November’s Teacher’s Corner Column: A Guide to Summative and Formative Assessments

Teacher’s Corner is a monthly newsletter from eNotes just for teachers. In it, experienced educator and eNotes contributor Susan Hurn shares her tips, tricks, and insight into the world of teaching. Check out this month’s Teacher’s Corner column below, or sign up to receive the complete newsletter in your inbox at

Keeping Up with Assessment and Grading

Assessing students’ achievement is an integral part of teaching, and like everything else in the profession, it has become more complicated. The days of giving a chapter test and calling it good are over. That’s not a bad thing though. To really keep tabs on who’s learning what, assessment has to be an ongoing process, and it has to offer kids a variety of ways to show what they know and what they can do.

To be thorough and effective, assessment has to include the three main types of measurement: diagnostic, formative, and summative. Diagnostic assessment is imperative, since it’s impossible to know how much ground students have gained at the end of a study unit unless we know where they were at the beginning. Formative assessment checks their learning along the way and provides an opportunity to adjust lesson plans, if necessary, and to address specific problems a struggling student might be experiencing. Summative assessment at the end of a study unit indicates kids’ overall mastery of new material and gives a clear idea about how to proceed in instruction. A review of all six types of assessment can be found here at Another good site with information about assessment practices is

Summative assessments are most effective in determining student progress throughout the year when they vary in design and implementation. There are so many different ways to assess students’ knowledge and skills that it wouldn’t be feasible to list them all here, but five come to mind immediately: the five P’s—papers, presentations, projects, products, and portfolios. Check out the site Learner Centered Teaching for some suggestions. It lists dozens of ways to assess learning in addition to using tests.

At some point, assessments become grades to record. Keeping a grade book and reporting students’ grades have become more complicated, too. In days of yore, as you might remember, grades were recorded by hand in strange-looking books that teacherscarried around with them and guarded day and night. Some parents checked on grades occasionally, but most parents relied on grade cards to keep track of their kids’ achievement. Now, grade books throughout the land are electronic, and parents can review grades on line as they are recorded.

It’s a plus that parents can see how their children are doing at school week to week, but keeping an electronic grade book up to date is a challenge, especially if you have stacks and stacks of papers to evaluate. Also, many districts now require teachers to record a minimum number of grades each week. There are some ways to keep up in posting grades, however, that also employ good methods of formative and summative assessment. For instance—

Formative assessments:

All formative assessments shouldn’t be graded, but it’s fair to take a few grades to indicate a student’s progress in achieving specific objectives. A good formative assessment doesn’t have to be time consuming to grade.

  • Short check-up quizzes are easy to grade. A check-up could be as simple as asking the class two or three key questions over the material and having students respond briefly in writing after they hear each question.
  • Having students do a few problems or complete a short worksheet over skills they should have mastered is another quick formative assessment that’s easy to grade.
  • A crossword puzzle could serve as a valid, quick-to-grade formative assessment. With Puzzlemaker you can make your own crosswords, and nine other kinds of puzzles, several of which would be good to use in a formative assessment. Puzzlemaker is quick, easy, and free.

Summative assessments:

Since grading a comprehensive test usually takes a lot of time, use some other means of summative assessment, or write the kind of test you can grade and record more quickly.

  • Student presentations can be graded with a rubric as you watch them in class. In creating rubrics, use free resources like this one from

It features a large collection of excellent rubrics over subjects in ten areas. You can use the rubrics as they are or easily edit them to measure exactly what you want to assess.

  • Projects, like graphic organizers, take less time to grade than papers. They, too, can be scored quickly with a rubric.
  • When you do use a test in summative assessment, write one that let kids show what they know in several ways and that you can grade in less time. Include a variety of questions—True/False, Fill in the Blank, Matching, Multiple Choice, Completion, and Short Answer Essay. Writing a variety of short answer essay questions and letting students choose two or three to tackle gives them a greater chance to demonstrate their knowledge. Grading several short essays requires less time and concentration than evaluating a long essay that by its nature is limited to one topic.

It seems this month’s column has turned into an epic—again! I hope there’s something in it that contributes to your students’ success and makes your work a little easier and even more satisfying. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! See you in December.