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23 Mar Quick Guide to Assessment Types

Assessments take many forms, varying on their structure, content, and intention. With so many options, questions arise: how do we know whether to use an formative or summative assessment in class? What does it mean when students take a normative assessment? Fortunately, we’ve created a quick, basic guide to sum up these differences and more.  Read on to discover different types of assessments you may encounter throughout the year.


Formative assessments are conducted during the learning process to provide feedback to both the teacher and student about learning and teaching strategies. They give teachers the ability to adjust instructional practice prior to the summative assessment. As they’re progress checks, formative assessments do not necessarily have to be graded and are usually tied to a specific, recently covered content or skill. They can be as informal as a quick teacher observation or as formal as having students create and share a visual representation of their learning thus far.

What can it look like? Exit slips, interactive class discussions, teacher observation


Interim assessments also show student growth and provide feedback at longer intervals. Compared to formative assessments, they cover more content (e.g. a chapter in a book). Interim assessments address both short and long term goals by looking at material that has been covered over a period of a couple of weeks. In many cases, they also help evaluate or predict next steps for student learning prior to the end-of-unit or more heavily weighted assessments.

What can it look like? Chapter tests, rubric-based projects, quizzes with the possibility of working through answers again


Summative assessments show the culmination of student knowledge in a particular topic. They are typically given at the end of a unit or once the lessons addressing a standard have been completed. Summative assessments focus on long term goals and tend to be higher stakes, like midterms and finals. Summative assessments essentially take a snapshot of where your students are at that point in time.

What can it look like? End-of-unit tests, portfolios, research reports, state accountability tests


Benchmark assessments provide a starting point—a benchmark—when working with your students. They typically address a wider range of skills within the context of one subject or content area so as to identify where the student’s starting point of knowledge lies. Note that in some cases, the phrase “interim assessment” may be used synonymously with benchmark assessment. In other cases, interim assessment can also refer to a formative-type assessment used to check progress and to see if a student is on track to reach proficiency.

What can it look like? Periodic tests, pre-tests, check-ins


Diagnostic assessments are provided prior to a unit of instruction and allow a teacher to determine a student’s individual strengths and weaknesses. This type of assessment is not used to grade the student. Rather, this data can help inform what instruction will be presented during the unit. Once this type of assessment is provided, teachers can determine the baseline of instruction.

What can it look like? Pre-tests


Normative assessments compare the score of individual students on a bell curve. This type of assessment gives educators the ability to compare student results. The goal with this type of scoring is to be able to differentiate the levels of knowledge between test-takers. Therefore, the items in this assessment type typically vary in difficulty. The result? The ability to generate sub-groups of students, which allows teachers to hone in on specific interventions and teaching practices that will hopefully maximize learning.

What can it look like? Standardized, computer-based assessments like the SBAC or PARCC exams


Criterion-Referenced assessments help determine if students have achieved specific, predetermined skills or concepts. This type of assessment looks for proficiency by comparing scores to a standard for acceptable achievement (e.g. a percent score). Criterion-referenced refers to the type of scoring rather than the assessment itself. A criterion-reference assessment can be formative, summative, or a benchmark assessment.

What can it look like? The AP assessments or NAEP exam

Assessments should be embedded in the classroom environment, and it’s important to recognize there are multiple ways of assessing student growth and proficiency. Using assessment to inform your instruction can provide valuable insight. What types of assessment frequent YOUR classroom?

Interested in learning about Pleiades, a tool to help you understand and analyze student assessment data and support informed curriculum decision making? Register for our upcoming webinar on March 29!

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