Types of Assessments: Definitions

The following definitions are provided to clarify the terms used in this section of TKCalifornia:

Summative Assessment

  • provides evidence related to mastery of long- or medium-term goals or standards and is most often used by institutions and programs to evaluate student progress over time and to facilitate program effectiveness;
  • includes end-of-year standardized assessments, unit tests, midterms, final tests and projects, etc.;
  • is administered periodically, from every few weeks to once a year; and,
  • is retrospective and “summarizes” what students have learned rather than providing evidence about current performance. Although educators might consider summative evidence to make generalizations about what individual students or groups appear to know at a given point, its value in shaping daily instruction is limited.

Diagnostic Assessment or Pre-assessment provides information about what the student has already learned and enables educators to make initial evidenced-based decisions about placement in programs and/or information for initial instructional planning.

Interim/Progress Monitoring Assessment provides evidence of progress toward standards several times during the year. Although interim assessments are often used in a summative manner to document student growth, the data they provide can often be used formatively to modify instruction during the next trimester, unit, etc.

Formative Assessment provides evidence drawn from daily activities and provides feedback about student learning while instruction is in progress. Continual observations and evidence from formative assessment is used in “planning curriculum and learning experiences and in moment-to-moment interaction with children.” 1  It informs the teacher’s decision about how to guide and scaffold each child’s learning to the next step, and can be used to continually improve teaching and learning.2


The chart below provides a sample overview of a year-long assessment plan. The assessments described in the shaded row are most likely to be selected or developed by the program or district. The on-going formative assessments described in the bottom row are aligned with daily instruction and most likely selected and designed by the teacher.

“Teachers need to lead learning, not retrospectively react to it… Only by keeping a very close eye on emerging learning through formative assessment can teachers be prospective, determining what is within the students’ reach, and providing them with experiences to support and extend new learning.”


Source: Formative Assessment and Next-Generation
Assessment Systems: Are We Losing an Opportunity?
 Components of a Balanced Assessment Program
Beginning of Year (Pre) Mid-year
End of Year (Post)
Diagnostic/ placement assessments

Direct pre-assessment/ initial observation protocol

  • Interim/ benchmark/ progress monitoring assessments every 4-6 weeks
  • Most likely aligned with program assessments or observation protocols
  • Data from these assessments is often aggregated and analyzed across classrooms/ districts and used as evidence in the improvement cycle
End of year direct assessment/ final observation protocol (summative evidence related to program effectiveness)
All Year
On-going formative assessments are conducted within the context of classroom activities to inform daily decisions about next steps for individual children or groups of children to promote continuous improvement. Evidence collected from this type of assessment may also be used to support more formal interim/benchmark and summative assessments refereced above.

1 National Association for the Education of Young Children, Position Statement: Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 (DAP), 2009, p.22

2 Ibid

3 Heritage, Formative Assessment and Next-Generation Assessment Systems: Are We Losing an Opportunity?, 2010, p.8