5 Common Types of Educational Assessment


Educational assessment is a topic that's generated a lot of debate, with questions swirling around high-stakes testing. But it's important that our understanding of assessment isn't limited to these standardized exams. Assessment can take many forms and be adapted for a wide range of purposes. Teachers across all grades and academic subjects need to have a strong working knowledge of how to administer classroom assessments and how to use the information these assessments provide.

At its core, assessment is the collection of information that shows what students know and are able to do. Once you complete an educational assessment of students, you need to examine and analyze this information. Conducting assessments of student learning is a critical part of the teaching and learning process.

The terms "assessment" and "evaluation" tend to be used interchangeably, but it's important to note that they do not mean the same thing. Assessment refers to the tasks used to gather information about student learning, while student evaluation refers to the process of examining this information. The data yielded by an assessment can show you how well your students have mastered what you've taught and let you know if you need to reteach any of it. It can also show you if your students are meeting standards, which may be set by your school, district, state or any combination thereof.

Two of the most common types of educational assessment are formative and summative assessments, explored in more detail here, which each have a very specific purpose as well as notable differences. The common tools employed by teachers when creating these assessments will differ as well.

Formative assessments tend to be more relaxed. The focus of a formative assessment is feedback for the student and teacher. Asking your students to complete a formative assessment, such as a quiz or written reflection, will show you how well your students have grasped what you're teaching. Because this type of educational assessment is intended to support the learning process rather than measure an outcome, it can be graded but doesn't need to be.

Unlike formative assessments, summative assessments are always graded and tend to have a broader scope. Summative assessments tend to cover a wide body of skills and knowledge, and are not administered as often as formative assessments. While formative assessments are given on an as-needed basis, summative assessments come at the end of a unit of study or at the end of an academic term or year. Formative assessments are comprised of any combination of multiple choice, short answer and written responses.

Though formative and summative assessments are the types most commonly administered, there are three additional types that you will likely encounter.

Diagnostic assessments are given at the start of a unit or an academic term or year. This type of student assessment can take many forms and include elements used in both summative and formative assessments. The purpose of a diagnostic assessment is to provide you with insights about how well your students have mastered a topic or skill before you teach it. For example, if you teach language arts, you might ask students to write essays early in the school year. Evaluation of the essays will show you how well your students understand how to structure an essay, how to develop a topic, and how to proofread for spelling, grammar and punctuation. The information you uncover during this process will help inform instruction so you can tailor your lessons to what your students need.

Norm-referenced tests won't be part of your daily classroom routine, but it's helpful to know the specifics of them and how they work. These exams compare students of similar ages and grade levels to a hypothetical average student. This type of educational assessment involves heavy scientific involvement as the process of creating the norms by which the students will be measured is complex.

Scores on norm-referenced exams are usually reported in percentiles. For example, a student in the 80th percentile performed better than 80 percent of the students who took the same exam. Norm-referenced exams rely heavily on multiple choice, with some short written responses, and tend to be based on national standards as opposed to state and local standards. The SAT and ACT are the most well-known norm-referenced assessments, which also include the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the California Achievement Test and TerraNova tests.

Criterion-referenced exams are somewhat similar to norm-referenced exams in that both are standardized, high-stakes tests. However, criterion-referenced measure students against standards or specific goals. This type of exam, unlike a norm-referenced test, does not measure whether one student knows more than another student; it only measures whether or not the student knows the information being tested. Types of questions are similar to those found on norm-referenced exams, and include multiple choice and open-ended questions which require written responses. Teachers may find themselves using a criterion-referenced approach to creating a summative assessment, with the goal being to measure how well students met the goals put forth by a unit of study. Results are often presented as a percentage of items correct, but some criterion-referenced exams have special scales which show different levels of mastery. Advanced Placement exams and PARCC Common Core tests are examples of criterion-referenced assessment.

A deep understanding of educational assessment is a key part of a successful teacher's skill set. If you're thinking of expanding your knowledge of this type of topic by continuing your own education, explore AIU's Master of Education programs.