Understand in a clear, direct way, the importance of formative and summative Common Core assessments.

By Amy Esselman

What’s the difference between a doctor’s appointment and an autopsy?

While this may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, it’s a serious question.

I attended the “Mastery of Common Core Assessments” webinar last week presented by Jacqueline Loiacono. She used this same example and helped me understand in a clear, direct way, the importance of formative and summative assessments, especially when it comes to the Common Core Standards.

An autopsy, while helpful in some cases to determine what happened, is often too late to be truly useful in improving one’s health, or condition. What’s done is done—here’s what happened, don’t do it next time.

A doctor’s appointment on the other hand is a look at what’s happening as you go. It gives you time to see how you’re doing, and look at what you need to change—maybe drink less soda, or cut back on the sweets.

The same can be said for assessments. Loiacono makes a strong distinction between the two. She notes that formative assessments occur during learning, whereas summative assessments are events that occur after learning. Therefore, as Loiacono puts it, formative assessments are assessments for learning, and summative, assessments of learning.

There’s a big difference.

Much like an autopsy, a summative assessment can only help improve a student’s understanding by so much; it’s too late to make changes. Formative assessments are a means of checking, and seeing who gets what before moving on. Formative assessments promote improvement and growth. Summative assessments document what you learned, or scored. Both types are important, but it’s the combination of the two, not one or the other, that helps students understand the targeted standard, or skills being learned.

As a student, it frustrated me to have “one shot” assessments at the end of a particular unit. If I knew I wasn’t on track and the class kept moving, it was hard to keep up. Why bother? But with formative assessments before the unit test, it gives teachers a chance to see a snapshot of the class and know where students are. Are they ready to move on? Does something need to be covered again?

In a classroom, it makes sense to have a “check-up” appointment. It sure beats examining an autopsy of student scores that leave you wondering what you could have done better, before it was too late.

The full webinar will be available on School Improvement Network’s website in the next few days. Be sure to check out the whole series!



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