Formative vs Summative Evaluations

I am taking IPT 661 (Evaluation) from Dr. Randy Davies this term.  We are allowed to choose which assignments we think we will most learn from.  I have chosen to write on questions posed by the textbook (Program Evaluation: Alternative Approaches and Practical Guidelines by Fitpatrick, Sanders, and Worthen).

One of the questions asked at the end of Chapter 1 is: What kind of evaluation do you think is most useful–formative or summative? What kind of evaluation would be most useful to you in your work?  To your school board or elected officials?

As a former high school teacher, I am well aware of how the increasing emphasis on accountability has made high stakes testing part of the assessment done on schools.  I’m not a fan of high stakes testing, or even standardized testing in general.  I do see the value, and when I was younger kind of liked taking such tests (I’m a good test taker).  However, it really grated on me when a full week or more was lost each semester to testing.  How is that helping me to teach my students?  I taught English, which is one of the more subjective subjects.  That made testing seem even more incongruent, since tests don’t do well at assessing higher order thinking skills.

But I’m kind of writing on assessment more than on evaluation, although the two are often brought together.  However, some of my opinions on assessment flow into my views on evaluation.  In my view, formative evaluation is more useful than summative evaluation.  I started taking evening classes to earn my credential after I was teaching at Gunn High School in Palo Alto.  Thus I didn’t do the full “student teacher” bit, but rather had someone come and evaluate my teaching a time or two each semester.  I actually wish I had had more frequent evaluation, and more of an “apprenticeship” experience that I imagine happens with good mentor/student teacher relations.  So I desire more evaluation, and actually appreciate having someone come in to see my teaching and give me feedback.

But I want that evaluation to help me progress, not be a final exam.  I want that evaluation to tell me where I can make improvements and how I can be a more effective teacher.  Formative evaluation does that, whereas summative evaluation seems like a big test. (And, as I’ve said, I don’t think testing always tells us the right things!)

It ‘s not that summative evaluation is useless; clearly it is important to evaluate programs and find their value and merit.  If a program is simply using up resources and not producing the intended results, it may need to be canceled, or at least radically altered.  Nonetheless, from my experience as a teacher, formative evaluation of my teaching is most useful because it helps me strive to be a better teacher while I’m in the midst of my work.

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