Behind the scenes, teachers and administrators engage in a never-ending process of evaluating how well they deliver education. In their quest to boost student learning, they evaluate everything from achievement trends in individual classrooms to school, district and statewide scores on tests. Without these evaluations, educational institutions and agencies might have to feel their way blindly, uncertain of what works and what does not. Summative evaluations provide essential data for this process.
Summative evaluations usually come in the form of standardized tests, including state assessments, chapter tests, district benchmark assessments and final exams. However, teachers also might use them to solicit feedback from students. For example, a summative evaluation at the end of a course might ask students to list weaknesses and strengths of the course or how they would teach it differently.
The most important feature of summative evaluations is that they come at the end of a learning process, whether a chapter, unit, semester or year. They typically use quantitative measures, such as numeric scores. Unlike individual assessments, summative evaluations provide insights into how groups performed as a whole.
Schools and teachers use summative evaluations to measure the effectiveness of curriculum, teaching methods and programs, but also to meet state and federal mandates. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act requires summative assessments to hold elementary through high schools accountable for adequate yearly progress. Accrediting bodies for higher education also might require summative evaluations to receive or maintain accreditation. Some teachers use summative evaluations to reflect on their performance and improve for future classes.
While summative assessments can lead to curriculum and instructional changes down the road, current students will see no benefit. Therefore, teachers should rely on other assessments to make changes while students are still engaged in the learning process, advises the National Middle School Association. In addition, summative evaluations might not paint the most accurate picture of quality at one school or in one classroom if they are designed to generate data for broad comparisons, cautions the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
- National Middle School Association: Formative and Summative Assessments in the Classroom; Catherine Garrison and Michael Ehringhaus; 2007
- University of Idaho: Distance Education at a Glance -- Guide 4; Evaluation for Distance Educators
- Northern Arizona University: Formative vs. Summative Evaluation
- Western Kentucky University: Communication Disorders -- Graduate Program; 2010
- Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: Why Standardized Tests Don't Measure Educational Quality; W. James Popham; 1999
Karen Murdock holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. She has taught college composition since 2005 and written for a variety of publications since 1996.