Understanding Interim & Formative Assessment: Different Exam Formats Explained

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Student assessment is a fundamental part of the teaching and learning process. Educators assess students in many ways including using summative, formative, and interim assessments to guide their teaching. Assessments may be utilized to show student growth and achievement, as well as to inform instruction. Increasingly, school districts are relying on interim and formative assessments rather than summative exams as a way of determining where a student is at during different points in a school year. These assessments serve as snapshots of student achievement and may be powerful data tools when determining student growth. 

How an educator assesses students is critical to how students learn and develop over time. In this article, we will delve into the interim versus formative assessment as well as the benefits and challenges that educators face when implementing these assessments. 

What are Interim Assessments?

Interim assessments are a type of educational assessment that is conducted at specific points during the school year to gauge students’ progress and provide feedback to teachers and administrators. These assessments are designed to be administered periodically between the beginning and end of a school year, typically at regular intervals, such as quarterly or at the mid-point of the academic year. 

By giving more frequent, period feedback, interim assessments allow educators to adjust instruction to meet the needs of students more readily throughout a school year. This creates a more accurate picture of where a student is at when compared with traditional standardized tests which may be designed to show what a student has learned over a longer period of time.  

What are Interim Assessment Tools Used For?

An interim assessment is typically shorter and may be given more frequently than high-stakes standardized tests, such as end-of-year assessments. They are designed to provide ongoing, actionable information to support teaching and learning throughout the school year. Interim assessments may be used for a variety of purposes depending on the teacher and their goals within a classroom. Some common purposes of interim assessments include:

  • Measuring Progress: Interim assessments help educators assess how well students are mastering the curriculum and meeting learning objectives. They provide a snapshot of student performance and growth over time.
  • Informed Instruction: By analyzing the results of an interim assessment, teachers can make informed decisions about instructional strategies and interventions. They can identify areas where students may need additional support or where the curriculum may need adjustment.
  • Data-Driven Decision-Making: Schools and districts use interim assessment data to make data-driven decisions at the classroom, school, and district levels. This can inform resource allocation, professional development, and curriculum adjustments.
  • Early Intervention: Interim assessments can help identify students who may be falling behind or struggling with specific concepts. Early intervention strategies can be implemented to provide additional support and prevent further learning gaps.
  • Curriculum Alignment: Interim assessments can help determine if the curriculum is aligned with educational standards and objectives. This information can guide curriculum development and refinement.
  • Accountability: In some cases, interim assessments are used to assess school and teacher performance and contribute to accountability measures at the district or state level.


Interim assessments can take various forms, depending on the specific educational goals and needs of a school or district. Here are some common examples of interim assessments:

  • Benchmark Assessments: Benchmark assessments are typically administered at regular intervals throughout the school year, such as the end of a grading period or the mid-point of the academic year. They are designed to measure student progress and alignment with grade-level standards.
  • Common Assessments: Schools or districts may use common assessments, which are standardized interim tests administered across classrooms or schools to ensure consistency in measuring student performance.
  • Performance Tasks: These assessments require students to demonstrate their understanding of concepts through tasks or projects. Performance tasks are often used in subjects like science and project-based learning.
  • Online Quizzes and Tests: With the increasing use of technology in education, online quizzes and tests are common forms of interim assessments. These may be adaptive, allowing questions to become more or less challenging based on student responses.
  • Oral Assessments: Oral assessments can include individual or group discussions, presentations, or interviews to assess students’ understanding of the material and their ability to articulate ideas.

How do Interim Assessments Differ from Formative? How are they Similar?

While interim assessments take place year-round, they are slightly different from formative assessments. Formative assessments are given throughout a lesson or unit and may often focus on one learning standard, where interim assessments may focus on several. Interim assessments are typically given at the end of a unit or grading period and are used to give a broader sense of long-term progress. Another key difference between interim and formative assessments is the type of feedback. With formative assessments, feedback occurs in real-time or with a very short waiting period, however, feedback through interim assessments is typically extended and takes longer to deliver. 

While there are some key differences between interim and formative assessments, they also are similar in a few key ways. Both assessments offer a more accurate view of student growth and achievement throughout a school year when compared with year-end standardized testing. Interim and formative assessments also both give educators a chance to provide more accurate data-driven lessons based on student performance. 

Public Opinion 

Interim assessments are widely used in schools worldwide. For proponents of interim assessment, these assessments provide regular snapshots of student progress and may be a useful tool in measuring student growth over a period of time. Many teachers and school districts have implemented interim assessments as a way of getting standardized test-like data on student growth throughout the year. 

While these tests are wildly popular, there are some concerns that have come to light surrounding these interim assessments. Most interim assessments in use today are created and developed by individual companies that are tight-lipped when it comes to sharing how questions are developed and evaluated. Without understanding the process for test item selection and scoring, and the potential for inequity in test design, it can be challenging to accept results on interim assessments as an accurate portrayal of student growth.  

Benefits and Challenges of Interim Assessment Tools

Interim assessments in education offer several benefits and also come with certain challenges. Here’s an overview of these advantages and potential drawbacks:

Benefits of Interim Assessments:

  • Measuring Student Progress: Interim assessments provide a way to measure and track students’ progress and mastery of specific content and skills over time. They offer a snapshot of where students stand in relation to academic standards.
  • Informed Instruction: These assessments provide teachers with valuable data that can be used to adjust and refine instruction. By identifying areas where students are struggling, educators can tailor their teaching to better meet student needs.
  • Data-Driven Decision-Making: Results from interim assessment tools help schools and districts make data-driven decisions related to curriculum, professional development, and resource allocation. This data can inform decisions at the classroom, school, and district levels.
  • Early Intervention: Interim assessments can identify students who may be falling behind or struggling with specific concepts. This early identification allows for timely intervention to provide additional support and prevent learning gaps from widening.
  • Accountability: In some cases, interim assessments contribute to school and teacher accountability measures. They help ensure that schools are meeting educational standards and that teachers are effectively delivering instruction.
  • Curriculum Alignment: These assessments can be used to evaluate the alignment of curriculum materials and teaching practices with educational standards, helping to ensure that what is taught matches what is expected.

Challenges of Interim Assessments:

  • Test-prep Focus: Teachers and students may feel pressured to focus on test preparation to perform well on interim assessments. This can lead to a “teaching to the test” mentality, potentially neglecting broader learning goals.
  • Unclear Scoring Mechanisms: Many tests give students a score without delving into which items a student missed or how to improve their score for next time. It may be unclear how the test is connected to student learning. 
  • Limited Scope: Interim assessment tools may not capture the full range of skills and knowledge that students are expected to acquire. Some important aspects of education, such as critical thinking or creativity, may not be effectively assessed through standardized tests.
  • Time and Resource Demands: Administering and scoring interim assessments can consume valuable instructional time and resources. This can lead to concerns about overtesting and reduced time for actual teaching and learning.
  • Data Quality and Interpretation: Ensuring the accuracy and reliability of assessment data can be challenging. Additionally, interpreting and using the data effectively to inform instruction requires professional development and support for educators.
  • Stress and Anxiety: High-stakes interim assessments can create stress and anxiety for both students and teachers. The pressure to perform well can be detrimental to the learning environment.
  • Narrow Focus: Interim assessments typically focus on academic content, which may not capture the holistic development of students, including their social, emotional, and character development.

How to Implement Assessments Digitally

To start integrating interim assessments digitally, it’s important to choose an appropriate digital assessment platform or tools based on your specific assessment needs and the age/grade level of your students. Ensure that the technology aligns with the assessment format you want to use, whether it’s multiple-choice, short-answer, essay, or performance-based assessment. Using  digital tools to design and create your assessments, you should be able to include multimedia elements, interactive features, and various question types. Additionally its crucial to, prioritize clarity, user-friendliness, and accessibility for all students when developing the assessment.

The system you choose should allow you to distribute your assessments digitally to students, through online browsers, learning management systems, etc. Consider security measures to prevent cheating or unauthorized access and ensure that digital assessments are accessible to all students, including those with disabilities by providing appropriate accommodations and support as needed.

As students complete the assessments, the digital tools automatically collect the data. Analyze the results to gain insights into student performance and identify areas for improvement in a timely manner. Use the data to guide instructional decisions, such as differentiating instruction or offering additional support. It’s important to regularly assess the effectiveness of digital assessments and refine your approach based on feedback and results. You’ll want to be open to making changes to better support student learning and achievement.

Student assessment is a multifaceted and complex pursuit. By using many different types of assessment throughout a school year, educators can monitor student growth and develop lessons that are targeted to student needs. While no assessment is perfect, interim assessments may be beneficial for educators when looking for an objective measure of student growth. 

Developing and implementing interim assessments can be challenging. Through online learning and testing tools like the TAO platform, schools and school districts can develop interim assessments designed to provide accurate feedback on student growth and achievement. Click here to learn more about developing interim assessments with TAO.

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