The benefits of blending formative and summative assessment

How auto-grading helps you increase the number of assessments in your education.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

By Pim Bellinga
Co-Founder of Grasple

Whether you’re a teacher, a curriculum developer, or a faculty director: when you work in education, you’re probably familiar with the difference between formative and summative assessment. Both forms of assessment are a crucial part of today’s education, but the distinction between the two is becoming less clear. Why is the difference between formative and summative assessment diminishing? And how can you use this to your advantage?

What is formative assessment?
Formative assessment is traditionally used to practice the learning material during a course, for example through quizzes, tests, and presentations. There are no high stakes involved, as the goal of formative assessment is to help students assess their own mastery and to help teachers monitor a student’s progress and identify challenges or roadblocks on the way. Formative assessment also includes (personalized) feedback for learning purposes, to see where a student stands and help them improve.

What is summative assessment?
Summative assessment is used to verify whether a student is able to apply their skills in a controlled setting, and there are consequences associated with the obtained result. This means there are high stakes attached to summative assessment, and a student’s performance is often measured against a standardized benchmark. Generally, summative assessment is done at the end of a course or learning period. Examples of summative assessment are final papers, exams, and reports. Summative assessment includes feedback, but here the feedback is used to highlight what is incorrect. Also, the outcome of summative assessment usually has consequences, such as passing or failing a course.

Laptop with pen and paper during online exam Summative assessment is often a graded exam, usually done at the end of a course. Photo by Maya Maceka on Unsplash.

The influence of auto-grading
Traditionally, the distinction between formative and summative assessment was pretty clear, as assessments were mostly formative or mostly summative. Over the last few years, this changed. What happened?

Not too long ago, all assessments were graded manually – something that can take up quite a bit of time. Manual grading therefore makes it difficult to offer man graded assessments. So, when the rise of digital learning solutions made online assessment and auto-grading possible, this suddenly opened up a lot of potential when it comes to assessing student’s progress more often.

By creating more testing moments, the distinction between summative and formative assessment becomes less clear. Instead of a binary division with formative on the one end, and summative on the other, the field of assessment becomes richer, with more forms in between. This allows students to learn in a more flexible manner. And by recollecting the learned subjects more often, students will ultimately understand the topic better.

Students making exam using pen and paper Creating more testing moments allows students to learn in a more flexible manner. Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash.

COVID acceleration
While some schools and universities were already turning to this form of online assessment, the recent COVID pandemic accelerated this adoption. To keep education going when exams halls were closed, assessments had to take place online and remote. This posed challenges for verification, as being away from campus means it’s harder to check for fraud. How can one make sure a student is indeed the person making the online exam? And how can one make sure a student is taking the exam without the help of others?

To decrease the chances of cheating, some educators looked for ways to make fraud much more difficult. One of the solutions was to use an online assessment platform that allowed for proctoring services. Another was to generate a unique exam for every student. Others searched for ways to make committing fraud less beneficial, less practical. By creating more touch points – frequent moments where a student must show they master the learning material, this makes fraud possible, but just very impractical. So while the need for online remote assessment emerged, it also unlocked possibilities to increase student engagement and improve learning outcomes.

Students struggling with learning on their laptop Online assessment makes committing fraud less beneficial for students and improves student engagement. Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

The benefit of a more gradual approach
In conclusion, the gradual approach to formative and summative assessment is a direct result of being able to auto-grade assessment. But what are the benefits of these in-between forms of testing? First of all, frequent (low and high stakes) assessment has little impact on a student’s course grade, but it provides students with immediate feedback on their learning. What is going right, and to what subjects do they need to pay more attention?

Blending formative and summative testing by offering more moments in between also forces students to retain their knowledge much longer, as they have to be able to master their learnings throughout the course. Last but not least, we also believe that frequent assessments mean that students stress less. Practicing more often makes them feel more confident, and with more assessment moments, the impact of failing a test decreases. Saving time with auto-grading, blending formative and summative testing: everyone wins.

Join our live webinar on January 27, 2022 Is online summative assessment a valuable addition to your education? And how can you, as an educator, implement this in your courses?

Register now to join us for a digital roundtable and Q&A on Thursday, January 27th at 3:15 pm (CET). In this session, you’ll discover more about online summative assessment with Grasple. Even if you can’t join live, we’ll send you the recording to watch at your convenience.

Register here