Characteristics of Summative Assessment and Its Functions: What are they?

Characteristics of summative assessment, its functions, and problems… What are they? Is homework a summative assessment? Is a checklist a summative assessment?

Summative assessments are used by educational organizations at the end of set learning segments. Their purpose is to measure the sum of what students have learned related to a decided criteria.

 This type of assessment has been there for centuries now. However, the importance of summative assessment will never fade. The reason for this is because it’s constantly developed by educators and theorists. It’s integrated into the edtech world we now live in.

And talks about it are even growing in many countries now at an increasing rate due to the COVID-19 crisis.

That’s because of the lockdown that’s still in effect in some areas, organizations feel it’s better to be prepared for any emergency situations that may rise in the future, and to keep pace with the revolutionary technology we’re witnessing in the field of assessments.

Assessment is closely intertwined with the quality of education. It raises the question of whether it’s capable of keeping the balance with the increasing need for advancement and educational reform. Such reform can’t be without teachers.

Teachers are an essential factor for education and assessment success and reform. For, we may now have the technology needed (online exams software), but the assessment process is not complete without the vital skills and good teaching preparation.

Assessment skills are a crucial element here. And for you to learn more about assessments, in this blog post, let’s discuss summative assessments.


Characteristics of Summative Assessment

characteristics of summative assessment


Importance of Summative Assessment

Summative assessment is essential in measuring students knowledge and acquired skills at the end of a course, school year, or program.

It lets you determine, at the end of every teaching interval, how students’ learning grows or progresses according to the set learning objectives for the interval as well as the assessment and the overall performance.

But that’s not all: it also helps you determine students strength and weakness points. Some believe this is not one of the characteristics of summative assessment, as it is one of formative assessment’s. However, this is a misunderstanding or a misuse of summative assessments.

Summative assessments empower you to help your students identify their strengths and develop them or weaknesses and resolve them.

Once the assessment results are out, you can interpret the data collected from it and move on to the decision-making stage. Online exams software systems like Qorrect help you do that with state-of-the art automatically generated results and advanced reporting system.

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Types of Summative Assessments

Summative assessment is the most popular and widely used type of assessment.

There are different types of summative assessment, such as

  • Final written exams.
  • Final oral exams.
  • Practical exams.
  • Mid-term exams.
  • Presentations.
  • Portfolios.
  • Research projects.

Functions of assessment

The educational process cannot continue without carrying out various forms of evaluation by educational institutions.
Evaluation is an indication of whether or not the objectives of the educational process have been achieved.
It is therefore an important measure that ensures continuity and adjusts the course of the educational process when necessary.

The assessment process has the following functions:

  • Measuring students’ uptake of different curricula, both in parts and as a whole.
  • Supporting students in developing a sense of personal responsibility for learning.
  • Helping students to link what they learn in class to their actual lives and knowledge building.
  • Providing all the required information to make decisions about curriculum and educational development strategies.
  • Developing practical mechanisms for implementing the development strategies.
  • Assessing students’ cognitive, vocational and emotional development as measured to specific educational goals.

Problems with Summative Assessment

Tests are not just something students fear; it’s gotten a bad name among teachers too because of the misinterpretation that often occurs.

The word in itself signifies the phrase “teach to the test,” at least for some educators. However, that is the furthest from the truth. Let’s discuss some of the misinterpretations or disadvantages of summative assessments that we can avoid.

1. Misconceptions on Summative Assessments Use

This is one of the misconceptions regarding summative assessments. Although many think of summative assessments as standardized exams only, this is not totally right. Standardized tests are only an example of summative assessments.

And despite the fact that standardized tests are not a problem, the way some educational organizations handle them is. Unfortunately, this has been one of the disadvantages of summative assessment in early years until this day. 

Instead of teaching to the test, we have to aim higher and beyond what the test requires: students acquiring the skills necessary for the 21st century along with content.

In order to do this, Andrew Miller, Director of Teaching and Learning, Singapore American School, explains that we need to focus on assigning students assessments and projects that are of in-depth knowledge or related to the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (get more insight into how to do this from the Difference between Online Exam and Offline Exam).

2. Some Believe Summative Assessments Quality Can’t Be Improved

Some view summative assessment as something rigid that can’t be developed or improved. It’s a requirement not a need. It takes time and effort from teachers.

It can’t provide us with feedback since the whole examination process is rushed; there are so many details involved and no one would even bother with the feedback if there is one.

However, it’s quite the contrary. You have the capability to improve the quality of your summative assessments, according to the American Psychological Association, if you follow these steps.

characteristics of summative assessment

How to Improve the Quality of Summative Assessment

  1. Carefully align your assessment with what you are teaching
  2. Use a variety of questions on the same subject in order to assess student’s knowledge
  3. Use item analysis in order to tackle questions that seem too difficult or overly easy for students
  4. Be mindful of assessments that are valid in some settings and not in others
  5. Make high-stake decisions on multiple measures
  6. Monitor student outcome to look for consistent discrepancies in outcomes from students from different cultural groups
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3. Overlooking the Functions of Summative Assessment

Part of the functions and purposes of summative assessments are sometimes ignored. In order to make full use of all functions of this type of assessments, we need to first take a look at what these functions are and how to properly use them.

Mark Wilson - university of berkeley

Mark Wilson, Graduate School of Education, University of California

 Mark R. Wilson, who currently chairs a National Research Council committee on assessment of science achievement and is the founding editor of the new journal Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research and Perspectives, gives us some insights into this.

 Mr. Wilson in his message on the National Council on Measurement in Education, as President, mentions that there are two main aspects of the functions of summative assessment, that is its information usage and signification usage (if you want to know more on how to employ summative assessments in your measurement and assessment process, don’t miss out on reading our recent article on Proctored Exam).


Information Is One of the Components of Summative Assessment

Information usage is one of the proper functions of summative assessment and also one of its main components.

Information usage of summative assessment should be the essential basis for research and development as well as application in educational assessment and measurement in general.

Using information here refers to the ways you can collect information from the measurements and tests done in the educational system, e.g., a mathematics standardized test.

The results of the information gathered from this test, for example, can be used in various ways. They can be aggregated, e.g., across multiple levels and groups of students or even combined together with the results of other types of tests.

“They might also be used summatively in aggregation and/or combination to make educational decisions by appropriate people, such as teachers, parents, administrators, those beyond the classroom (including those at the building level, up to the state levels), and educational policy makers of many kinds”

Signification: Second Components of Summative Assessment Functions

Signification usage refers to revealing to teachers and what the standards of teaching are, the related weight of these standards, and a clear evidence of the meaning of these standards: through specific items. Mr. Wilson believes that signification usage has a greater weight in education overall. As it includes the following:

  • Showing the standards of teaching according to the standards “represented by the items in the summative tests”
  • Indicating the weight of standards, “through the relative numbers of items (or scores) representing different standards)”

What Are the Examples of Summative Assessment?

What is a common summative assessment? To answer this question, we need to first go back a little and have a further look on what summative assessment can be and what it is.

Summative assessments can be a major, high-stakes exam, a final exam, a term paper, a project, or a portfolio. So, summative assessment is only concerned with the final version or product, while formative assessment is more concerned with anything that can be revised.

All things related to summative assessments and more are available on Qorrect exams software blog! Have you tried Qorrect? Book now a Free demo on our website to get to know more about Qorrect computer-based assessments system!


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  1. Assessment practices for 21st century learning: review of evidence, Analytical report

About Yasmine Nasr

Yasmine Nasr has been part of the content world since 2017. She has worked as a translator, content writer, editor, copyeditor, and English language instructor. She holds a BA degree in English, Translation, and Literature, plus a degree in literary and media translation from the American University in Cairo. Today Yasmine is a content writer interested in education technology, especially exams autograding, computer-based exams, evaluation & assessment systems, and LMS, in relation to academic accreditation with the aim to improve exams quality and student learning and experience.

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