Emma Robinson, University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Abstract: This paper’s purpose is to explain why summative assessment is the best teaching practice to implement in a classroom setting- whether that setting be in an elementary school, middle school, or high school atmosphere. Through extensive research and personal experiences, this paper will explore what summative assessment is, why it should be used, and examples of how to use it for different classroom settings.

Keywords: Summative, assessment, teaching practice

What is Summative Assessment?

In 2012, the Florida Center for Instructional Technology stated that summative assessment is, “…typically used to evaluate the effectiveness of instructional programs and services…” One thing to keep in mind regarding summative assessment throughout this paper is this type of assessment is product oriented (Dettmar&Hanna, 2004). According to a survey given by Maddalena Taras in July of 2008, staff members within the education program at a non-specified English university had a few different rough definitions of summative assessment. The majority of the lecturers believe summative assessments are what we know as a final or cumulative exam. Taras states the definition of summative assessment in a different article written in December of 2005 as, “…a judgment which encapsulates all the evidence up to a given point.” (pg 448).The given point can be seen in the form of a midterm exam, final project, final test, or a final paper. I conducted my own survey asking a group of University of Wisconsin River Falls students what they thought summative assessments were. Most of them had no idea what a summative assessment was, which is ironic considering most of them have midterms coming up soon. However, for those who knew what a summative assessment was, the terms “final test” and “end grade” were popularly said. UWRF student Paige Ciernia was one of the students who knew exactly what summative assessment was as she states, “Summative assessment is a way for teachers to know where their class stands in regards to a subject, whether it is given in test or paper form.” Ciernia then went on to explain the difference between summative assessments in comparison to other assessments. She mentioned that summative assessment is concerned with the final product of what was learned during a period of time, whereas other forms of assessment are more so concerned with the process. Another UWRF student who knew the rough definition of a summative assessment, Kaitlin Draganowski expresses, “Summative assessment is grade decider, usually a final test given at the end of a unit, chapter, or the entire year if it is cumulative.” When asked if summative assessments were a good teaching practice, both students said yes. When asked if they believe summative assessment is necessary in classrooms, both students believe this teaching practice is a fundamental piece needed within school institutions in order to measure improvement and knowledge base in the vicinity of a classroom.

Reasons of Use

The practice of summative assessments fit in a large range of applicable uses. The Florida Center for Instructional Technology says this type of assessment is, “…typically used to evaluate the effectiveness of instructional programs and services…”According to University of Cambridge’s Wynne Harlen in June of 2005, summative tests can be used for a source of regular grading. With the ability to put grades in online, parents and students expect grades to be put in quick and efficiently. Olenka Bilash mentioned in May of 2009, “It is the summative assessment that is used to determine grades and future directions for students.” Summative assessments are also used to get an accurate read on what students need to improve on, which could ultimately help teachers update their curriculum to better fit the needs of students (Harlen pg1). If the majority of a class gets the same question wrong on a test, the teacher will know how to better their lesson plan for next year. Summative assessments can also be used in the form of high stakes tests to monitor school performance (Harlen pg1). The ability to monitor school performance can help with creating a good curriculum. This type of assessment also encourages students to study, learn, and pay attention to the material they will be tested on. Speaking from experience, the classes I had summative testing in are the classes where I paid attention the most. Just the existence of summative tests in the classroom is enough to motivate students into listening a bit more to lecture, in comparison to a class where there are no tests, and just homework assignments. Summative testing levels the playing field in an increasingly competitive academic and professionally fueled world. This pattern of testing provides a fair chance to all students and eliminates the politics often involved in academia. Summative assessments are completely unbiased, and all students have an equal chance to do well on it.

Examples of Use

There are many different ways to use summative assessment in one’s curriculum; no matter what grade level he or she may be teaching. An effective form of summative assessment is a final paper. A final paper can be used to not only help students grasp the subject’s concept, but with every paper a student writes, the better his or her writing get in general. As more and more states adopt the Common Core concept, skills like reading and writing are even more important to implement in one’s curriculum. A final paper can adequately be used for middle school and high school teachers. Obviously giving summative tests and papers are not always appropriate for the elementary level, but elementary school teachers can use an alternate form of a summative assessment- that of which being a final project. Final projects analyze not only the knowledge a student has, but it puts students’ creativity to the test. Creativity is important to implement in curriculum, especially with younger children. One could assign their class a final poster project, where they are able to portray what they have learned through pictures. A midterm exam could be used to see where students are halfway through the course, and they will be able to focus on the academic areas they lack in during that period of time. With those areas in mind, they will know what they need to study in order to do well for the final exam. Final exams are important, as they are an indicator of what students know and do not know at the end of a unit or course. Teachers then will be able to adjust his or her curriculum accordingly.

Pros and Cons

Although I do believe summative assessment is the best teaching practice, it is important to identify and be aware as a teacher of the cons of this concept. One of the biggest consequences that come out of this teaching practice is test anxiety and low self esteem (J.Cassady&B.Gridley,2005,pg6). I have had bad test anxiety since my sophomore year of high school. Almost five years later I am still suffering from anxiety, however I do believe summative assessments are completely necessary. From my personal experience, taking summative tests always helped me stand out from others in my classes in a positive way. All of my teachers were aware of my situation, so they were aware of the hard work I put in to pass these summative assessments. I stood out from the kids who did not pay attention or study. In regards to accumulating low self-esteem due to test scores, a positive to outweigh the negative is the excitement one will feel when they exceed expectations and do extremely well on final tests or papers. Parents love to see improvement, which is most easily measured by summative assessments. Test anxiety is considered a consequence of summative assessment, but a positive result came out of it. I learned how to effectively study and retain information, both great skills to possess. It is also important to recognize that summative assessments are completely unbiased, and all students have an equal opportunity to do well on the assessments through hard work and determination.


Summative assessment is a type of assessment that tests students on a unit up to a certain point. Teachers use this type of assessment to create a grading system for their classes effectively and efficiently. As stated earlier in the paper, a summative assessment can come in the form of a final test, a midterm exam, a final paper, or even a final project. This type of assessment is used to measure what students know or do not know. Although this assessment is probably not a student’s favorite teaching practice, it is a necessary evil, and is a very helpful reference to look back on when creating lesson plans as a teacher. Summative assessments are the best teaching practice because they are completely unbiased, helpful when looking at a school’s academic improvement, and they encourage hard work from students.


Bilash, O. (2009, May). Assessment and Evaluation: Summative Assessment

Cassady, J. C. & Gridley, B. E. (2005). The effects of online formative and summative assessment on test anxiety and performance. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment.

Ciernia, P. (2015, September 24). What is Summative Assessment? [Personal Interview].

Draganowski, K. (2015, September 24). What is SummativeAssessment? [Personal Interview].

Hanna, S.& Dettman, A. (2004). Assessment for Effective Teaching: Using Context-Adapting Planning

Harlen, W. (2005, June). Teacher’s Summative Practices and Assessment for Learning-Tensions and Synergies.

Florida Center for Instructional Technology.  Classroom Assessment. Date accessed November 29th, 2015.

Taras, M. (2008, July). Summative and Formative Assessment.