Formative and Summative Assessment

Assessment can be very broadly divided into two categories, according to the nature and purpose of the assessment – formative and summative assessment.

Formative assessment has the primary concern of teaching and learning.  This type of assessment occurs throughout the course of study and is often informal in nature.  It includes activities such as talking to learners about their work or monitoring and providing feedback on practice tasks.  Formative assessments are used to provide the student with feedback on their performance so the learner can improve their skills, and to provide teachers with information so they can tailor their future instruction to student needs. Formative assessment may or may not contribute towards the final assessment; where it does, the student should be informed.

Summative assessment, on the other hand, is about providing outcomes showing student competency.  Summative assessment occurs at the end of the teaching and learning phase and is used for recording results. 

In an ESL context, formative assessment has a critical role to play in a student’s skill development, since for many students the only time they will practise their English language skills will be in a classroom setting, and it may be the only situation in which they receive specific feedback on their use of language.  Students need sufficient opportunities to practise what they are learning, to reflect on teacher feedback and also have occasion for peer and self-reflection. Summative assessment should only occur after this process, and learners need to be aware when the task/activity they are undertaking is intended for final assessment and reporting of their learning.