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Comparing and Contrasting Assessment and Evaluation of a Student


The purpose of this thesis is to critically compare and contrast the differences and distinctions between assessments and evaluations in an instructional setting. Assessments are a critical step in establishing learner abilities and gaining a comprehensive overview of their current level of understanding. Assessments come in two forms, formative and summative, and are utilized to determine the current level of the learner and better gauge curricula goals and learner achievements. Commonly, assessments are utilized to aid an instructor in forming a comprehensive instructional methodology from which to best engage and instruct their students; however, assessments are also used to cater to a learner's individual needs or strengths.

Further, evaluations are a more comprehensive form of determining learner strengths in that they use the foundation of an assessment to more accurately gauge how a student has progressed through a semester and identify the material with which they were most engaged. Evaluations also come in two forms, formative and summative, and both forms will challenge a learner's abilities based upon their interactions, their strengths, and their overall accumulation of the information as a whole.

Both forms, assessment and evaluation, are critical in gaining an understanding of learner abilities, strengths, and achievements, but they are also critical in determining how much of the course material was engaging to students and what topics were most understood throughout the course. And finally, from the information gained during assessments and evaluations, more appropriate instructional methodologies can be established to benefit learners in future scenarios.

Defining Assessments

Learner Assessment

Assessments are a critical step in establishing learner abilities and contextualizing their level of understanding for a topic or specific subject matter. Most commonly, assessments are used to determine the current level of the learner within the topic and to establish goals and agendas for future learning strategies. Most importantly, assessments are formulated through instructional methodologies that indicate learner achievements and future achievements possible for the learner over a period of time. Further, once assessments are conducted, the instructor can develop a more comprehensive lesson plan based upon information gained during the learner assessment that will cater most appropriately to the strengths of the learner.

Of primary importance to creating assessments that will most appropriately illustrate learning behaviors is that "goals [must be defined] for integrative learning [which] is a vital first step toward planning and implementing intentional learning and assessment" (Miller, 2005, p. 11). And, by defining goals prior to assessments, an instructor can better gauge the abilities of their learners and establish definite goals and progressions that must be made throughout the course. Assessments are often graded on a pass/fail scale versus the utilization of traditional letter grades, most commonly using "excellent, satisfactory, adequate, and unsatisfactory" (p. 12) to determine learner ability for a subject. This is useful because it allows the instructor to define where the learner is within the current subject and what they need to learn to progress to additional subjects, prior to the evaluation.

Formative Assessment Vs. Summative Assessment

Formative assessments are used to determine if a learner is engaged in the subject material and developing a comprehensive understanding of the lesson plan. If goals have been set by the instructor prior to initiating the assessment, the student should have a solid understanding of the material going in to the assessment and the instructor should have a solid understanding of the learner's actual abilities for the material after the assessment has been conducted. A formative assessment is perhaps the most useful tool in instructional methodology because it allows for early planning should learners not possess sufficient strengths in the subject to continue with the learning objective. Additionally, a formative assessment can better prepare instructors for learner needs and requirements if they demonstrate deficiency or proficiency with the material.

On the other hand, a summative assessment is utilized at the end of a semester or session to determine a learner's overall grasp of the information presented within the lesson plan and will illustrate learner achievements in comparison to learner goals set at the beginning of the course. Summative assessments are generally best if they handle a small portion of material, for example, one topic within a chapter, to best determine a learner's proficiency with the material overall. Results from a summative assessment can prepare both the instructor and the learner for the rest of the course to come and to meet the requirements of evaluations.

Defining Evaluations

In large part, evaluations are similar to assessments in that they also review a learner's understanding of a topic; however, an evaluation takes the assessment methodology and goes one step further to critically evaluate a learner's abilities of a topic in its entirety. Where an assessment is best used to determine a learner's proficiency for a specific subject within a chapter, for example, an evaluation is best used to determine a learner's proficiency for the entire chapter. More, "hierarchical evaluation procedures emphasize a top down approach in making decisions on evaluating pupil achievement" (Ediger, 2000, p. 503). In this manner, an instructor can evaluate the learner's abilities in a specific manner by generating responses based on specific portions of the topic.

Formative Evaluations Vs. Summative Evaluations

The formative evaluation is used in much the same manner as the formative assessment to determine learner ability and understanding of a topic; however, the formative evaluation is more comprehensive an overview and generally seeks to determine a learner's abilities for an entire chapter or section of a topic versus a specific determination of a learner's ability for a section within a chapter of the broader topic. Formative evaluations are highly useful for instructors to determine whether the learners have achieved sufficient understanding of the broader topic and whether they are able to proceed with additional material.

A summative evaluation, then, is used to determine a learner's ability for an entire topic after a period of time with that topic. Where the summative assessment is used to determine a learner's grasp of a portion of a topic over a period of time, the summative evaluation is used to determine a learner's grasp of the topic in its entirety over a period of time. Summative evaluations are most commonly utilized as final exams of a topic and are intended to cover a broad spectrum of information that the learner should possess proficiency in; however, where an assessment would provide the instructor with the chance to alter instructional frameworks, the evaluation is more often considered a final overall examination for a learner and if they haven't reached the desired level of proficiency within a subject, it is often too late to make changes to the learning methodology.

Assessment and Evaluation in the Instructional Design Process

A study conducted by "Marso & Pigge found no significant differences with respect to assessment practices based on school setting (urban, suburban, or rural) or age of teacher. However, subject area differences did exist" (Mertler, 1999, p. 285). This demonstrates that instructors placed more emphasis on the importance of specific areas of learning. Indeed, "teachers of mathematics reported more use of problem-type test items as compared to other subject areas, namely business, English, science, and social studies" (p. 285). And as expected, this study demonstrates that instructors value the information gained from their students and will strive to assess or evaluate them using the most appropriate instructional methodology possible.

More importantly, early assessments in the classroom, particularly at higher levels of learning, will provide the instructor with a solid understanding of their learner's current level and whether they came into the class with any subject deficiencies. For example, to determine whether learners in an upper division English course had the desired proficiency in the subject, an assessment could "[attempt] to discover if students are entering graduate...schools with more serious writing deficiencies than in the past, and if [the] school through writing assistance and other methods, could be successful in producing graduates with first-rate writing skills" (p. 338). An early assessment would uncover writing deficiencies and establish learning achievements and goals for students to surpass as they move through the course material. Later, evaluations could be given to determine if the information gained within the assessments has kept the learners on a path that will get them through the course with higher levels of knowledge for the topic.

For the most part, assessments and evaluations hold similar instructional methodologies and practices; however, to best compare and contrast them, an assessment could be considered akin to a pop quiz in a class - covering a specific topic within a subject; whereas, an evaluation could be considered the final exam for a course - covering the topic in a general but highly intensive manner. Both are used to accurately gauge a learner's abilities and understanding of the topic or subject at hand and both provide feedback to the instructor on how to proceed with the course and determine whether or not the learner has sufficiently engaged with the material presented.

Within the instructional design process, assessments and evaluations are used in conjunction with the course material. For example, a formative assessment of a learner would include homework assignments and short papers written about specific topics. The summative assessment of the learner, then, would be a quiz or chapter exam. In both forms of assessment, the learner's ability for the subject is gauged by their ability for sections of a topic because this allows an instructor to determine if the current curricula will be engaging for a learner or if additional study is required before the class can proceed with new material.

On the other hand, a formative evaluation is used by instructors to gauge a learner's understanding of a more comprehensive amount of material and is executed in the form of more substantive exams or essays. Formative evaluations, much like formative assessments, allow an instructor to determine the learner's current ability for the information presented and evaluate whether the course can proceed with additional information. Further, the summative evaluation will be used in the form of a midterm exam or a final exam; offering the instructor with a comprehensive overview of the learner's total ability and engagement with the subject as a whole.

At the same time, there will always exist differences in the valuation of assessment versus that of evaluations and "such differences in assessment may derive from tacit differences in standards or the elements considered during the assessment-differences that must be reserved for more consistent judgments to be made" (Miller, 2005, p. 11). An instructor who uses assessments and evaluations properly will be provided with a highly appropriate understanding of their learner abilities for the presented material, and if needed, can provide a basis for new frameworks for learning. For example, if learners do poorly with initial assessments, the instructor will understand that the learners have not engaged sufficiently with the material to proceed with new material and additional study is required before the class can continue. If students continue to do poorly as the subject matter advances, the instructor can re-evaluate their instructional methodology and determine whether new frameworks for learning should be established which could better engage learners in the subject matter.

Additionally, instructors can gain a deeper understanding of their learner's abilities through assessments and evaluations to better define and execute their lesson plans in the current class and for future classes. Instructional methodologies consider that their "two different philosophies of assessment, [where] individual differences among pupils may warrant using several procedures of evaluation" (Ediger, 2000, p. 503). This allows for a more comprehensive understanding of learner needs and abilities and allows for the formulation of new instructional methodologies that can better meet those needs and abilities.


Alter, C., & Adkins, C. (2006). Assessing Student Writing Proficiency in Graduate Schools of Social Work. Journal of Social Work Education, 42(2), 337-342.

Ediger, M. (2000). Choosing Evaluation Procedures. Education, 120(3), 503.

Mertler, C. A. (1999). Assessing Student Performance: A Descriptive Study of the Classroom Assessment Practices of Ohio Teachers. Education, 120(2), 285.

Miller, R. (2005). Integrative Learning and Assessment. Peer Review, 7(4), 11-19.