Pros and Cons of Formative Assessment in Career and Technical Education

There are many different motives behind student assessment, but the primary purpose is to evaluate the educator’s effectiveness of providing instruction.

It follows that formative assessment is done as quickly as minute-to-minute in class at the end of a unit of study, or longitudinally at the end of a week’s lessons. Formative, as opposed to summative, assessment helps the teacher recognize whether the learning objective needs to change or if the lesson is not effective. Conversely, a summative assessment rarely connects educators to their everyday instructional strategies but serves as an overall measurement of a student’s growth or mastery of a particular skill or subject. One would be more likely to see a summative assessment at the end of an academic year. In contrast, teachers can do formative assessments in the first five minutes of any given class or even multiple times during a lesson.

For this and other instructional reasons, formative assessment is particularly well suited to career and technical education. The online Master of Education – Career and Technical Education (CTE) from Eastern Washington University (EWU) intentionally focuses on formative assessment as the foundation of its pedagogy. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) maintains that this type of assessment produces ‘self-directed learners’ of students who can see, on a daily or weekly basis, evidence of what they have learned and how successful they have been in the process.

Formative assessment aims to help students assess themselves as they work and even provide feedback to their classmates. Formative checks for understanding allow educators to constantly adjust as they teach so that students are more likely to arrive at mastery, which can be measured by summative assessments at the end of the learning period.

The main challenge for educators is to know when to use which assessment and for what purposes. Furthermore, they must decide who to assess and why. Seasoned teachers frequently use formative assessments to evaluate what they need to do to be more effective instructors. EWU’s online M.Ed. in CTE program places great importance on recognizing obstacles that can preclude high levels of student achievement and career placement. The program equips educators with differentiation strategies through project-based or hands-on work, which calls for specialized knowledge.

The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) suggests that summative assessments do more to gauge student mastery rather than teacher effectiveness. This type of assessment is more useful to administrators as part of long-term curriculum planning, fundraising and applying for federal grants. While this might seem less valuable on the surface because it is not inherently student-based, institutions that support vocational education are necessary for any formative assessment to take place. Although CTE students will fare better with formative assessment as they hone their skills, it is the ability to prove this to others through summative assessment that will promise longevity and legitimacy to any CTE program.

One of the more useful formative assessments in the field of CTE is that which focuses on misconceptions. Edutopia suggests that focusing on what students do not know has great value to a class and its instructor. This distinction allows students to identify common misunderstandings and demands that they utilize whatever knowledge they might have to correct these inaccuracies or take the risk that their future positions will suffer the consequences.

The Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL) Center is a U.S. Department of Education project, which suggests another opportunity for formative assessments are student reflections. Because this type of evaluation is not possible during a summative assessment, it is also somewhat unhelpful to legislators attempting to use empirical data to drive policy. On the other hand, it is a highly effective means of assessment for CTE programs because it allows for mistakes to be corrected and helps students avoid such errors in judgment in the future. A metric like this is impossible to capture on a bubble sheet, but it is also too abstract to demand higher property taxes or further foundational funding.

An advanced education degree in career and technical education can prepare education professionals to conduct evaluation and assessment methods that are purposeful, effective and useful.

Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Education – Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.


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