Assessment Types: Diagnostic, Formative and Summative

formative summative diagnostic

Formative and Summative Assessments

Assessment can serve many different purposes. Most instructors are familiar with the traditional way of assessing students, such as by mid-term and final exams (usually using multiple-choice questions). There is a reason that this type of assessment is so popular – it is cost efficient (as in the example of multiple choice exams), takes a relatively short amount of time to create and grade, and provides a numerical summary (grade) of how much a student has learned.

The downside of this method is that it does not provide the learner or instructor any feedback on the learning process that has taken place, only a summative result. This lack of opportunity to apply new learning and receive formative feedback hinders student ability to learn.

Another type of assessment, known as formative assessment, has a different purpose from summative assessment. Formative assessments capture learning-in-process in order to identify gaps, misunderstanding, and evolving understanding before summative assessments. Formative assessment may take a variety of forms, such as informal questions, practice quizzes, one-minute papers, and clearest/muddiest point exercises. Formative assessment allows students to practice skills or test knowledge without the pressures associated with grades.

  • used during the learning process
  • provides feedback on learning-in-process
  • dialogue-based, ungraded
  • used at the end of the learning process
  • evaluates student learning against some standard or benchmark

Paul Black (1998), who is often lauded as the forefather of these concepts, described the difference between these terms using the analogy of cooking. As a cook is making her soup, she occasionally tastes it to decide if it needs a bit more spices or ingredients. With each taste she is assessing her soup, and using that feedback to change or improve it - in other words, the cook is engaging in formative assessment. Once the soup is served to the customer, the customer tastes it and makes a final judgment about the quality of the soup – otherwise known as summative assessment.

Types of Student Assessments and their Purpose and Differences

Student with books and laptop doing assignment

What Types of Student Assessments are used by Educators?

1. traditional assessments.

Assessments can take on various forms and often serve different purposes. The majority of instructors use traditional assessments to measure student learning. Traditional assessments usually involve various testing techniques such as fill-in-the-blanks, multiple-choice questions (MCQs), essays, mid-term, as well as a final examination. [2] These assessments are cost-efficient with regards to time and resource allocation; however, they do not provide the instructor and learner with the required amount of feedback on student learning progress. 

Traditional methods of student assessments hinder the ability of educators to apply a new teaching approach. [3] Typically, they are single-occasion tests and measure only what students can do at a specific time. Therefore, the grades obtained from these assessments do not provide insights on students’ knowledge development and can sometimes relay false information regarding the academic progression of the entire class. Since traditional assessments do not offer any forms of self-evaluation or feedback-on-feedback, it inhibits students’ learning as they cannot effectively reflect on their strengths and weaknesses to improve their performance. [4] 

To address these downsides of traditional assessments, such as lack of feedback, educators employ improved student assessments, including diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments. 

2. Diagnostic Assessments

Diagnostic assessments, also known as ‘Pre-tests,’ are used by educators to identify and evaluate students’ current knowledge about a specific topic or subject. [5]

The main purpose of this assessment is to diagnose complications in students’ understanding and learning gaps. This assessment method helps educators decide their next teaching steps based on students’ unique learning needs identified through diagnostic assessments. Diagnostic assessments help educators assess the capabilities and skill sets of students in a specific subject. Educators use diagnostic assessments to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses that allow them to plan their course, learning objectives, and teaching strategies.

Diagnostic assessments usually take place at the beginning of the term so that the current position of students' understanding of topic or subject could be evaluated by the instructors. Such assessments are usually low-stake as they are not calculated as student grades. This assessment method is usually based on written questions which can be either short answers or multiple-choice questions. Educators also use various strategies to diagnose the knowledge base and skills of students, including observation protocol, rubric, and oral or written test questions. 

3. Formative Assessments

Educators use formative assessment to monitor student learning and provide ongoing feedback. [6] This assessment enables educators to check whether students are on the right learning track and find specific areas where students are struggling. This assessment allows educators to offer an individualized learning experience to students. 

The formative assessment’s core purpose is to monitor the students’ ongoing learning and identify their learning gaps. [7] Formative assessment provides educators with continuous feedback, which helps them improve their teaching approach. With this assessment’s help, educators try to evolve the students' understanding before the summative evaluation occurs. 

This assessment method refers to the guiding evaluation that helps educators form their lessons’ instructions according to the learning needs. Formative assessments can be easily implemented and offer immediate results so that educators can instantly make adjustments in their instructions. 

Such assessments can take various forms, including practice quizzes, informal questions (class discussion), one-minute papers, and so on. These methods help educators gain insight into students’ learning during the ongoing unit/topic. Overall, formative assessments offer instructors feedback about students’ current understanding of the topic and how to pick up the pace. This assessment method also encourages students to test their knowledge and practice skills without worrying about grades. 

However, formative evaluation is no doubt a time-consuming and resource-intensive process if they are conducted on a monthly or bi-weekly basis. This is because formative assessments require frequent data collection, data analysis, reporting and refinement of educators’ pedagogical strategies. At Kritik, professors use formative assessments and peer review strategies to give students and their peers formative feedback. Consequently, students are encouraged to improve their learning, writing and critical thinking skills. Peer reviews also help students develop their self-assessment skills, thereby becoming more involved in their learning. [8]    

4. Summative Assessments

Unlike diagnostic and formative assessment, summative assessments are used by educators to evaluate the learning of students when the term ends. Educators compare this assessment against a set of standards/benchmarks. [9] 

Summative assessments also refer to the final exams or final projects. This assessment’s purpose is to evaluate how much students retained information, knowledge, and skills at the end of the learning unit or semester. 

Moreover, summative assessments are used to measure the educational environment, including curricula, educators, and overall learning programs. Also, the results derived from summative assessments offer a comprehensive description of the student's learning status. Usually, educators use standard summative assessments with a common rubric to judge and compare students’ learning. These assessments are commonly comprised of final projects, essays, presentations, reports, or standardized tests.  

On the flip side, summative assessments also have limitations. For instance, this assessment can be disruptive for students as they are regarded as the final grades with high stakes. Moreover, summative assessments lack feedback and therefore, are not considered being the best reflection for student learning. Nevertheless, formative assessments offer ongoing feedback that encourages students to enhance their learning and overall academic performance but consumes a lot of the instructors’ time and resources.

5. "No Grading" Assessments 

Many educators are now shifting their focus from traditional grading towards no-grading assessments. In their viewpoint, traditional assessments and their grading render the development of authentic relationships in the classroom and reduce the students’ motivation and creativity. Besides, grading assessments also foster the fear of failure among students while undermining their interest in the subject. [10] In contrast, this model of no-grading assessments put emphasis on providing feedback to encourage student learning through self-reflection, collaboration, and critical thinking. Feedback highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the student, allowing them to reflect on and learn from it. No-grading assessments are great in remote learning as it promotes interaction between students and thereby strengthening the sense of community in an online classroom. [11]

Differences between Diagnostic, Formative, and Summative Assessments

Timing and resource allocation.

One of the major differences between these student assessments is timing and resource allocation. Diagnostic assessments are executed before starting the lesson or unit. However, formative assessments refer to the ongoing activity, and therefore, are executed during the learning process. On the other hand, summative assessments often occur either as the mid-term exams or final exams after completing the unit. Out of all the three, summative assessments are commonly used but they consume a lot of time and resources to provide quality feedback to every student.

Additionally, the strategies to evaluate students’ learning can differ between diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments. For instance, in diagnostic assessments, instructors strive to get information about students’ current understanding of the unit/topic right before starting instructions. Educators use formative assessments to examine whether students are on the right path by monitoring their ongoing learning progress. However, summative assessments help educators assess whether students have achieved their learning objectives or not, which is determined by their final grades. Unfortunately, summative assessments don't allow students to retain information at a high level. In contrast, formative assessments help students retain learning through ongoing feedback. [12] 

In each assessment method, the major goal of educators is to promote student learning through evaluation. 

At Kritik, our educators curate new and improved courses using the students’ insights that are derived from formative assessments. Professors at Kritik know that every student requires personalized feedback, which serves as the roadmap for their improvement. In this regard, formative assessments are conducted on a weekly basis. Based on the ongoing feedback obtained through formative assessments, students are encouraged to focus on their own learning rather than worrying about grades. Thus, formative assessment tends to be the most effective assessment that enables students to reach higher-order thinking of learning.

References 

[1] Walker, D. M. (2012). Classroom assessment techniques: An assessment and student evaluation method. Creative Education, 3(6A).

[2] Quansah, F. (2018). Traditional or performance assessment: What is the right way in assessing learners. Res Hum Soc Sci, 8, 21-4.

[3] Jacob, S. M., Issac, B., & Sebastian, Y. (2006). Impact on student learning from traditional continuous assessment and an e-assessment proposal. PACIS 2006 Proceedings, 63.

[4] Nasab, F. G. (2015). Alternative versus traditional assessment. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Language Research, 2(6), 165-178.

[5] Jang, E. E., & Wagner, M. (2013). Diagnostic feedback in the classroom. The companion to language assessment, 2, 693-711.

[6] Menéndez, I. Y. C., Napa, M. A. C., Moreira, M. L. M., & Zambrano, G. G. V. (2019). The importance of formative assessment in the learning-teaching process. International journal of social sciences and humanities, 3(2), 238-249.

[7] Assessment for Learning Formative Assessment [https://www.oecd.org/site/educeri21st/40600533.pdf]

[8]  Baker, K. M. (2016). Peer review as a strategy for improving students’ writing process. Active Learning in Higher Education, 17(3), 179-192.

[9] Qu, W., & Zhang, C. (2013). The analysis of summative assessment and formative assessment and their roles in college English assessment system. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 4(2), 335.

[10] Butler, R. & Nisan, M. (1986). Effects of No Feedback, Task-Related Comments, and Grades on Intrinsic Motivation and Performance. Journal of Educational Psychology. 78. 210-216. 10.1037/0022-0663.78.3.210

[11] Nicholas Croft, Alice Dalton & Marcus Grant (2010) Overcoming Isolation in Distance Learning: Building a Learning Community through Time and Space, Journal for Education in the Built Environment, 5:1, 27-64, DOI: 10.11120/jebe.2010.05010027

[12] Judith Dodge, ‘What Are Formative Assessments and Why Should We Use Them?’ https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/what-are-formative-assessments-and-why-should-we-use-them/  

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Diagnostic, formative or summative? A guide to assessing your class

An introduction to three of the key forms of assessment along with how they can be applied in the classroom

Alejandra Govea Garza

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When it comes to evaluating students’ learning, teachers have a wide range of activities and methods at their disposal, although they must be sure to select the type of assessment that fits best with their instructional needs. Here, we present information about three key modes of assessment: diagnostic, formative and summative.

Diagnostic assessment

Diagnostic evaluations are typically short tests given at the beginning and/or end of a course that allow a teacher to gauge what students know about a topic. This information can be particularly useful at the start of a course because the teacher can then plan accordingly and make instructional changes or adjustments to the upcoming course.

This type of assessment does not typically count towards the final grade, and it can also be used as a metacognitive method so that students can become aware of their own knowledge level.

  • Tips to make student evaluation fairer for teachers
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Diagnostic assessments can come in many shapes and sizes. The most common is a standard quiz or test, and it is crucial to carefully select questions that provide a general overview of the course or topic. Alternatively, students could be required to design a mind map about a topic or participate in a one-on-one interview or group discussion.

Diagnostic assessment can also take the form of problem-solving, although this is a more difficult method to apply, since ascertaining students’ level can be harder when they have been asked to solve a specific problem or situation. When using problem-solving, the teacher should focus on what the students are doing well as they attempt to solve the problem while also identifying areas in which they are lacking.

Formative assessment

Formative assessment sees the teacher carrying out small evaluations frequently during the course to collect evidence of progress or areas of difficulty for each student. The types of assessment used here are typically low-stakes items of work such as quizzes, one-minute reflective writing assignments or group work.

Based on the information gathered, the teacher can provide feedback, try to improve performance, motivate and assist students, as well as make adjustments to teaching strategies if needed.

To give feedback, the teacher can use synchronous sessions in Zoom, Teams or Socrative, or they might record videos or audio with specific recommendations. They can also promote reflection through self and/or peer assessment using Teammates, Google Forms or Survey Monkey.

Some benefits of formative assessment are that it can encourage students to play an active role in their learning process and involve them in metacognition activities. It also promotes self-regulation and strengthens student autonomy at the same time as encouraging interaction between teacher and student.

Summative assessment

Summative assessment is typically carried out at the end of a teaching and learning process and is thus usually seen as the means to measure “how much” a student has learned on the course or module. In many cases, summative assessment takes the form of an original, written piece such as a narrative or analytical essay. Other options include: a performance-based assessment, in which learners are required to carry out an activity or task; oral assessment, where learners create and present an oral piece, such as a speech or presentation; or a standardised assessment, where learners take an exam based on the course or subject.

Benefits of summative assessment are that it provides a final grade for a learner, which is often required by the institution, and also gives learners something to aim for, which can keep them motivated. It can also help teachers identify weaker areas in the learning process and thus understand which topics need more attention based on student outcomes.

Across all three types of assessment a variety of online applications can be used. These include Genially, Wooclap, Google Forms, Quizlet and Socrative; with these apps you can easily create interactive activities, fro m multiple-choice quizzes to crossword puzzles and much more. 

The three different types of assessment are often useful and/or necessary at different points in the learning process to help teachers understand their students’ previous level, the knowledge they have at any given moment or what they have learned by the end of a course. These days, educators can take advantage of a variety of tools such as real-time polls, drag-and-drop interactions, branching dialogue simulations and more.

Finally, remember that it is important to let students know the types of assessment being used, the strategies and instruments through which their learning will be evaluated and how they can/will receive feedback or advice.

Alejandra Govea Garza, Adriana González Nava and Paulo Mendoza Rivera are instructional designers at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, Mexico.

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  • Formative and Summative Assessment

Assessment is the process of gathering data. More specifically, assessment is the ways instructors gather data about their teaching and their students’ learning (Hanna & Dettmer, 2004). The data provide a picture of a range of activities using different forms of assessment such as: pre-tests, observations, and examinations. Once these data are gathered, you can then evaluate the student’s performance. Evaluation, therefore, draws on one’s judgment to determine the overall value of an outcome based on the assessment data. It is in the decision-making process then, where we design ways to improve the recognized weaknesses, gaps, or deficiencies.

Types of Assessment

There are three types of assessment: diagnostic, formative, and summative. Although are three are generally referred to simply as assessment, there are distinct differences between the three.

There are three types of assessment: diagnostic, formative, and summative.

Diagnostic Assessment

Diagnostic assessment can help you identify your students’ current knowledge of a subject, their skill sets and capabilities, and to clarify misconceptions before teaching takes place (Just Science Now!, n.d.). Knowing students’ strengths and weaknesses can help you better plan what to teach and how to teach it.

Types of Diagnostic Assessments

  • Pre-tests (on content and abilities)
  • Self-assessments (identifying skills and competencies)
  • Discussion board responses (on content-specific prompts)
  • Interviews (brief, private, 10-minute interview of each student)

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment provides feedback and information during the instructional process, while learning is taking place, and while learning is occurring. Formative assessment measures student progress but it can also assess your own progress as an instructor. For example, when implementing a new activity in class, you can, through observation and/or surveying the students, determine whether or not the activity should be used again (or modified). A primary focus of formative assessment is to identify areas that may need improvement. These assessments typically are not graded and act as a gauge to students’ learning progress and to determine teaching effectiveness (implementing appropriate methods and activities).

A primary focus of formative assessment is to identify areas that may need improvement.

Types of Formative Assessment

  • Observations during in-class activities; of students non-verbal feedback during lecture
  • Homework exercises as review for exams and class discussions)
  • Reflections journals that are reviewed periodically during the semester
  • Question and answer sessions, both formal—planned and informal—spontaneous
  • Conferences between the instructor and student at various points in the semester
  • In-class activities where students informally present their results
  • Student feedback collected by periodically answering specific question about the instruction and their self-evaluation of performance and progress

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment takes place after the learning has been completed and provides information and feedback that sums up the teaching and learning process. Typically, no more formal learning is taking place at this stage, other than incidental learning which might take place through the completion of projects and assignments.

Rubrics, often developed around a set of standards or expectations, can be used for summative assessment. Rubrics can be given to students before they begin working on a particular project so they know what is expected of them (precisely what they have to do) for each of the criteria. Rubrics also can help you to be more objective when deriving a final, summative grade by following the same criteria students used to complete the project.

Rubrics also can help you to be more objective when deriving a final, summative grade by following the same criteria students used to complete the project.

High-stakes summative assessments typically are given to students at the end of a set point during or at the end of the semester to assess what has been learned and how well it was learned. Grades are usually an outcome of summative assessment: they indicate whether the student has an acceptable level of knowledge-gain—is the student able to effectively progress to the next part of the class? To the next course in the curriculum? To the next level of academic standing? See the section “Grading” for further information on grading and its affect on student achievement.

Summative assessment is more product-oriented and assesses the final product, whereas formative assessment focuses on the process toward completing the product. Once the project is completed, no further revisions can be made. If, however, students are allowed to make revisions, the assessment becomes formative, where students can take advantage of the opportunity to improve.

Summative assessment...assesses the final product, whereas formative assessment focuses on the process...

Types of Summative Assessment

  • Examinations (major, high-stakes exams)
  • Final examination (a truly summative assessment)
  • Term papers (drafts submitted throughout the semester would be a formative assessment)
  • Projects (project phases submitted at various completion points could be formatively assessed)
  • Portfolios (could also be assessed during it’s development as a formative assessment)
  • Performances
  • Student evaluation of the course (teaching effectiveness)
  • Instructor self-evaluation

Assessment measures if and how students are learning and if the teaching methods are effectively relaying the intended messages. Hanna and Dettmer (2004) suggest that you should strive to develop a range of assessments strategies that match all aspects of their instructional plans. Instead of trying to differentiate between formative and summative assessments it may be more beneficial to begin planning assessment strategies to match instructional goals and objectives at the beginning of the semester and implement them throughout the entire instructional experience. The selection of appropriate assessments should also match course and program objectives necessary for accreditation requirements.

Hanna, G. S., & Dettmer, P. A. (2004). Assessment for effective teaching: Using context-adaptive planning. Boston, MA: Pearson A&B.

Just Science Now! (n.d.). Assessment-inquiry connection. https://www.justsciencenow.com/assessment/index.htm

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Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2012). Formative and summative assessment. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide

  • Active Learning Activities
  • Assessing Student Learning
  • Direct vs. Indirect Assessment
  • Examples of Classroom Assessment Techniques
  • Peer and Self-Assessment
  • Reflective Journals and Learning Logs
  • Rubrics for Assessment
  • The Process of Grading

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Summative vs Formative or Diagnostic Assessments

Summative vs Formative or Diagnostic Assessments

There are many kinds of assessments used in education to evaluate student learning, identify strengths and challenges, and aid in lesson planning, and they often take the form of online tools. This article will explore the strengths and weaknesses of some of these key methods of evaluation.

What are summative assessments?

Summative assessments help educators judge how a student is performing relative to other students at a point in time. These tests or evaluations provide evidence that students have met the learning outcomes of an instructional unit. This sort of assessment is common in education for evaluating students at the end of an instructional unit, typically in a high-stakes environment; some examples are chapter tests, midterm exams or finals, or a test to successfully complete a subject or grade. Sometimes rather than a test, a summative evaluation of a project or presentation meets the goal of assessing student achievement.

Types of Tests Video Thumbnail

Click here to watch a quick video on “Understanding the Different Types of Educational Assessments: Summative vs. Formative or Diagnostic.”

Summative assessments can also lead to surprise and disappointment if the results are not as good as expected. They don’t explain why a student is having trouble with a concept. It’s important to understand how two other types of assessments–formative and diagnostic–play helpful roles in setting and achieving those expectations so that a student can succeed.

There are several types of summative tests, but here are three common examples:

  • Benchmark Tests: Designed around a grade level in a specific learning area. The downside of a benchmark test is that it won’t tell you if students are many years above or below a specific grade level.
  • Lexile or Readability Tests: Used to determine the level at which a student can read text. These tests don’t reveal why a student is struggling, just where they are.
  • State Tests: Normed assessments and standardized tests that place students in a percentile relative to their peer group, typically from 0% to 100%–for example, the end-of-year Smarter Balanced tests . The downside of these tests is that they don’t provide much information about the needs of individual students or what you can do to help.

Why is your student struggling in math?

Formative and diagnostic assessments.

Formative assessments seek to immediately determine if a student has mastered a specific skill or concept that was just taught. It is a way of monitoring student progress and providing ongoing feedback, often with relatively short tests or weekly quizzes that quickly check students’ understanding of the curriculum along with their academic progress. Sometimes a formative assessment takes the form of a group presentation, a hands-on activity, or some other casual performance measure. Formative assessments given at regular intervals create a process by which educators can monitor how individual students are progressing towards standards.

Diagnostic assessments are broader in their measures than formative assessments because they are trying to determine why students are struggling or excelling in a particular skill, not simply where they are in the curriculum. Since diagnostic tests cover a greater range of skills and concepts, they usually take a little longer and go into more depth. But the resulting granular data from a diagnostic assessment provide the student and teacher with details about where the student is having trouble and which subjects are already mastered. This information helps a teacher understand what to do next with a student.

How do you target the right level of instruction for a particular student? You want to teach concepts that are not too easy for the student but also not too difficult. Students should be cognitively ready to learn the concept with the help of a teacher. The identified correct level of instruction is called the zone of proximal development, or ZPD . Diagnostic assessments are ideal for helping educators find the ZPD of individual students in a specific curriculum.

Together, by identifying each student’s level of understanding, formative and diagnostic assessments give educators a data-driven approach to helping students succeed. This is not only a valuable aid to teachers but a great way to augment feedback to students and families with quantifiable data.

Discover a student's Zone of Proximal Development in reading!

Sequenced skills.

Diagnostic assessment results should equip educators with the best information to find the zone of proximal development (ZPD) or instructional point for a student. First, diagnostic scores must be granular so that subjects are broken up into specific skills in which the student is struggling or excelling. These diagnostic scores must also be built on a scope and sequence, such as the skills involved in teaching phonics in a logical order. Sequenced skills build better comprehension and retention by providing multiple learning components in a structured order. Students with learning disabilities will especially benefit from sequenced skills.

There are several ways to tell whether an assessment is diagnostic or not. For instance, if you are using an assessment whose scores can be broken down further, or if multiple skills are represented by one result, then the assessment is not diagnostic because it’s not providing granularity. Furthermore, if those scores do not link to sequenced skills so that you know what should be taught next, then the assessment is not diagnostic.

Low Medium or High Scores

A diagnostic assessment will tell you clearly what should be taught next. For example, if your assessment looks at a student’s skills in phonics but provides an arbitrary scale with a simple result of “low,” “medium,” or “high” without linking to specific skills or concepts, then the assessment isn’t truly diagnostic.

An understanding of the different types of assessment used in education will allow you to choose the most appropriate assessment for the circumstances and thus better serve your students.

Misuse of the Word “Diagnostic”

Be wary of the misuse of the word “diagnostic.”  Many test developers will say that a test is diagnostic because it identifies a broad area of concern. If you can’t tell what to do next, it probably isn’t as diagnostic as you need. Also, be careful when assessments make assumptions. Reports from assessments that use words and phrases like “developmentally ready,” “likely,” or “could probably” may be inaccurately reporting a prescription for an individual student based on data from a large aggregate pool. These are probably not genuinely diagnostic assessments.  If a fifth-grade student had a non-mastery on a “place value” fifth-grade standard, a poor diagnostic report might read, “This student would likely benefit from expanded-form place value instruction.”  This means they didn’t test it but instead grabbed a concept or skill below the one that was missed.

Click below to view a video with a Visual Mapping of a Benchmark Test Against the Skills/Concepts of Foundational Mathematics

formative summative diagnostic

The first two minutes of this video will show you how math skills map across the K to 7 grade range and how benchmark testing works. At 3m 30s you see how a diagnostic assessment will assess dynamically across the K to 7 range.

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Types of Assessments for Education (Plus How and When To Use Them)

All the best ways to evaluate learning before, during, and after it happens.

Collage of diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment examples (Types of Assessments)

When you hear the word assessment, do you automatically think “tests”? While it’s true that tests are one kind of assessment, they’re not the only way teachers evaluate student progress. In fact, there are three general types of assessments: diagnostic, formative, and summative. These take place throughout the learning process, helping students and teachers gauge learning.

Within those three broad categories, you’ll find other types of assessment, such as ipsative, norm-referenced, and criterion-referenced. Here’s an overview of all these assessment types, plus how and when to use them effectively.

Chart showing three types of assessments: diagnostic, formative, and summative

Source: St. Paul American School

Diagnostic Assessments

Worksheet in a red binder called Reconstruction Anticipation Guide, used as a diagnostic pre-assessment (Types of Assessment)

Source: Alyssa Teaches

Diagnostic assessments are used before learning, to determine what students already do and do not know. This often refers to pre-tests and other activities students attempt at the beginning of a unit.

How To Use Diagnostic Assessments

When giving diagnostic assessments, it’s important to remind students these won’t affect their overall grade. Instead, it’s a way for them to find out what they’ll be learning in an upcoming lesson or unit. It can also help them understand their own strengths and weaknesses, so they can ask for help when they need it.

Teachers can use results to understand what students already know, and adapt their lesson plans accordingly. There’s no point in over-teaching a concept students have already mastered. On the other hand, a diagnostic assessment can also help highlight expected pre-knowledge that may be missing.

For instance, a teacher might assume students already know certain vocabulary words that are important for an upcoming lesson. If the diagnostic assessment indicates differently, the teacher knows they’ll need to take a step back and do a little pre-teaching before getting to their actual lesson plans.

Examples of Diagnostic Assessments

  • Pre-test: This includes the same questions (or types of questions) that will appear on a final test, and it’s an excellent way to compare results.
  • Blind Kahoot: Teachers and kids already love using Kahoot for test review, but it’s also the perfect way to introduce a new topic. Learn how Blind Kahoots work here.
  • Survey or questionnaire: Ask students to rate their knowledge on a topic with a series of low-stakes questions.
  • Checklist: Create a list of skills and knowledge students will build throughout a unit, and have them start by checking off any they already feel they’ve mastered. Revisit the list frequently as part of formative assessment.

Formative Assessments

What stuck with you today? chart with sticky note exit tickets, used as formative assessment

Source:  Teach From the Heart

Formative assessments take place during instruction. They’re used throughout the learning process and help teachers make on-the-go adjustments to instruction and activities as needed. These assessments aren’t used in calculating student grades, but they are planned as part of a lesson or activity. Learn much more about formative assessments here.

How To Use Formative Assessments

As you’re building a lesson plan, be sure to include formative assessments at logical points. These types of assessments might be used at the end of a class period, after finishing a hands-on activity, or once you’re through with a unit section or learning objective.

Once you have the results, use that feedback to determine student progress, both overall and as individuals. If the majority of a class is struggling with a specific concept, you might need to find different ways to teach it. Or you might discover that one student is especially falling behind and arrange to offer extra assistance to help them out.

While kids may grumble, standard homework review assignments can actually be a pretty valuable type of formative assessment . They give kids a chance to practice, while teachers can evaluate their progress by checking the answers. Just remember that homework review assignments are only one type of formative assessment, and not all kids have access to a safe and dedicated learning space outside of school.

Examples of Formative Assessments

  • Exit tickets : At the end of a lesson or class, pose a question for students to answer before they leave. They can answer using a sticky note, online form, or digital tool.
  • Kahoot quizzes : Kids enjoy the gamified fun, while teachers appreciate the ability to analyze the data later to see which topics students understand well and which need more time.
  • Flip (formerly Flipgrid): We love Flip for helping teachers connect with students who hate speaking up in class. This innovative (and free!) tech tool lets students post selfie videos in response to teacher prompts. Kids can view each other’s videos, commenting and continuing the conversation in a low-key way.
  • Self-evaluation: Encourage students to use formative assessments to gauge their own progress too. If they struggle with review questions or example problems, they know they’ll need to spend more time studying. This way, they’re not surprised when they don’t do well on a more formal test.

Find a big list of 25 creative and effective formative assessment options here.

Summative Assessments

Summative assessment in the form of a

Source:  123 Homeschool 4 Me

Summative assessments are used at the end of a unit or lesson to determine what students have learned. By comparing diagnostic and summative assessments, teachers and learners can get a clearer picture of how much progress they’ve made. Summative assessments are often tests or exams but also include options like essays, projects, and presentations.

How To Use Summative Assessments

The goal of a summative assessment is to find out what students have learned, and if their learning matches the goals for a unit or activity. Ensure you match your test questions or assessment activities with specific learning objectives to make the best use of summative assessments.

When possible, use an array of summative assessment options to give all types of learners a chance to demonstrate their knowledge. For instance, some students suffer from severe test anxiety but may still have mastered the skills and concepts and just need another way to show their achievement. Consider ditching the test paper and having a conversation with the student about the topic instead, covering the same basic objectives but without the high-pressure test environment.

Summative assessments are often used for grades, but they’re really about so much more. Encourage students to revisit their tests and exams, finding the right answers to any they originally missed. Think about allowing retakes for those who show dedication to improving on their learning. Drive home the idea that learning is about more than just a grade on a report card.

Examples of Summative Assessments

  • Traditional tests: These might include multiple-choice, matching, and short-answer questions.
  • Essays and research papers: This is another traditional form of summative assessment, typically involving drafts (which are really formative assessments in disguise) and edits before a final copy.
  • Presentations: From oral book reports to persuasive speeches and beyond, presentations are another time-honored form of summative assessment.

Find 25 of our favorite alternative assessments here.

More Types of Assessments

Now that you know the three basic types of assessments, let’s take a look at some of the more specific and advanced terms you’re likely to hear in professional development books and sessions. These assessments may fit into some or all of the broader categories, depending on how they’re used. Here’s what teachers need to know.

Chart comparing normative and criterion referenced types of assessment

Source: Skillsoft

Criterion-Referenced Assessments

In this common type of assessment, a student’s knowledge is compared to a standard learning objective. Most summative assessments are designed to measure student mastery of specific learning objectives. The important thing to remember about this type of assessment is that it only compares a student to the expected learning objectives themselves, not to other students.

Many standardized tests are criterion-referenced assessments. A governing board determines the learning objectives for a specific group of students. Then, all students take a standardized test to see if they’ve achieved those objectives.

Find out more about criterion-referenced assessments here.

Norm-Referenced Assessments

These types of assessments do compare student achievement with that of their peers. Students receive a ranking based on their score and potentially on other factors as well. Norm-referenced assessments usually rank on a bell curve, establishing an “average” as well as high performers and low performers.

These assessments can be used as screening for those at risk for poor performance (such as those with learning disabilities), or to identify high-level learners who would thrive on additional challenges. They may also help rank students for college entrance or scholarships, or determine whether a student is ready for a new experience like preschool.

Learn more about norm-referenced assessments here.

Ipsative Assessments

In education, ipsative assessments compare a learner’s present performance to their own past performance, to chart achievement over time. Many educators consider ipsative assessment to be the most important of all , since it helps students and parents truly understand what they’ve accomplished—and sometimes, what they haven’t. It’s all about measuring personal growth.

Comparing the results of pre-tests with final exams is one type of ipsative assessment. Some schools use curriculum-based measurement to track ipsative performance. Kids take regular quick assessments (often weekly) to show their current skill/knowledge level in reading, writing, math, and other basics. Their results are charted, showing their progress over time.

Learn more about ipsative assessment in education here.

Have more questions about the best types of assessments to use with your students? Come ask for advice in the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, check out 20 creative ways to check for understanding ..

Learn about the basic types of assessments educators use in and out of the classroom, and how to use them most effectively with students.

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What types of assessment are there?

There are three main types of assessment and they relate to how the assessment is used.

formative summative diagnostic

Diagnostic assessment is used to identify student strengths and weaknesses. It may be used before or during a learning cycle to pinpoint where to provide support.

formative summative diagnostic

Formative assessment is used to monitor student progress during a teaching and learning cycle. It can be used to give a student feedback about how well they have performed or what they need to do to improve. It can also help a teacher judge how much students have learnt and whether all students are able to show their ability.

formative summative diagnostic

Summative assessment is used to make a 'final' determination of student achievement. It usually comes at the end of teaching and learning cycle. The length of a teaching and learning cycle may vary. Summative assessment should enable students to show their ability.

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