George Lucas Educational Foundation

How We Weight/Grade Summative Assessment

How We Weight/Grade Summative Assessment

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My school requires that teachers weight summative work at 80% of a student's final grade, and formative work at 20%. What are your thoughts on this? Does anyone else's school do something similar? There have been pros and cons so far ...


  • Cuts down on students receiving A's just for turning in homework, but failing the test
  • Seems to take help from home out of the equation a little
  • Grades really reflect what students know


  • Students stop doing homework because "I can still get a B if I do well on the test"
  • Students think they understand something, but occasionally don't - and they miss the feedback opportunity (if they don't turn in their homework.)
  • Kids are constantly asking "Is this formative or summative?"

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David Wees's picture
David Wees
Formative Assessment Specialist for New Visions for Public Schools

If your formative assessment is part of the student's grade, is it by definition, summative. Formative assessment should be that assessment which is used to guide the learning, but not to penalize them for thinking.

Under this reasoning, our school has adopted summative assessments being 100% of the weight of a student's grade. We also share, as a separate grade, our student's work habits with their parents. This allows us to separate the product of learning from our student's process of learning, while still sharing with parents information about how strong the work habits of their children are.

Jody Watson's picture
Jody Watson
Educational Technology Evangelist

I agree with David. Our division has made progress towards outcome based assessment and strides with formative and summative assessment. To me anything that you are doing to assess what level students are at will be formative. The summative occurs for them to show their knowledge/understanding of a topic/skill. I believe that we should be constantly reassessing to make sure students are still retaining the knowledge from the outcomes that they have covered. Where I have questions is what happens when a student that has achieved an outcome, does not retain that knowledge/skill, and can't reproduce that knowledge on a later assessment. Does their "mark" drop? I think the easy answer is that you just reassess after some coaching but I need to hash it out a little bit more.

I must say that this is the first time in many years that assessment makes sense, and that is using formative and summative assessments and outcome based reporting.

ElemMusicTeach's picture
Elementary Music Teacher, PEI, Canada

I think the grade structure is far too heavily weighted towards the summative assessment. I think it is great that there is some formative assessment requirement in there, but 20% is not enough. It is hard to say what an effective balance between the two would be, however 50 / 50 is a good starting point.

I can understand your students' apathy towards homework and much course work in general with that grading structure. Most if not all efforts would be given towards preparing for the exam. Do you find yourself reluctantly being pushed towards 'teaching to the test?'

And what exactly does the test show us? A student's ability to spit back answers in a superficial manner? Assessment should be used to improve student learning not simply measure it. And while a certain measurement of student learning is important, it is through formative assessment that the students most benefit.

I couldn't help but notice you are a gr7/8 band teacher. I am an elementary music teacher in Canada. This grade structure that you are discussing, is it for your band program or another course you are teaching? If so, what does the summative assessment look like in band?

G Jordan's picture
G Jordan
MS/HS Math Teacher/ Math Coach

I agree with the idea of increasing the weight of the formative piece. The book EdSpeak offers the following definitions, which I like, but others may disagree.

Formative-Any assessment used by educators to evaluate students' knowledge and understanding of particular content and then to adjust and plan further instructional practices accordingly to improve student achievement in that area. Summative assessment -An assessment used to document students' achievement at the end of a unit or course or an evaluation of the end product of a student's learning activity. Final exams are an example of summative assessment.

Source Citation "Formative Assessment." EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Diane Ravitch. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2007. 98. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.

Alex Dello's picture


Im doing classroom research on formative and summative assessments and that impact on student's motivation to learn. I understand well the purpose of formative and summative differentials but where are these seemingly arbitrary ratios coming from that assign each one a percentage of total grade. Is there a purpose to one being ranked more important, what evidence led to this, and who said 80-20 is the best indicator? these are my questions and I would love for someone to point me in the right direction.

Youki Terada's picture
Youki Terada
Research and Standards Editor

Hi Alex,

In general, the more timely, accurate feedback you give students, the better they'll perform on tests. Check out our research review on assessment:

For some great examples of schools that are using assessment effectively, check out our Schools That Work series and filter for "assessment": We also have articles on performance assessment ( and formative assessment (

You may also be interested in the research on high-stakes testing: The key finding is that what matters is how well the tests are aligned to standards. If a test is poorly made, then it'll do little to support student learning.

Hope this helps, and let us know if you have any other questions.

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