How Schools Plan Formative and Summative Common Assessments

Materials prepared by Janet Hale, Education Consultant and Author

How can we use our well-aligned curriculum to create common assessments, whether they’re formative or summative? And, what is the difference between the two?

Establishing Common Assessment Vocabulary & Definitions

Creating common assessments relies on systemic agreement on vocabulary terms related to assessments and evaluations.

It is important to collectively decide on specific vocabulary to define assessment terminology. Schools and districts need to agree on common language when discussing and noting assessments within units of study, especially when delving into discussions pertaining to assessment types and evaluation processes. The more articulate we are in aligning our content to skills and to standards, the better we are able to create assessments that are meaningful for educators and students. 

Assessment vs. Evaluation

There is often confusion between these two concepts.

  • An assessment is a product, performance, or a combination of both. The assessment itself has to have a purpose related to the desired learning, and we have to know what that purpose is to create an appropriate measure.
  • An evaluation consists of two components: the judgment maker(s), and the judgment criteria. The judgment maker is the person or persons responsible for determining the expectations that the assessment is measuring. The judgment criteria are the tools used to aid the judgment makers, such as expertise feedback, rubrics, and grading scales.

For example, if the assessment information in a unit of study reads…

Common Assessments

…then it conveys that the teacher plays the role of key observer, but equally important in the evaluation process are the classmates (peer) as judgment makers. If the evaluation information had stated: Teacher-Student Ob, this slight change in vocabulary indicates that the teacher and the student(s) responsible for the assessment results will be involved, rather than a group of peers. The slash followed by the term rubric indicates that this will be the tool used as the judgment criteria.

Summative vs. Formative Assessment

Like the peak of a mountain, a summative assessment is the SUM of student learning. Carnegie Mellon states that “[t]he goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.”

Alternatively, formative assessment provides opportunities for feedback that allows a teacher, or teachers, to shift instruction based on the students’ needs.

Summative assessment and formative assessment can have definitions unique to a learning organization, as long as they are defined systemically within a school or throughout a district. This allows teachers to create accuracy for data-collection purposes and helps to define the type of common assessment being utilized.

Same vs. Common Assessments

What’s the difference between common assessments and same assessments? A common assessment indicates that a group of teachers is going to conduct a collaborative analysis of the students’ results.

same assessment indicates that all teachers are required to give the assessment (who are teaching the course or grade), and while they are to consider their students’ results, no formal collaborative analysis takes place based on the collective students’ results.

To differentiate between a common assessment and same assessment in a map unit, your school or district may want to use the alignment protocol of including the appropriate initial at the end of the assessment name: (C) or (S).

Common Assessments

Being Purposeful with Your Common Assessments

Mike Fisher, education consultant, likes to convey that assessments need to be purposeful using a home-improvement store analogy, “When you go to Home Depot to buy a drill, you go for a purpose; it’s not about the drill itself, it’s about the fact that you know you need to make a hole.”

Do we have that same thoughtfulness with regard to the purpose of our common assessments? Why, and what, are we intentionally measuring with a particular common assessment? And, who will gain insight from the common assessment’s results?

Common formative assessments are often used to measure unwrapped skills that are aligned to specific standards to aid students and teachers in where errors or misunderstandings may be occurring. Common summative assessments are often meant to assess the “bigger picture” based on standards. These provide students with opportunities to apply their gained, or expanded on, skills in a more generalized way through Webb’s Depths of Knowledge 2-4.

If our units’ skills, what students need to do cognitively, are clearly aligned to standards, then oour common assessments should, by default, engage our students in growing their abilities to convey standards-based learning in a deep and meaningful way.

It is important to remember that the power of common assessments lies in applying the results of the assessments in useful ways that inform both students and teachers, not in the giving of the assessment itself. Common formative and summative assessments are meant to be powerful tools to aid us in best serving the educational needs of our students.

Learn how one school used common assessment data to foster collaborative and impactful conversations.

Contributing Author:

Janet Hale is an educational consultant and author who specializes in curriculum design, assessment, and instruction. She has authored several books, including A Guide to Curriculum Mapping and An Educational Leader’s Guide to Curriculum Mapping. Here, Janet offers an in-depth look into the importance of using your well-aligned curriculum to create common assessments!

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