Summative Assessment

Summative assessment is the process of gathering of data on student learning, based on specific assessment criteria, at the conclusion of a course, unit, field experience, or program.

These assessments help answer:

  • Is this course or program of appropriate quality and value?
  • Is this course or program worthy of public investment or support?
  • Should this program be expanded, maintained, cut back, or eliminated?
  • Should we support proposed changes to this course or program?

A summative assessment provides an overall snapshot of what students have learned at the end of a course or program. The purpose is to document student learning for transcripts, employers, legislators, and other external audiences. Students may not receive feedback on their performance other than an overall grade or score. 

Examples include:

  • Registry or Licensing Exam–includes State or national board exams, professional certification exams
  • Capstone Course—a course at the end of a program that uses knowledge and skills developed throughout the curriculum
  • Practicum or Internship
  • Portfolio—a collection of artifacts that document achievement of program outcomes and/or core workforce skills, e.g., papers, projects, presentations, exhibits, pictures, recordings
  • Major Project—in-depth, hands-on exploration of a topic, theme, idea, or activity; provides a cumulative view of a student’s performance over a sustained period of time
  • Major Final Activity—a performance, planning a conference, etc.
  • Scenario—present complex and realistic problems in a given context; response demonstrates application of knowledge and skill to a real world problem
  • Rubric—constructed with criteria to assess program outcomes

In Wisconsin, summative assessment results are collected in technical programs as part of the Technical Skill Attainment (TSA) initiative. Managed by the Wisconsin Technical College System, the TSA process originated in Carl Perkins IV legislation to ensure graduates have technical skills needed by employers. The assessments are collaboratively developed by instructors within the system and industry stakeholders. This initiative is supported by employers, approved by the System Office, and implemented by the 16 technical college districts in the state.


Definitions adapted from Assessing Student Learning, Linda Suskie, 2004.