Assignment Of Proceeds Formative And Summative Assessment

summative assessment and considers how inherent tensions between the different purposes of assessment may be mitigated.


The range of understanding and skill called for in the Standards acknowledges the complexity of what it means to know, to understand, and to be able to do in science. Science is not solely a collection of facts, nor is it primarily a package of procedural skills. Content understanding includes making connections among various concepts with which scientists work, then using that information in specific context. Scientific problem-solving skills and procedural knowledge require working with ideas, data, and equipment in an environment conducive to investigation and experimentation. Inquiry, a central component of the Standards, involves asking questions, planning, designing and conducting experiments, analyzing and interpreting data, and drawing conclusions.

If the Standards are to be realized, summative as well as formative assessment must change to encompass these goals. Assessment for a summative purpose (for example, grading, placement, and accountability) should provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate conceptual understanding of the important ideas of science, to use scientific tools and processes, to apply their understanding of these important ideas to solve new problems, and to draw on what they have learned to explain new phenomena, think critically, and make informed decisions (NRC, 1996). The various dimensions of knowing in science will require equally varied assessment strategies, as different types of assessments capture different aspects of learning and achievement (Baxter & Glaser, 1998; Baxter & Shavelson, 1994; Herman, Gearhart, & Baker, 1993; Ruiz-Primo & Shavelson, 1996; Shavelson, Baxter, & Pine, 1991; Shavelson & Ruiz-Primo, 1999).


As teachers fulfill their different roles as assessors, tensions between formative and summative purposes of assessment can be significant (Bol and Strange, 1996). However, teachers often are in the position of being able to tailor assessments for both summative and formative purposes.

Performance Assessments

Any activity undertaken by a student provides an opportunity for an assessment of the student's performance. Performance assessment often implies a more formal assessment of a student as he or she engages in a performance-

If formative assessment is the planned classroom practice of eliciting evidence of student learning minute-to-minute, day-by-day then how does homework fit into that definition? Homework is not something that, by its own definition, is even done in the classroom, yet it can help teachers elicit evidence of student learning.

If homework is about practicing (or integrating) new learning, much like scrimmages in basketball or football, then it seems reasonable that teachers would provide students with feedback on their homework, and time to use the feedback to get better at what they are doing (and learning). By spending a little bit of time thinking about formative assessment practices while designing/constructing homework assignments/questions, a teacher can get a good understanding of where that student is in their learning, so wouldn’t that make it formative?

I suppose the answer to this question would vary depending on how the teacher is using the homework, what homework is being assigned, and whether that homework is graded. According to Carr and Farr (2000, Grading and Reporting Student Progress in and Age of Standards), ‘Homework should be a risk-free chance to experiment with new skills. Homework should require students to apply what they have learned so they find out what they really do understand.’

In Grant Wiggin’s recent blog post at TeachThought – Using Formative Assessment as Homework – he stated that formative assessment could be graded:

In short, no matter the pure definition, I don’t think it is accurate to say that formative assessments can’t ever be graded. What matters – what makes a formative assessment formative – is whether I have a chance to get and use feedback in a later version of the ‘same’ performance. It’s only formative if it is ongoing; it’s only summative if it is the final chance, the ‘summing up’ of student performance.

I believe that if you’re grading homework, it is not formative assessment. Formative assessment is not for grading. In fact, student learning from formative assessment shouldn’t even be a factor in grading. Why? While some students have greater knowledge of a certain topic than others at the outset of a lesson, if teachers are successful in their efforts at imparting that lesson, all students should, at least, have the same baseline knowledge of that lesson once it’s taught. If they all can’t meet that baseline of measurement, then where does the responsibility lie – with the student or the teacher?

If homework is in fact graded, then I would consider that a summative (or at best an interim) assessment. As Harvey Craft, in his paper Home Work is Not for Grading states: ‘The consequence of grading homework can be the difference between passing or failing. This is a huge consequence for students to bear because some teachers don’t understand the fundamental difference between formative and summative assessments. Evaluation is not about homework.’

To say that homework can be a formative assessment practice would be accurate to be sure. To say that all homework is formative assessment only depends on the assignment being given and how the teacher uses homework.

Tell us what you think? If you’re a teacher how do you use homework assignments? Do you grade them? Do you use them as a measuring stick for student progress?

Kathy Dyer is a Sr. Professional Development Specialist for NWEA, designing and developing learning opportunities for partners and internal staff. Formerly a Professional Development Consultant for NWEA, she coached teachers and school leadership and provided professional development focused on assessment, data, and leadership. In a career that includes 20 years in the education field, she has also served as a district achievement coordinator, principal, and classroom teacher. She received her Masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Colorado Denver. Follow her on Twitter at @kdyer13.

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