A Primer: Diagnostic, Formative, & Summative Assessment

The article discusses the ‘assessment component’ of teaching and learning and outlines the purposes of assessment, along with the differences between diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment. 

Richard Swearingen
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Heritage University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

The author includes the nine principals of good assessment practices as established by the American Association of Higher Education, as well as a brief overview of assessment sub-topics including authenticity, validity, and reliability.

What the experts say

The resource provides a basic introduction to types of assessment – diagnostic, formative, and summative -- and its place in education.  It is a useful overview to help new instructors understand and differentiate the role of the different types of evaluation in the classroom and their use. 

The resource does not guide instructors in how to use the assessment tools effectively; it only emphasizes that they need to learn to do so.  As a “primer” maybe that is enough.  

I believe the resource would be more valuable if the author made use of “The Purpose of Assessment” and “Principles That Guide Good Assessment” lists to describe the backdrop for assessments, rather than just leave them as a list.  It would help to drive the essay to its summary.  As is, it reads just like lists (purpose), lists (principles) and more lists (types of assessments, and factors).  It would be helpful to see the factors tied in more closely.  Fleshed out a little more, they would bring life and more value to the essay.

Practitioners in adult education – especially those with limited prior knowledge of the subject -- should welcome this as a very simple and readable set of definitions and principles related to assessment. It presents a clear and no-nonsense argument for the importance of greater practitioner understanding of, and engagement in, “good” assessment

But it is definitely a primer and does little more than introduce and argue. It would not be a resource, for instance, for teachers looking to learn about how to develop or implement assessment with students according to the cited principles.

I also find it curious that, while the author did cite some large-scale standardized assessments in his discussion of summative measures, he never addresses assessment as a tool for program/system accountability. Perhaps this is because his framework is K-12 and post-secondary ed? In any case this is without a doubt an important dimension and purpose of assessment for adult basic/literacy education practitioners!

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