Assessments and evaluations have always been a feature in the schooling context, and it is unlikely that this will ever change. Although practices of implementation may vary over time, some form of assessment and evaluations will have to be in place, either for evidence of learning, proof of progression and/or identifications of learning gaps. Very often terms such as ‘assessment’ and ‘evaluation’ are used interchangeably, yet these terms differ in purpose and implementation. Likewise, different forms of assessments and evaluations exist, and it’s important to know the terminology associated with such. This paper serves to elaborate on these terms.

From the definition offered by Knowly (2020, July 22), assessments are defined as “the systematic process of documenting and using empirical data to measure knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs. By taking the assessment, teachers try to improve the student’s path towards learning” (para. 1). Formative assessments usually fall under this category.

Whereas Knowly (2020, July 22) also noted that, “Evaluation focuses on grades and might reflect classroom components other than course content and mastery level. An evaluation can be used as a final review to gauge the quality of instruction. It is product oriented.” (Para. 2). Evaluations determine whether a student meets the requirements for progressing to the next level. Summative evaluations, such as standardised tests and examinations, usually fall under this category. However, recent trends in education have seen the use of collective, or continuous, formative assessments as indicators of overall or summative performance.

Summative Assessments – Assessment of Learning

According to Rethinking classroom assessment with purpose in mind (2006), “Assessment of learning is summative in nature and is used to confirm what students know and can do, to demonstrate whether they have achieved the curriculum outcomes, and, occasionally, to show how they are placed in relation to others” (p.14). These assessments are scored, recorded, and used to evaluate student knowledge of content taught, which Butler and McMunn (2009) noted is a feature of summative assessments. In most contexts, corrections are conducted with students, however it is dependent on the teacher whether follow up monitoring and feedback was sufficient to rectify students’ misunderstandings. Analysis of results is expected to inform supportive measures to aid student learning, however, this will also be dependent on teachers’ efforts. Standardized tests and exams are examples of assessments of learning, or summative assessments, and are used in this process of evaluating students. According to Duncan and Buskirk-Cohen (2011) standardized tests have traditionally been used to offer a score, numerical value, or symbol to students’ academic performance. Furthermore, assessments of learning serve to provide an evidential account of how much students have learned throughout the year, whether they are able to progress to the next year and as a factor in teacher appraisals.

Formative Assessments – Assessments for Learning

Formative assessments, or Assessment for Learning, are low-stakes, non-graded assessments that occur throughout the lesson to monitor if students are on-track in achieving the learning goal. According to Bright and Joyner (2005), “When teachers understand what students know and can do, and then use that knowledge to make more effective instructional decisions, the net result is greater learning for students and a greater sense of satisfaction for teachers” (p. 2). These assessments are mutually beneficial for both teachers and students.

Benefits for teachers

As mentioned, formative assessments provide teachers with insight as to what students understand about a topic, whether they are progressing towards achieving the learning outcome, whether they need further clarification and where support needs to be given. Through this, teachers can decide whether they need to revise the content taught, adapt the lesson, clarify any misconceptions, or move on to the next part of the lesson. Overall, it is the monitoring of students’ progress and directs teachers on whether practices need to be adjusted (Erie, 2017). This means that teachers are forced to self-reflect on the effectiveness of their current practices and can decide whether significant changes in practices are needed (Lampriano and Athansou, 2009). According to Larrivee (1990), teacher self-reflection is an integral part of the profession as it allows for self-scrutinization and the fulfilment of personal philosophies, ethical principles and goals of teaching and learning.

Formative assessments are an on-going process whereby feedback is provided in real-time (Frunza, 2014). Thus, teachers can easily and quickly detect gaps in learning and ineffective practices early in the teaching and learning process (Reddy, n.d). This means greater opportunities for informed decision-making and refining of practices in real time to address the misunderstandings and gaps, so that time is not wasted. The roles and responsibilities of teachers is already so intense and formative assessments offer a way to ease our workload as it means not having to invest further vital lesson time, teaching effort and rigorous planning to readdress misconceptions at a later stage, and most detrimentally having to do this after an evaluation. Formative assessment itself, does not require the in-depth planning and procedures that is involved in formal evaluations. Thus, there is a further benefit in terms of time management.

Teachers are also able to meet the demands of curriculum standards through formative assessments as several education policies call for assessment for learning and the development of critical thinking and higher order questioning (Looney, 2011).

Benefits for students:

Lamprianou and Athanasou (2009) argued that formative assessment is a “classical instance of using assessment information for the benefit of the learner,” (p. 29). This is because teachers use formative measures to identify students’ misconceptions early in the learning process and offer clarification on such, thereby closing the learning gaps that exist prior to formal assessments. Furthermore, learning needs are identified through formative assessments and teachers can provide students with the appropriate support to meet learning goals. This leads to maximized students’ achievement. Looney (2011) highlighted research that argued that formative assessments have been effective in meeting the needs of lower ability students and raised their achievement levels. The continuous and real-time nature of formative assessment means that teachers can provide corrections instantaneously. According to Frunza (2014), “It takes place during the forming, and it implies a feedback and intervention in real time.” (p. 453). Thus, students gain clarification and improved understanding at the time of their confusion. Through raised achievement levels, students’ self-efficacy also increases (Looney, 2011).

Reddy (n.d) highlighted that formative assessments allow for assessment of smaller areas of knowledge at a time. Thus greater, in-depth, specific exploration of the content is possible and greater learning is achieved. According to Looney (2011) formative assessment, “Actively engages students in their own learning processes, resonates with the country’s goals of development of higher order thinking and skills for learning-to-learn” (p.5). Through formative assessments students have the chance to self-reflect on their learning thus enhancing their metacognitive abilities. In the same manner, self-assessment skills and self-monitoring skills are also increased (Looney, 2011).

According to Looney (2011), providing teaching alongside clarification allows for the integration of instruction and assessment and this represents the best type of teaching. Formative assessments meet the requirements of this integration and have proven to be beneficial for teacher and students.

Assessment as Learning

Assessment as learning can also be categorized as formative assessment. It refers to “when students are their own assessors” (para. 4). This type of assessment can be used any time throughout the year as it is valuable in determining students’ understanding. An example of this assessment is self-assessment rubrics. As students use self-assessment rubrics, they are reminded of what is required for the task and can assess themselves. This allows for active student engagement in recognizing their progress and misunderstandings, thereby promoting the development of metacognitive, self-regulatory and reflection skills (Dann, 2002). Furthermore, it allows students to understand and make connections between learning and assessment and provides a greater sense of responsibility and accountability towards their own learning (Rethinking classroom assessment with purpose in mind, 2006). Feedback through this type of assessment is instantaneous and allows for misconceptions to be clarified immediately.

Rethinking classroom assessment with purpose in mind (2006) highlighted that assessment as learning not only provides students with greater responsibility and accountability for their learning but also helps them to form important connections between the content taught in their learning and assessments. Dann (2002) noted that this form of assessment aids in the development of metacognitive, self-regulatory and reflection skills.


Overall, assessments and evaluations are necessary components in the classroom. Each type of assessment has a different function and place in education and needs to be implemented accordingly. Contemporary trends have advocated for the use of more formative measures as opposed to summative. This does not mean that summative assessments and evaluations should be excluded in totality, however, there has been advocation for the use of context-based, authentic classroom tasks as a summative evaluation of students’ progress.


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