Assessments serve several purposes, but they are most commonly used to gauge the level and depth of student learning and skill retention. Assessments can be either formative or summative. In a classroom, formative assessments are used to help teachers plan future lessons and identify areas they have to reteach or ways they must adjust their lessons. Formative assessments are usually not graded as strictly as summative assessments. Summative assessments, like standardized achievement tests, are used to gauge where students are at a particular time in relation to specific learning goals.
The main similarities and differences between classroom and standardized achievement tests lie in the purpose for which a particular test is administered. Classroom teachers utilize formative assessments because they are more concerned with equipping their students with certain knowledge and skills while, standardized test administrators' sole purpose is to evaluate student readiness.
Standardized achievement tests are used to test a student’s understanding of skills and knowledge in comparison to students of the same age group or educational level. The scores from these tests are used in determining a student’s readiness for college, graduate school and professional programs. The SAT, for example, is a well-known summative test that is used to determine a student’s aptitude for college. Several standardized achievement tests are given in elementary, middle and high school to provide schools with the data they need to see how a school and its students are performing in comparison with other states across the nation.
Classroom and standardized tests are similar in that they both test student skill and knowledge at various levels. In high school English class, for example, teachers can choose to give students a summative, standardized test that assesses understanding of grammar and usage just like a standardized achievement test. However, teachers may choose to test only the areas covered in class, while standardized achievement tests are likely to cover more ground.
Some of the major differences between classroom tests and standardized tests is the allotted time, structure and content of the tests. Classroom tests can be much more individualized. A teacher may choose to test students specifically on the subject matter he or she taught in class. They may also vary the amount of time allowed for their students to take a test. In a standardized testing situation, students all take the exact same test and are given the same amount of time to take it. With the exception of accommodations for students with disabilities, standardized tests are much more structured and uniform than classroom tests.