The push for both teacher and student accountability in education has led to the development of a variety of testing and assessment tools. The types of assessment tools used today can be divided into four categories: diagnostic, interim, formative and summative. Each type of assessment is intended to provide student achievement information at specific times in the learning process. The data gleaned from these assessments can be used to drive short- and long-term instruction.
Diagnostic assessments are used to determine the existing knowledge base for an entire group of students or specific individuals. These assessments help inform the teacher about the level of student knowledge prior to instruction, so that instruction can be tailored to the existing knowledge base. Also, these pre-instructional assessments provide information that can be compared to post-instructional assessments for the purpose of determining growth.
Formative assessments are used to measure the student's grasp of small chunks of information. A formative assessment helps to identify gaps in learning and or instruction before subsequent material is presented.These assessments drive learning and instruction by providing immediate information to the teacher and student. An observation, contribution in class or a written test may serve as a formative assessment. If any of these assessments are unsatisfactory, reteaching and clarification can be immediate.
Interim assessments are used to measure progress toward standards mastery and provide information relative to student preparation for the summative assessment. Interim assessments are usually aligned with district or state standards and can be very valuable in identifying deficits in learning. In a sense, an interim assessment can be diagnostic in nature, in that once deficits are identified, individual remediation can be implemented before summative evaluation. A chapter/unit test or project can be considered an interim assessment.
The term summative assessment generally refers to assessment of learning at the completion of a larger instructional unit. For instance, standardized state-mandated testing such as end of course assessments, district or state benchmark assessments, and end of semester/term assessments are all summative assessments. However, some interim tests may be considered summative in nature because they measure performance at the end of a instructional goal, such as a unit.