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What is the difference between formative and summative assessment?

The terms formative assessment and summative assessment are regularly used to decribe testing and sometimes used incorrectly.

A summative assessment is a test/task/assignment used at the end of a topic or course to summarise the the knowledge aquired by a pupil on that specific part of topic or course. In the process, information can be passed back to the pupil explaining what the pupil does not understand and can also include specific topics which they then need to work on in order to increase their knowledge. This information can then be described as formative learning, but only if this additional learning is completed and then reassessed. 

Formative assessment is the actual testing of the newly aquired knowledge gained from the formative learning and formative feedback. If this part of the process is not completed, then it is incorrect to call this formative learning or formative feedback. 

Another way to explain this is in the use of the words, "for" and "of", assessmet of learning is summative, assessment for learning leads to formative feedback and learning, only if this is then assessed is it formative assessment.

BOFA, Baines Online Formative Assessment delivers formative feedback and formative assessment by having each question created in triplets, three slightly different versions of the same question, each with it own explanation and formative feedback.

  1. The first question is a summative assessment.
  2. If this is answered incorrectly, a specific explanation is supplied which is the formative feedback. The question could be incorrect for three reasons:
    • either the pupil has made a silly mistake/typo,
    • they mis-read the question, had a misconception or mis-understood what the question was trying to assess,
    • they did not understand that specific topic.
  3. Then a similar question is used as practice, this is formative learning.
  4. If this question is answered incorrectly further formative feedback is supplied.
  5. At a later date, to build long term rather than short term knowledge a third version of the question is asked which acts as the formative assessment.
  6. If this is answered incorrecly, the information related to this question is added to a report on this topic. If no futher action is taken with the report then it again is a summative assessment. But, if the pupil and/or parent/tutor then uses this report to further the pupils learning, which BOFA actively encourages, then and only then is this report formative feedback.