BOX 3-1 Definitions

Formative assessment refers to assessments that provide information to students and teachers that is used to improve teaching and learning. These are often informal and ongoing, though they need not be. Data from summative assessments can be used in a formative way.

Summative assessment refers to the cumulative assessments, usually occurring at the end of a unit or topic coverage, that intend to capture what a student has learned, or the quality of the learning, and judge performance against some standards. Although we often think of summative assessments as traditional objective tests, this need not be the case. For example, summative assessments could follow from an accumulation of evidence collected over time, as in a collection of student work.

The centrality of inquiry in the vision of science education advanced in the Standards provides a particularly compelling reason to take a closer look at classroom assessment, and formative assessment, in particular. If students are to do science, not solely verbalize major facts and principles, they should engage in activity that extends over several days or weeks. Their work should be less episodic and fractured than lesson-based science teaching. A different kind of assessment is necessary, one that is designed to help students get better at inquiring into the world of science (NRC, 2000). The best way to support inquiry is to obtain information about students while they are actually engaged in science investigations with a view toward helping them develop their understandings of both subject matter and procedure. The information collected by teachers and students while the students are at work can be used to guide their progress. A teacher asks questions that may help spur thinking about science concepts that are part of the investigation and may help students understand what it takes to do work that comports with high standards. At the end, the information may be collected and reviewed to form a basis for summative evaluations.


To help design and implement an effective and efficient classroom assessment system, we offer the

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