior to designing assessments.

Summative assessments are most accurate when they aggregate information from a number of sources.  Thus, rather than relying on a singular comprehensive exam, instructors should integrate a variety of measures.

Since quality summative assessments may be a combination of various components, it is important to determine the relative weighting of the components to be aggregated.  The relative weighting should reflect the learning demonstrated in relation to the course objectives.

Generally, summative assessments should be a comprehensive measure of overall knowledge, skill, or performance.

The high stakes nature of summative assessments may encourage unethical student behavior.  Thus, it is important to tailor assessment requirements to reduce opportunities for cheating and/or plagiarism.

Resource Links:

The Relationship between Formative and Summative Assessment: In the Classroom and Beyond

A Primer: Diagnostic, Formative and Summative Assessment

Methods of Assessment

Practicalities of Ongoing Assessment


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