Teachers are constantly collecting informal and formal information about what and how their students are learning. They check student tests and assignments, listen to small-group activities, and observe students engaged in structured and unstructured activities. They use this information for a variety of purposes, ranging from communicating with parents to meeting standards and benchmarks. However, when teachers systematically collect the right kinds of information and use it effectively, they can help their students grow as thinkers and learners.
In some contexts, the terms assessment and evaluation are interchangeable. Here we use the term “assessment” to refer specifically to all kinds of methods and strategies that provide information about a student’s learning. Formative assessment provides learners with feedback about how they are doing throughout the learning process. Summative assessment takes place at the end of a unit or project and gives students and teachers information about the skills and knowledge that students have acquired.
Using a broader variety of ongoing assessment throughout the instructional cycle can provide much more valuable information to both the teacher and learners. Formative assessment can be used to:
The overarching purpose of assessment is to give teachers the information they need to provide quality instruction. Embedded and on-going assessment is at the heart of project-based learning and provides a way for students to show and discover what they know in different ways. With assessment integrated throughout a unit of instruction, teachers learn more about their students’ needs and can adjust instruction to improve student achievement. McMillan (2000) explains, “When assessment is integrated with instruction, it informs teachers about what activities and assignments will be most useful, what level of teaching is most appropriate, and how summative assessments provide diagnostic information.”