By Arjun Dutta, PhD, Dean of the School of Pharmacy
In the late 1960s, Michael Scriven first coined the terms “formative” and “summative” in the context of program evaluation. In 1968, Benjamin Bloom expanded on these concepts to include formative assessment as a component of the teaching-learning process. According to Bloom, the purpose of formative assessment was to provide feedback and allow for correction at any stage in the learning process. Subsequently, the definition of formative assessment expanded to include evidence of student achievement which would be used by educators and learners to make decisions about instruction that would be evidence based as opposed to anecdotal.
Formative assessment should be used for improvement rather than making final decisions. Formative assessment can provide information which can be used to make immediate changes in teaching and learning and in the program. The primary differences between formative and summative assessments are where they occur in the teaching/learning process and what the outcome of that information is used for. Usually, summative assessment happens at the end of the teaching-learning process, while formative assessment occurs during that process. Information obtained from formative assessment can be used to affect the instructional experience on an immediate basis based on student feedback. As summative assessments occur at the end of the teaching-learning process, information obtained that might improve the process cannot be applied until the next time the course is offered again.
Formative assessment can occur in Student Learning; Interprofessional Education; and Faculty Teaching. A variety of formative assessment techniques can be applied in didactic or experiential settings to improve student knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Formative feedback of instructors helps develop faculty and improves the quality of teaching. Formative assessment allows for a safe place for faculty to experiment and students to learn without the sword of failure hanging over them.
(Adapted from: A Faculty Toolkit for Formative Assessment in Pharmacy Education; AJPE 2014; 78 (9) Article 60)