Virtual Assessments: Guidance for Summative and Formative Evaluations

Any educator will confirm that assessment is an integral tool in the learning and teaching process, but with so many schools currently using distance and/or hybrid learning models, the ease of administering assessments has greatly decreased. In order for students to illustrate how much content they have learned, evaluations are necessary. Teachers use formative and summative assessments within instructional units to assess learning, reteach misconceptions, and acquire grades. Formative assessments allow teachers to see what students know, so they can offer feedback that further guides and develops the instructional process. During formative assessments, the focus is not on the grade, but on the feedback that teachers offer students. On the other hand, formal assessments, otherwise known as summative assessments, are more critical in determining student knowledge and do result in student course grades. How can one effectively use these assessment types within a virtual classroom setting?

Throughout the learning process, teachers and students need formative assessments to drive the instructional process. For this reason, teachers should include brief questionnaires; these brief formative assessments can aid the instructor in knowing what he or she needs to do differently to increase student understanding. Brief quizzes are another way to measure learner acquisition; by asking questions that require application of the content rather than simple recall, a virtual setting should not impede accurate results. Feedback should help students build confidence in their own knowledge acquisition. Other formative assessments may include a one-minute paper about some part of the content or material. As formative assessments are planned within the virtual course, focus on what information is needed to verify that students are in fact learning. Furthermore, seek to get students´ honest feedback to see where confusion may lie, so clarification can be provided. Additional formative assessment options may include reflective course discussion boards or the use of online video platforms to assess students one on one or through them recording their own answers to questions. Checking student learning during synchronous instruction is also an informal way to see how the students are learning. These varied formative assessment styles will work well for a variety of virtual content classrooms.

In contrast to formative assessments, the decision to obtain summative assessment data should be considered within course design. What summative assessments are critical in measuring student knowledge? The typical use of end-of-chapter tests, unit assessments, or formal course exams may be more tedious using a virtual platform. How exactly can one gather accurate data to determine proficiency and appropriate learner level when the students are at home? While a bit tricker, the use of performance tasks and performance items is one way to carry out summative assessments virtually. Designing performance tasks that require students to complete multistep processes to demonstrate knowledge mastery is ideal. It may also be effective to create more long-term project-based learning (PBL) project that require a culmination of many performance tasks. If long-term PBL projects are used, teachers may need to split these tasks into shorter tasks that assess various learning objectives and content standards. Meanwhile, teachers can use oral defense and conversations as a means to assess students virtually; through phone conversations and/or video conferences, students can explain their thinking to teachers. In turn, teachers can use previously created scoring guides or rubric to assess student learning during the conversation. Finally, there are a variety of technology tools that may be practical for use with summative assessments; the use of technology does require knowing one´s students and providing alternative options for students who do not have equitable access.

While definitely different in style, the final aim of formative and summative assessments does not change simple because they are presented virtually. Delivering quality content and then providing appropriate practice and relevant feedback to aid students in mastery continues to be the goal.

Anneda Nettleton

Anneda Nettleton

Ms. Anneda Nettleton is a veteran educator in Kentucky. Her professional interests include helping students become better communicators through written expression, integrating technology, and utilizing innovative activities to keep students engaged in learning. Anneda is a passionate educator and a seasoned curriculum freelance writer. Anneda is the proud mom of two precious children, Jeremiah and Jasmine. In her spare time, Anneda enjoys exploring new places with her kids.