Formative and Summative Assessment: How They Work Together

When you hear the word assessment, what do you think? Many people may think it simply means taking a test, but as teachers know, it’s way more involved than that!

Assessment is a way of supporting learning, which helps you as a teacher, but also your students, their parents and maybe even external bodies, like the government, understand the depth and breadth of learning at various points throughout the school year. It’s important for tracking progress, planning next steps, reporting and involving parents, students and others in learning.

There are two main types of assessment: formative assessment and summative assessment, which are sometimes referred to as assessment of learning and assessment for learning.

EducationCity now offers both types of assessments for English, maths and science from Year 1-6. More detail on what’s available for schools following the National Curriculum can be found here.

What is Formative Assessment?

Formative assessment happens on a daily basis whilst teaching and learning is happening. It allows you and your students to check in on what has been learned so far, giving you the information you need to decide how to adapt your lesson to move learning forward.

Formative assessment is often seen as a cycle:

Formative Assessment Cycle
Formative Assessment Cycle

1 Collect data from a learning experience.

With each lesson you plan and deliver, you’ll have a learning objective in mind and a specific outcome that students should be able to demonstrate . This could be one skill in one lesson or a more complex concept that you’ve taught over several ‘building block’ lessons.

The great thing about formative assessment is you’ll notice early on if students haven’t grasped one of the concepts and be able to address it before they fall too far behind, but how do you do this?

Every classroom looks different and will use a different mixture of assessment strategies. (Keep an eye out for our next blog with some cool ideas for formative assessment!) What’s important is that, whichever method you use, targets the heart of the skill(s) and/or concept(s) that you had in mind at the start.

Let’s take a look at one technique, Exit Cards – sometimes referred to as Ticket Out the Door – which takes just five minutes at the end of a lesson. All you need to do is give your students a small card each with 1-3 questions based on the learning objective of the lesson. Students answer the questions and return the card to you before they leave.

2 Analyse the data to identify knowledge gaps.

Once you’ve collected the cards, review the answers and makes three piles…

The first pile includes all cards where your students have demonstrated understanding of the learning objective.

The second pile is made up of all cards where your students have demonstrated partial understanding of the learning objective, maybe with a few minor knowledge gaps.

The third pile is all the cards where students have shown a lack of understanding of the learning objective, and major gaps in understanding.

3 Reflect on the data to plan re-teaching and/or extension activities.

Now it’s time to review the cards and analyse them for trends, and group students according to what they need to be able to achieve the learning objective.

4 Implement plan of action.

Create your plan of action for the next lesson including how you’re going to target each of your groups.

5 Repeat steps 1-4.

At the end of the next session, you can re-assess using the same technique, or something different!

What is Summative Assessment ?

Summative assessment usually takes place after students have completed a unit of work or at the end of the academic year.

The assessment will give you information about a student’s knowledge at that specific point in time, i.e., subject knowledge, understanding, skills and capabilities. Results are normally stated relative to learning aims and national standards and summarised into a percentage or grade, and then used by subject teachers and school managers for any of the following purposes:

  • Certification
  • Benchmarking
  • Progress monitoring
  • Target setting
  • Streaming/setting
  • Stakeholder reporting

Formative or Summative Assessment?

As you can see, both formative and summative assessment have their place. The challenge you might face in your classroom is to not only get the right balance of assessing for learning in order to improve assessment of learning, but also to find the time to analyse all of the data you collect and translate this into personalised learning for each of your students.

This is a challenge that many of the schools we work with face, which is why it’s developed over 90 flexible, time-saving, curriculum-aligned formative, unit and summative assessments to support you with all of the above. Take a look at our Geometry Unit Assessment aimed at 7-8 year olds.

To try EducationCity’s Assessments for yourself, why not take a free 21-day trial, when you’ll have full access to all our teaching, learning and assessment content, by contacting us on or completing the form here.