Thinking about assessment Part 3

Thinking about Assessment  – Summative & Understanding by design.

Summative assessment is a snapshot in time. It is a statement of what a student knows or does not know at one moment. We are very familiar with this style of assessment, we see it in examinations, in qualifications whether they are norm referenced or criterion referenced and in standards based assessment.

Summative assessment is usually the end point of a unit of learning or a course of learning. It should represent the culmination of the students learning. However, this is often not the case.

We often see Multiple Choice or ”bubble test”  assessments that by their very nature only represent lower order thinking. While a student may have to remember, understand and apply, it is almost impossible to have higher order thinking skills like analysis, evaluation or creativity in examinations that are limited to the responses the student can select. The inability of this styl;e of assessment to allow the student to reach their full potential  is a serious flaw in this testing style. An appropriate assessment  will allow the students to demonstrate their full potential.

Criterion based assessments, where the student is provided with open questions that allow them to be creative, analytical and evaluative are better tools that reflect more accurately the depth and breadth of the students understanding.

So we can match higher and lower order thinking into our overview of the teaching process.

Teaching process

Silver & Strong


Blooms Digital Taxonomy

Knowledge Acquisition Preparing students for learning Diagnostic assessment Remember


Presenting new learning Formative assessment
Knowledge Deepening Deepening and reinforcing learning Apply




Knowledge Creation Applying learning
Reflecting on and celebrating learning Summative assessment


Diagnostic Assessment is often focused on asking the lower order questions:

  • What can I remember?
  • What do I understand?
  • What can I do?

This provides the framework for future learning and values prior learning.

Formative assessment is analytical and evaluative. It breaks down learning into it component parts (analysis) examines relationships, makes judgements and critiques (evaluation) while providing a pathway forward for improvement.

Good summative assessment will require the student to move beyond simple recall into applying analysing and evaluating and providing the critical opportunities for creativity.

So the teaching process whether it is in a unit of learning or in a single class may well have all three main forms of assessment.

In a unit of learning we should start with diagnostic assessment to ascertain where student’s learning is at, to identify areas for expanded development: have continuous formative assessment supporting the student in their progression and development and conclude with summative assessment.

In a single lesson we would see similar structures and processes in place. Diagnostic assessment may be the short quiz, Q&A session or recall task that provides the instructor with a basis on whether to revisit previous learning or proceed to develop on the from last teaching experience. There is often an opportunity to provide formative feedback – here is what you did? Here is what you need to do 7 here is what you did well, here is the pathway forward. The lesson may well end with a short snapshot test that shows the students learning.

Understanding by Design

McTighe and Wiggins in their book understanding by design  discuss a backwards approach to curriculum design and planning. You start with the end in mind, This is starting your planning process by considering the summative assessment element that is the culmination of your leaching process.

You identify the desired results from the course of learning. These are the elements of design:

  • Goals,
  • Knowledge and Skills,
  • Essential Questions,
  • Enduring Understandings

Having identified and detailed these, the second stage is to determine  the acceptable evidence. How are you going to assess the students which summative assessment tool is best suited for the learning the students are undertaking?

The final stage is to plan the learning activities that will lead to the assessment. This would include opportunities for formative assessment, including activities that will help the student develop better understanding.


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