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Assessments can be an aspect of teaching that can really stress new teachers out, especially if they don’t know which assessment to use, when to use it, and what to do with the data. The three main types of student assessments are the diagnostic assessment, the formative assessment, and the summative assessment. Here are the basics of each type to help new teachers navigate through the world of assessments and get their first year off on the right foot.

Diagnostic Assessments

A diagnostic assessment is essentially used to “diagnose” how much a child knows about a specific subject and which skills they already possess so you can focus on the ones they don’t. Teachers also use diagnostic assessments to identify misconceptions before any teaching takes place so they can “undo” what students thought they knew about a topic or subject. Knowing each student’s strengths and weaknesses can help teachers better plan their lessons around missing knowledge and skills.

Examples of diagnostic assessments include pre-tests on both content and abilities, self-assessments that identify skills and competencies, interviews with students, and discussion boards with content-specific prompts. In most cases, diagnostic assessments are not graded because teachers are only trying to find out what students already know and often, it’s not much. They also give you a baseline on which to gauge how much students have learned after teaching is complete.

Formative Assessments

During lessons, formative assessments allow teachers to gather feedback and information that is used to determine the success or failure of a lesson. This doesn’t mean the teacher or the students failed. It just means the lesson may need to be taught again or in a different way to ensure students grasp the material. Teachers often use formative assessments to assess their own performance as a teacher as well as to measure student progress. These assessments, like diagnostic assessments, are usually not graded because they are used to determine the effectiveness of lessons by how much progress students are making.

Examples of formative assessments include teacher observation, student non-verbal feedback, class discussions, homework, reflections journals, formal and informal question and answer sessions, teacher-student conferences, in-class activities that require students to informally show their results, student feedback for and evaluation of lessons.

Summative Assessments

When most people think about tests, they are referring to summative assessments. These are the “show what you know” assessments that take place after learning has been completed. Teachers often use rubrics that have been developed around standards and expectations to assess students’ learning. These rubrics are not kept secret and are given to students before they begin working on a summative assessment so they know exactly what they are expected to know and do. Rubrics also allow teachers to be more objective in their grading because the same criteria is applied to each student.

Examples of summative assessments include examinations (including high-stake tests like the SAT, ACT, and state exams), final examinations, term papers, portfolios, projects, performances, presentations, and student evaluations of a teacher or class, among others. Many teachers adapt summative assessments to student needs to ensure each student can demonstrate their learning in a way that shows their mastery of the lessons.


Assessments can be tricky for new teachers, but by keeping these basics in mind, they will be experts in no time!