Learning Assessment Practices in the US

Formative and Summative Assessments

In the rapidly changing landscape of educational assessments, teachers are challenged with coming up with new evaluation tools to understand how they should adjust the instruction to cater to students’ needs. Formative assessments are defined as tools teachers in the classroom use for collecting and using relevant information for tailoring different types of instruction to children’s individual needs (Riley-Ayers, 2014).

Usually, formative assessments are embedded into instruction in the classroom, which makes it easier for teachers to administer them effectively in an ongoing manner. Summative assessments, on the other hand, are used on a one-time basis for collecting general information about students’ abilities (Riley-Ayers, 2014). When it comes to the use of the mentioned assessment types in specific age groups, several aspects should be mentioned.

First, in the birth to age 5/Pre-K group, both formative and summative assessments are used for improving the quality of early childhood care and education. While vocabulary and comprehension tests allow educators to determine children’s learning capacity and language environment, such assessments as the infant/toddler and early childhood versions of the inventory provide information on factors that affect the group’s development (for example, parental involvement, responsibility, learning materials, etc.). It is important to note that because children in the birth to age 5/Pre-K group grow up quickly, finding suitable formative and summative assessments is often challenging for teachers.

Due to the unique development (rapid, episodic growth) of children in the K to 8/Grade 3 age group, conducting both summative and formative assessments can be difficult. The key purpose of such assessment is to reveal whether the existing instruction practices make sense in the context of specific student characteristics and abilities. In addition, both summative and formative assessments can be used for adding uniformity and standardization practices to ensure comparability. An important issue that educators may face with the age group is the overuse and misuse of assessments.

Alternative Assessments

Alternative assessments differ from summative because they focus on measuring students’ continuous progress. Such assessments are teacher-generated, which means that different educators may approach this topic from various perspectives. Also, alternative assessments, which include formative and portfolio assessments, take into account the individual background and needs of every student to facilitate a flexible environment for measuring performance.

In the birth to Age 5/Pre-K group, such alternative assessments as portfolios can be used for measuring children’s background knowledge. Portfolios will predominantly include students’ art on different themes such as family, school, friends, and so on. Looking at students’ drawings will allow teachers to understand the environment in which their students are developing to address any arising considerations as soon as they appear.

In the K to Age 8/Grade 3 group, alternative assessments will reflect students’ understanding and achievement even more because children of this age have more potential for expressing their knowledge in different forms. Apart from portfolio assessments, teachers can evaluate students’ performance through the use of discussion boards, interviews, short presentations, and rubrics. All of these performance measurement tools may supplement the standardized tests that prevent teachers from getting insights into students’ achievement.

Compared to traditional assessments, alternative tools can provide meaningful evaluations of students’ performance. However, since approaches to performance assessments have changed, alternative methods are “premised on those significant changes” to provide teachers with opportunities to connect with their students better (Tan, 2012, p.1). Importantly, alternative assessments can be used throughout different age groups of students due to their flexibility and variability in teachers’ approaches.

Use of Portfolios

Portfolios have gained popularity among educators due to their usefulness in collecting students’ works for determining how engaged they are in the process of learning and what progress has been achieved (Birgin & Baki, 2007). Importantly, portfolios can be used for different purposes, which means that there is no unifying approach that all educators use simultaneously. When developing a portfolio that will serve as a tool for future student assessments, several issues should be resolved. For example, teachers, school administration, and parents should come to a mutual understanding about items that should be included in them. Also, it is important to ensure that relevant items are collected systematically to avoid confusion as well as allow students to freely access their portfolios to track personal progress.

As to the use of portfolios for students’ assessment, there are multiple benefits of this method compared to standardized testing. For instance, portfolio assessments take place in environments that are natural for students, allow parents see the overall progress, provide opportunities for assessing meaningful tasks, encourage interactions between students and their teachers, and so on. On the other hand, it is important to account for such disadvantages as complications in scoring portfolios due to the lack of measurable criteria, unclear purposes of portfolios and miscellaneous materials, as well as the fact that scoring portfolios take longer than usual types of assessments (Birgin & Baki, 2007).

To summarize, portfolios can be important assessment tools for evaluating students’ progress. However, it is advised to use them in conjunction with other methods to account for the disadvantages of portfolio assessments.

Use of Technology

Since the modern environment encourages the use of technologies in all aspects of life, they can also facilitate and improve educational assessment. Technologies can help teachers effectively track the progress of their students without losing time. Also, newly developed applications and software programs facilitate better communication between teachers and students. However, apart from the obvious benefits such as saving time and facilitating engagement, technologies can become efficient assessment tools for teachers to use during classroom evaluations.

According to Steele (2014), the intentional use of technologies for facilitating improved assessment and performance evaluation includes learning, engagement, and services. Within the learning category, teachers can use such tools as “electronic student portfolios, video conferencing to connect with students, and learning management systems” (Steele, 2014, para. 6).

Within the category of engagement, technologies can facilitate the use of tools that improve communication between students and educational stakeholders through social media and electronic communication. This category is especially useful for measuring how engaged students are in the process of learning. Lastly, the service category is associated with the tools that educational facilities have for managing students’ accounts; for example, student information systems can be useful for reviewing relevant student information and cost-effectively evaluating their accomplishments.

Overall, technologies can provide a solid basis for measuring students’ performance effectively. They can save time that teachers usually waste on looking through lists and papers. In addition, through the use of modern communication tools, teachers can connect with their students and measure their engagement, which is an important performance indicator for educational assessment.


Birgin, O., & Baki, A. (2007). The use of portfolio to assess student’s performance. Journal of Turkish Science Education, 4(2), 75-90.

Riley-Ayers, S. (2014). Formative assessment: Guidance for early childhood policymakers (CEELO Policy Report). New Brunswick, NJ: Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes.

Steele, G. (2014). Intentional use of technology for academic advising. NACADA Clearinghouse. Web.

Tan, K. (2012). How teachers understand and use power in the alternative assessment. Education Research International, 2012(38465), 1-11.