Formative and Summative Evaluation

There are many different types of evaluations depending on the object being evaluated and the purpose of the evaluation. Perhaps the most important basic distinction in evaluation types is that between formative and summative evaluation. Formative evaluations strengthen or improve the object being evaluated -- they help form it by examining the delivery of the program or technology, the quality of its implementation, and the assessment of the organizational context, personnel, procedures, inputs, and so on. Summative evaluations, in contrast, examine the effects or outcomes of some object -- they summarize it by describing what happens subsequent to delivery of the program or technology; assessing whether the object can be said to have caused the outcome; determining the overall impact of the causal factor beyond only the immediate target outcomes; and, estimating the relative costs associated with the object.
  • Summative assessment - Summative assessment is generally carried out at the end of a course or project. In an educational setting, summative assessments are typically used to assign students a course grade.
  • Formative assessment - Formative assessment is generally carried out throughout a course or project. Formative assessment, also referred to as "educative assessment," is used to aid learning. In an educational setting, formative assessment might be a teacher (or peer) or the learner, providing feedback on a student's work, and would not necessarily be used for grading purposes.

Educational researcher Robert Stake explains the difference between formative and summative assessment with the following analogy:
" When the cook tastes the soup, that's formative. When the guests taste the soup, that's summative. "

Formative assessment

Formative evaluation includes several evaluation types:
  • needs assessment determines who needs the program, how great the need is, and what might work to meet the need
  • evaluability assessment determines whether an evaluation is feasible and how stakeholders can help shape its usefulness
  • structured conceptualization helps stakeholders define the program or technology, the target population, and the possible outcomes
  • implementation evaluation monitors the fidelity of the program or technology delivery
  • process evaluation investigates the process of delivering the program or technology, including alternative delivery procedures

Summative assessment

Summative assessment (or Summative evaluation) refers to the assessment of the learning and summarizes the development of learners at a particular time. After a period of work, e.g. a unit for two weeks, the learner sits for a test and then the teacher marks the test and assigns a score. The test aims to summarize learning up to that point. The test may also be used for diagnostic assessment to identify any weaknesses and then build on that using formative assessment.
Summative assessment is commonly used to refer to assessment of educational faculty by their respective supervisor. It is imposed onto the faculty member, and uniformly applied, with the object of measuring all teachers on the same criteria to determine the level of their performance. It is meant to meet the school or district's needs for teacher accountability and looks to provide remediation for sub-standard performance and also provides grounds for dismissal if necessary. The evaluation usually takes the shape of a form, and consists of check lists and occasionally narratives. Areas evaluated include classroom climate, instruction, professionalism, and planning and preparation.[1]
Summative assessment is characterized as assessment of learning and is contrasted with formative assessment, which is assessment for learning.
It provides information on the product's efficacy (its ability to do what it was designed to do). For example, did the learners learn what they were supposed to learn after using the instructional module. In a sense, it does not bother to assess "how they did," but more importantly, by looking at how the learners performed, it provides information as to whether the product teaches what it is supposed to teach.


  1. It tends to use well defined evaluation designs. [i.e. fixed time and content]
  2. It provides descriptive analysis. [i.e. in order to give a grade, all the activities done throughout the year are taken into account]
  3. It tends to stress local effects.
  4. It is unoppressive and not reactive as far as possible.
  5. It is positive, tending to stress what students can do rather than what they cannot.

Summative evaluation can also be subdivided:
  • outcome evaluations investigate whether the program or technology caused demonstrable effects on specifically defined target outcomes
  • impact evaluation is broader and assesses the overall or net effects -- intended or unintended -- of the program or technology as a whole
  • cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analysis address questions of efficiency by standardizing outcomes in terms of their dollar costs and values
  • secondary analysis reexamines existing data to address new questions or use methods not previously employed
  • meta-analysis integrates the outcome estimates from multiple studies to arrive at an overall or summary judgement on an evaluation question

Formative versus Summative Evaluation

Formative evaluation is a process of ongoing feedback on performance. The purposes are to identify aspects of performance that need to improve and to offer corrective suggestions. Be generous with formative evaluation. Share your observations and perceptions with the student. You might simply share your observation and then ask the student if (s)he can think of a better approach for the next time. Formative evaluation need not make a judgment. When giving formative feedback, offer some alternatives to the student, e.g., "That procedure will be more comfortable for the patient if you?." If you observe unsafe or questionable practices, address those directly and immediately with the student.
Use the student's patient management documentation as well as your observations of performance to offer formative evaluation. The student's charting reveals organizational skills, priorities, thought process, and judgment. Over the duration of the student's experience with you, point out improvement to the student.
Summative evaluation is a process of identifying larger patterns and trends in performance and judging these summary statements against criteria to obtain performance ratings. The faculty assumes responsibility for completing the summative evaluation at the end of the course. However, faculty rely upon your evidence and perceptions to justify ratings.
The table below compares formative and summative evaluation according to the kind of information provided and the timing.

Formative Evaluation
Summative Evaluation
What information
Specific description of daily events
General trends based on specific descriptions

Organizational skills
Overall attitude

Needs assessment
Comparison with evaluation tool
When to give
At the time of the incident
Mid-point in the course

End of the day
End of the course

Weekly re: progress

Give both formative and summative evaluation to the student in private as a general rule. However, formative evaluation is needed if safety concerns arise in a student's practice while with a patient. Also, at times you will lose a learning opportunity if you do not give the student a chance to practice an alternative approach at the time, but reserve your suggestions for a later conversation. Use your judgment and employ tact and sensitivity to avoid embarrassing the student.