After Shay Coyne’s popular post about teacher cognition and planning very young learner classes, we thought we’d bring you more highlights from this year’s IATEFL conference.
For this post, we are turning to Trisevgeni Liontou and Bill Bonk, who are both experts in combining formative and interim assessment tools in the classroom. For this article they are sharing with us some of the key takeaways from their talk in Brighton.
Trisevgeni is an associate Lecturer at the University of Athens, Greece and holds a PhD in English Language and Linguistics with a specialization in EFL Testing & assessment. Bill is the Director of Assessment and Measurement at Pearson.
Formative, summative, interim assessment: what’s the difference?
The value of assessment data in L2 classrooms is widely recognized, but teachers are often unsure which type of testing is most appropriate.
Formative assessment is what helps guide learning. It provides students with clear and actionable feedback, allows them to share learning goals and also models what success looks like.
For example, you might use formative assessment when your students are discussing a topic in order to practice some new vocabulary and you hear them using some words in the wrong context. In order to correct them, you then decide to spend a few minutes addressing the problem before moving on with the planned lesson.
You are also using formative assessment when you ask concept checking questions throughout an activity to see if students understand what they have to do, or when you refer to the can do statements in their course books.
The results of these kinds of on-the-spot assessments may shape how you teach the rest of the class, but they aren’t usually recorded or reported anywhere.
Summative assessments, on the other hand, certify learning. These are more official tests given to students at the end of a course to evaluate what they have learned. Examples include end-of-course tests, portfolios of work, oral examinations and traditional written exams.
They are often used by language schools to decide whether a student can move up to the next level or to make sure the teachers are covering the material on the curriculum. The results are recorded and may be given to the student (or their parents), the school or even the local education authority.
Interim assessments are given to students at different times throughout a course with the aim of measuring their progress.
Examples of interim assessments include mock exams or end-of-unit tests. As the data is recorded and reported it helps inform students, parents, teachers and school managers. It also allows teachers to make changes during a course, which benefits students when they come to take summative tests.
How can you apply this to your classes?
At its heart, assessment is conducted in order to answer questions about student progress. It is therefore essential that you are very clear about what those questions are when planning, conducting, or even looking at results from assessments.
To help focus our classes and our syllabi, we can ask ourselves the following questions:
- Do my students understand the goal of today’s classroom activity?
- Are my students making real gains in English proficiency in the first half of the year? And, if so, in what areas?
The first question is inherently short term and formative in nature; students are more likely to benefit from an activity if they know what the instructional goal is so they can match their efforts with that goal.
The second question is an interim, longitudinal one: it is not about students’ mastery of the material presented in a specific class, but rather whether all their study and efforts have resulted in improved proficiency.
It is important to understand how formative, interim, and summative assessment practices differ in their goals and procedures so that the right assessment practices are put into place for the right goals.
External resources like the GSE Teacher Toolkit can help identify level-appropriate content for both instruction and assessment.
Resources to aid with formative and interim assessment
At Pearson we offer a range of resources to help you get to grips with all kinds of assessment.
This free tool has transformed the way teachers are planning lessons, designing curricula and creating assessments. With over 2500 searchable learning objectives organized by learner type, skill or level, it allows you to easily set clear and measurable goals for your students.
What’s more the vast database of vocabulary items and grammar objectives means you can create your own interim assessments, specifically for each class you teach.
The Test of English Language Learning or ‘TELL’ is an interactive assessment tool for Grades K-12. It allows teachers to screen and identify student’s English language proficiency level, inform program decisions, and diagnose abilities and skill levels. This establishes a baseline to compare with the end-of-the-year assessments in order to determine growth and monitor progress, also allowing the teacher to use key data to inform instruction throughout the year.
The tablet-based test uses state-of-the-art voice recognition and writing evaluation technology in fun interactive exercises to assess students.
Those looking for a similar test for language schools should try the Pearson English Placement or Progress tests.
Placement is a 35-minute online test which assesses students’ listening, reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary skills, delivering results instantly and reporting an overall score on the GSE. It allows schools and teachers to be confident the students are placed in the most suitable class for their current level.
Progress can then be used to show the students’ development throughout the course. There are eight levels in total with three tests per level, designed to use at the beginning, middle and end of a course. It can be done on any computer at home or at school and like with Placement the test is scored using the GSE.