Improving Student Performance in the Summative Assessments
The above quote well explains the difference between Formative and Summative Assessment. Most teachers today, thanks to Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation CCE, understand the importance of ongoing assessment of student learning for improving it and the benefits of both Formative and Summative Assessment.Neenu Puri
A key concern for teachers is the performance in each. Many teachers have spoken about their concern at the student variations in performance in the Formative and Summative Assessment, pointing out how most students perform well in the Formative Assessment but falter in the Summative Assessment. According to them, with the introduction of CCE students do not take studies seriously, see the Formative Assessment tasks as ‘fun’ and ‘play’ and say the students are able to do better on the ‘small sections’ of the syllabus included for the Formative Assessment tasks and are not able to deal with the ‘bigger syllabus’ on which the SA is based.
Educators would say that if the learning is sound and if the Formative Assessment shows this, (after all the FA is assessment to improve learning), then students will naturally, as a corollary, do well at Summative Assessment.
But let’s understand the issue from a different perspective and some ways to deal with it.
Summative Assessment ‘covers’ a larger syllabus compared to the Formative Assessment and is in the form of the pen paper test done by each student individually. In the context of CCE, it constitutes the traditional way of assessment, different from FA in form and of course purpose. Seen this way and keeping in mind what the teachers have said about it, negotiation with the Summative Assessment calls for a well defined approach.
This article will discuss some strategies for helping students negotiate with the Summative Assessment.
Decode each Formative Assessment task and learning activity
The process of helping students perform well at the Summative Assessment starts perhaps with the Formative Assessment. For each Formative Assessment task and learning activity that is done, the teacher should explain what was done and what has been learned through and from it. So for example, when a debate is conducted, the teacher should explain
- what was done– that through the debate the students looked at the topic from two different perspectives
- the purpose– to help in a better, fuller understanding of the topic .
- result– the different ideas everyone pooled in for this and so learned
The teacher should synthesize the points on the topic and present them to the students to help them gain a clear understanding of the topic. Such a conclusion will enable students to understand the learning objectives of the activity (here the debate) and the learning from it. This should be done for every activity whether it is role play, model making, project or any other. This helps students take note that the activity was ‘fun’ to do but had a learning objective.
Another form of this could be to ask students to reflect on each activity – what did we do, how did we do it, what did we learn from it, how has it helped me learn the topic better, are there some aspects of it which I still do not understand and how do I understand these. This will ensure that students focus on the targeted learning and gather the content in a structured way well and so be prepared for answering the questions in the Summative Assessment paper.
Some specific strategies for the Summative Assessment
Hand out / give the syllabus for each term at the beginning of the term
Most often, teachers give the syllabus at the end of a term, after the completion of the teaching and just before the SA. Giving the syllabus at the beginning of the term helps students to orient and warm into syllabus and track it as the topics are studied over the term. This can be strengthened by the teacher pointing out the topic in the syllabus as it is studied. Such tracking of the syllabus helps in reducing stress as they see and experience chunks being done in a paced way over a period of time. It gives them an important sense of control over their studies.
Link the new topic with the preceding one; recapitulate the preceding one
Research and daily classroom experiences clearly show that learning is best when there is ongoing reinforcement and revision. Thus as each topic or chapter is being studied, the teacher must try and link it with the preceding topic and at the end of each topic/chapter do a loop back or recapitulate the preceding one. This helps to sharpen retention and understanding and serves to show students how learning is cumulative; specifically enable them to understand that the short sections on which FA tasks are based together form the base for the SA paper.
Show sample Summative Assessment papers to students through the term
It is said we are comfortable with the familiar. Showing sample Summative Assessment papers to students helps them become comfortable with the paper requirements and format and so better attuned to attempting them in the SA. Showing here does not mean merely holding up the paper and pointing to the sets of sheets to a class but giving each student a copy of each sample SA paper (and at least 3-4 per term) and going through every part of it with them-explaining the design, the type of questions, the marks for each, the word limit (many questions across subjects have different word limits), the general instructions in the paper (number of questions to attempt, the choice given).
Share the Marking Scheme of the Sample Summative Assessment papers with the students so they ‘see’ what is expected in the answers and how they are assessed. This will strengthen their Summative Assessment paper knowledge and skills.
Explain the question terms and the questions
Critically explain to the students the meaning of each question—what it asks for i.e. its requirements and how to answer it. The SA paper in different subjects use words –Explain, Describe,Find out, Solve, Calculate, List, Mention, How, What, Why, Account For, Prove, Define, Simplify, Distinguish, State, Name, Derive –in the questions. Are we sure that our students understand all the words, that they know the difference between ‘Explain’ and ‘State’ and that between ‘Mention’ and ‘Account for’? Every subject teacher needs to collate all such question terms and explain what each means in their respective SA paper, what the question asks for and then explain what the answer entails.
Such exam terms is one element of the question. Many students do not understand the wording of the entire question and what it calls for. A clear and regular explanation of different types of questions will prepare students for the Summative Assessment paper.
Practice Summative Assessment papers
Explanation must be followed by Practice. ‘Learning by Doing’ is the buzz in the teaching learning process; this is not always affected in assessment, specifically Summative Assessment. Teachers must ask students to attempt the Summative Assessment sample papers as timed assignments or as home tasks so they become familiar with the pattern and become comfortable with the Summative Assessment paper.
Time management in Summative Assessment is often a problem for many students and timed practice of sample Summative Assessment papers will help them. Another way is to explain to students how to divide the time between different questions and how to make the choice between questions in the Summative Assessment paper efficiently and effectively.
Get Students To Make Questions and Summative Assessment sample papers
As the students understand the Summative Assessment papers, the types of question, their phrasing and requirements, they should be asked, in groups to make questions and sample Summative Assessment papers. A fitting conclusion to this exercise could be: The teacher selects the best questions made by the students and gives the questions to the class as an assignment; then asks students in pairs to assess each other’s answers with the help of the Mark Scheme(peer assessment-an important CCE tool). The same could be done with sample SA papers i.e. the students make sample SA papers- the teacher selects the best one and sets it a as practice task for the class to do individually or in groups. The students then do peer assessment of the answer scripts. This will effectively help student learning and preparation for the actual SA. How will this help them?
To make the sample paper, the student will need to study the required topics, understand the question terms, work out the answers, allocate the marks and time. They will indirectly be assessing their own learning.
In making a sample paper, they will prepare for the actual Summative Assessment paper! A tremendously enabling and empowering exercise!
Within the context of the quote by Robert Stakes at the beginning of the article, the students will be the cooks tasting the soup while making the questions and papers even as they prepare for the guests to pass the judgment on their assessment.
Assessment can be stressful and CCE is aimed to reduce the stress and improve the learning through a more transparent ongoing process, making the learner an active participant, in fact a co-assessor in the process. All the strategies described here are some steps in that direction for Summative Assessment and for helping students negotiate effectively with it.
Neenu is an education consultant and a practicing teacher.