Evaluating Summative Assessments

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This past week has been a great opportunity to reflect and plan out the new year.  I’m writing this as I sip my coffee on a chilly day in the midwest.  As I contemplate my plans I’m reminded of always to “keep the end in mind” as I think of how instruction eventually leads to a summative assessment.  I usually see the following procedure used for math instruction:

Introduction–> Formative Assessment –> Reflection –> Summative –> Reporting

Summative assessments have changed over the years.  One major factor that determines how these look at the K-5 level is based on the district resource that’s used.  There are so many math publishing companies that push their resources to districts and the unit tests generally accompany them.   There are formative assessments that teachers use, but they’re often used depending on teacher preference. Grade level teams often plan out the formative assessments, although it’s up to the individual teacher to use them.  The summative assessments are another story.  These are set in stone and given at specific intervals throughout the school year.

The summative assessments in some K-5 classes take a long time to complete.  The upper elementary classes take a lot more time than the lower.  The accelerated classes can take 1-3 instructional days to complete one summative assessment. Usually there’s another day reviewing the assessment afterwards. The unit assessments often include written component and an open response section.  Each math class is allocated around 60 minutes for math and students are given (not always though) as much time as they need to complete the assessment.  These summative assessments are solely used to communicate how well students are performing compared to the standards and that’s put on the report cards.  As schools move more towards standards-based grading the reliance of the summative assessments may increase. Middle and high school might manage this time differently as final exams and tests become more of a priority.  I wonder how this summative assessment time could be better managed moving forward.

As far as I can see, there a couple options to consider.

  • Prioritize the standards within a math unit and adjust the summative
  • Rely more on class quizzes and emphasize the summative less
  • Create new summative assessments that better reflect the standards
  • Continue without changing anything

There are consequences depending on what’s picked and I’m sure other options exist that I can’t think of right now.  Prioritizing standards will inevitably leave out some standards and students won’t be exposed to certain skills/concepts as frequently.  Relying on quizzes for grades has me wondering how many attempts are given before students are actually assessed.  This can be a challenge as some students might be exposed to a concept three times, while another might have seven.  Is one student better prepared for the summative than the other?  Creating new summative assessments might be a good option if time is available to do so.  I’ve heard multiple times that teachers aren’t trained to write assessments, but I find that there input to be very valuable in the process.

I don’t believe there’s one right solution to this issue, but it’s worth contemplating a few different ideas.  I’m interested in hearing how others manage the summative assessment process.

2 thoughts on “Evaluating Summative Assessments

    1. Good question. Ideally, I’m a fan of having multiple formative assessments throughout a unit. Each one of these takes around 10-20 minutes. Feedback would be given and students would have class time to analyze and see where they are compared to the standard expectation. These formatives wouldn’t be graded, but instead put in their file to show growth. The summative would assess each skill for the unit and would take around 30ish minutes. Students would receive feedback and be given a second attempt if needed. Only the summative results would be reported. In my view, the results from the summative would be communicated through a standard-based grading process.

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