Summative and formative are not opposites

I promise that this will be my last post about the difference between summative and formative assessment per se.  It seems to be something that bothers people; maybe I’ve caught the bug!

I used to imagine a continuum that had formative assessment at one end and summative assessment at the other, and the  debate hinged around whether you believed that the formative (‘assessment for learning’) or summative (‘assessment of learning’) function was more important i.e. where on this continuum you sat. Bull and McKenna talked about a blurring of the boundaries of formative and summative assessment, and I agreed.

But actually I think you can go further than that. Surely summative and formative assessment are just different things. Summative assessment is about measuring; formative assesment is about learning. Surely both can happen at the same time (or neither! – on the basis that assessment isn’t formative just because it is meant to be). Formative assessment can be summative; summative assessment can be formative.

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