Assessment for Learning vs. Assessment of Learning Explained

Side view of a boy in a classroom sitting at a desk using a laptop to take an assessment for learning.

Assessments play a key role in how teachers develop units and determine what lessons are successful and which topics need to be revisited. Traditionally, assessments have been used to determine what a student has learned throughout a unit and teachers use these assessments to assign a grade or mark. This style of assessment is called assessment of learning, or summative assessment, and typically this information is useful for the educator but is not necessarily actionable for students because the unit or lesson has already been completed. 

While there is certainly a good argument for using summative assessments throughout a unit, teachers are also able to use assessments for learning as well, or formative assessment. Assessment for learning is used more informally and can dictate a teacher’s next moves within a lesson or unit. To understand more about assessment for learning and assessment of learning let’s dig a little deeper. 

What’s the difference between assessment for learning vs. assessment of learning?

The differences between assessment for learning and assessment of learning begin with their overall purpose. With assessment for learning the teacher is typically assessing the student on how well they are understanding a concept or idea with the idea of going back to reteach if necessary, or the teacher is hoping to get a better grasp on how a class is progressing towards a standard. 

This is different from the purpose of assessment of learning, which occurs after all of the objectives have been taught and is used to gauge performance rather than progress. Assessment of learning is useful in seeing how students may match up against their peers within the school, district, or even nationally.

Another key difference between the two types of assessment is the relative frequency of each assessment. Assessments of learning are generally given less frequently when compared with assessments for learning because the latter is more useful in guiding teaching and increasing growth and learning. Formative assessments are also implemented more informally and can be as quick as a single-question check-in at the end of class whereas summative assessments of learning require more time and are held in a more high-stakes environment. 

The final difference to think about when considering assessment for or of learning is the difference in implementation and collaboration. While it is possible to develop authentic assessments of learning in a collaborative space, it is difficult to tease out exactly what each student can do as an individual. This is why assessment for learning can be more beneficial when planning lessons or projects that are completed as a group. With assessment for learning the end goal is growth, so even if students are working as a group they are still able to show growth towards a standard. 

How are assessments for learning used?

Looking at the big picture, assessments for learning provide a road map for teachers to follow in a build-up to the assessment of learning. There are many ways that teachers can use assessment for learning in an online learning environment for example: 

  • Virtual entrance and exit tickets – students complete a check-in to begin or end class, and the teacher can use the data from the ticket to inform how or what they will teach next. 
  • Develop a concept map – this is a longer-term assessment for learning where the teacher can look at how students are connecting concepts. This gives the teacher the ability to help make connections as needed. 
  • Engaging in gaming simulations – the development of advanced technologies in online learning platforms allows teachers to create assessments that students interact with like a game, increasing engagement and allowing students to persevere until they can move forward, or demonstrate learning. 

The key to all assessments for learning is adaptability and flexibility. These assessments should be viewed as formative and designed to build on one another as students progress toward mastery of their final learning targets or goals. 

Assessment of learning, on the other hand, is a bit more rigid in implementation because it is meant to gauge how students perform compared to one another. This means that after the assessment happens the teacher will not be going back to reteach the concepts unless large-scale holes in learning are found when looking at student data. 

For both types of assessment, the digitization of learning means that teachers can look at large data sets more effectively and pull student data based on question type or standard. By leveraging this data educators can fill gaps in student learning much more effectively and give students the direction they need to grow and learn. 

Tying it all together

Both assessments of learning and for learning are useful tools for teachers to implement when determining what a student can and cannot do. While assessment for learning tends to be day-to-day and designed with individual student growth in mind, assessment of learning gives a birds-eye view of how a class or student is performing in relation to other students. 

With both assessment types, the digital learning transformation has been extremely beneficial. With assessment software like those developed by Open Assessment Technologies teachers can develop their assessments and leverage large sets of student data to continually push students’ learning. To learn more about how OAT can change the way that you assess students in your classroom, click here.