Terms and Definitions
Assessments are often discussed in terms of the purpose or use of the assessment or the type or style of the of assessment. To be sure that we are using terms consistently within the South Portland School Department, the categories of assessments are defined as are the types of assessments used in the district.
Categories of Assessment
Formative assessments are varied and include but are not limited to, such things as class assignments, projects, quizzes, journal checks, etc. Formative assessments are given in full knowledge that student learning and understanding is forming. Students participate in formative assessment along the way in a given course or area of study to allow teachers to gain insight as to further instruction and support needed to reach the expected target for learning.
Diagnostic assessment, similar to formative assessment, is used to improve student learning. However, unlike formative assessment, which is looking at learning in progress towards learning targets, diagnostic assessment assesses what the learner already knows and/or the nature of difficulties that the learner might have, which, if undiagnosed, might limit their engagement in new learning. It is often used before teaching or when a problem arises.
Summative assessments are intended to measure the sum of a student’s learning, usually at key points in a learning progression. Taking varying forms, which include tests, projects, or performance assessments, summative assessments are usually administered at the end of a unit of learning or designated period of learning (i.e., grading period, school year, etc.) Summative assessments are intended to make a determination – even a judgment – about a student’s learning. There are several categories of assessments that are considered summative.
“Reflective” assessment is a way of describing the analysis of existing assessment data to evaluate instructional practice and programs. Teachers and administrators review student performance on assessments to consider instructional approach, content focus, and resource adjustments that may be required to ensure greater student achievement.
Types of Assessment
Standardized Assessments, such as state tests and college entrance tests most often fall into the summative classification. Frequently these types of tests are referred to as standardized tests and are normative in design. When a test is a normative test it means that a student’s performance is being compared to the performance of other students who took the same test. Scores are reported in terms of a percentile where the average is the 50th percentile and a lower percentile score is below average. Although normative tests allow a student to know how he/she performed in relation to other students tested, normative tests can promote a focus on how well the student performed against the sample rather than how well the student did or did not know the material being assessed. Similarly, the focus on the student performance in comparison to the sample does not highlight the student’s growth or success in meeting student goals. Standardized assessments are used in a summative way to show student achievement and/or growth, depending upon the assessment. Although primarily used as a summative measure, standardized assessments can be used in a diagnostic sense as well. Students who score below a particular level can be identified and their performance on the assessment can be analyzed to determine what they know and what they need for additional instruction. In addition, depending on the standardized assessment and how the data is presented, the information can be used to inform instruction as well and therefore the assessments serves as a formative function as well.
Classroom Based Assessments (CBAs) are designed and administered by classroom teachers to measure student understanding of the learning targets. CBAs take a variety of forms, which include, but are not limited to, tests, projects, and/or performance assessments. There is also great variety in how students will be asked to show their learning. Students may be asked to show their understanding orally, in writing, individually, in groups, in a single session, over multiple sessions, and/or with the use of technological tools.