VIP Focus: Different Assessment Types

DashBoard, July 1, 2015

Submitted by Brenda Wilson, Senior Account Executive, Northwest Evaluation Association

Whether it’s a targeted question during a lesson, an end-of-unit quiz, fall and spring benchmarks or the large-scale, state-mandated exams, there are many types of student assessments.

An assessment can be used to support learning, as well as validate it. They can occur daily as a part of teaching, but also be scheduled to occur at certain critical points during or at the end of the school year. The type of assessment chosen should match the purpose behind the questions you’re trying to answer.

Let’s explore what defines the different type of assessments frequently administered in our schools.


Most educators are familiar with large-scale summative assessments, such as state performance exams or national tests like the National Assessment for Educational Progress. These have become known as “high-stakes tests,” as the No Child Left Behind law required that such summative assessment results be used to determine whether a school was succeeding or failing.

It’s important to know that not all summative tests are “high stakes.” A summative assessment is how we refer to one that certifies and reports whether a student has learned a certain set of content. Variations of these assessments can be used to cover material in a single unit or over the entire school year.


While summative assessments certify learning, formative assessments support learning. These are techniques and tools that encourage both students and teachers to continually gather evidence of learning in the classroom and use that evidence to change instruction moment-to-moment and day-by-day.

Used during teaching, this type of assessment creates an environment where educators and students:

  • collect critical information about the learning progress.
  • uncover opportunities for review.
  • provide feedback.
  • suggest adjustments to both the teacher’s approach to instruction and the student’s approach to learning.

Many different tools support the practice of formative assessment in collecting information about learning and providing feedback. Some of these tools you may already be familiar with, others may be new:

  • hand-held clickers
  • individual whiteboards
  • status indicators (red, yellow, green)
  • teacher-created tests, quizzes and item banks


An interim assessment is one that may be administered at specified intervals between periods of instruction. Interim assessments help teachers better understand what a student knows and what concepts need more emphasis to ensure academic growth. They also measure student learning growth and help teachers look for patterns or trends and identify needs for additional resources.


In addition to measuring growth, assessments can be used to predict performance on mandatory end-of-year summative exams. Typically given in fall and spring, this form of interim assessment allows teachers to “benchmark” student performance against the requirements for the year. Teachers can then adjust instruction during the year to focus in on areas of need for students.


Diagnostic assessments can be very helpful when information about a student’s prior learning is useful, such as at the beginning of the school year. These tests focus on finding potential difficulties or areas of learning that may need further development. Used alongside other evidence from the classroom, diagnostic tests are often used to determine if a student would benefit from a slower pace or accelerated learning programs.

For additional information on the types of assessments and Northwest Evaluation Association’s products and services, contact Brenda Wilson, Senior Account Executive at NWEA at 503.624.1951.

VIP Focus articles are company-sponsored advertisements and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of MASB. It’s intended to provide Very Important Partners with a space to share information of value to you and your district.

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