Formative and Summative Evaluation in the Assessment of Adult Learning

Formative and Summative Evaluation in the Assessment of Adult Learning

James B. Martin (U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, USA) and Royce Ann Collins (Kansas State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-745-9.ch008
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Assessment is an important, yet poorly understood, process in adult education. This chapter examines the differences between two important types of assessment/evaluation, formative and summative, and examines how these are incorporated into the literature of adult learning. Focusing on the literature of program planning in adult education, the authors identify a disagreement in the common definition of the terms and consider the impact this could have on educational planning for adult programs. Adapting a formative assessment model that focuses on short-, medium-, and long-cycle formative assessments, examples of all three types currently used in adult education classrooms are provided. The model is then telescoped out to the program level, where a long-cycle formative assessment is identified using a military graduate school as an example. The chapter concludes with a reiteration of the importance of formative assessment and a call to educators to more effectively incorporate it into adult learning.
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8.1 Introduction

As the title indicates, this chapter will deal with the important, yet often misunderstood, concepts of formative and summative evaluation and their criticality to the assessment of adult learning. After identifying how these terms will be defined for our purposes, in order to create a common language for the discussion of formative and summative evaluation, the current literature of adult learning and assessment will be briefly examined to clarify how these terms are currently used by major voices in the field. The bulk of the chapter will be spent examining each term to illuminate their importance in adult learning and clarify their use. Specific examples will be provided in order to clarify how the terms differ and the myriad of techniques that can be used with both to improve student learning in the classroom or the operations of adult learning programs. The processes of assessment and evaluation are of critical importance to adult education. Many adult learning programs are created in nontraditional or accelerated settings and do not conform to the normal parameters of programs in higher education. Particularly in the case of adult higher education (Kasworm & Marienau, 1997) the positive use of assessment serves not only as a catalyst for the improvement of student learners, but also as a form of evidence for the validity of the programs and student performance. Taken as a whole, the chapter will strive to make clear the importance of formative and summative evaluations and provide possible methods that can be used to implement them in adult programs.

Assessment is one of the most important words in adult education, yet often one of the scariest. Many faculty members, full or part time, and academic administrators shy away from assessment because of the negative connotations that it carries in elementary and secondary education. Some shy away because they deem it to be too hard and not worth the effort. Many of these individuals view assessment as one thing: the process by which the educational world makes judgments on student performance, normally to award grades or determine levels of performance on standardized tests. This chapter will deal with this process of making judgments on student performance, but will also lay out other uses for assessment of student learning that can have significant impacts on the learning and teaching that occurs in adult classrooms. We will deal with two different types of evaluation which are both used for assessment, but have different purposes for their use. These are, predictably, formative evaluation and summative evaluation.

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