Do you know the difference between assessment and evaluation?

We constantly hear about the importance of assessment and evaluation. These are ways in which we can determine whether our students have learned what we needed them to learn. Many times, these terms are used interchangeably. But the reality is there is actually a difference.

Assessment refers to the act of determining the extent to which the desired learning is being attained. I think of assessment as what we do throughout our course to keep our finger on the pulse of our students' progress. Assessment can use a variety of methods that provides feedback to help the student achieve the defined learning outcomes. It also helps us know when a student is having trouble. If you have heard of the term formative assessment, this is what we are talking about here. Assessment can take many forms, such as quizzes, papers, or practice performance tasks. The can be “graded” but don’t need to be as their focus is to provide the student with feedback about their learning and whether they are where they need to be. Assessments should be intentionally sprinkled throughout the course.

Evaluation, on the other hand, is more of a summative or cumulative process that happens at the end of learning. It tends to be graded and counts as a critical measure of whether or not the student attained the defined learning required. We are all familiar with evaluation methods such as modular or unit exams, final exams, end of rotation exams, summative OSCE’s, etc.

I admit I have used these terms interchangeably, but I find knowing this delineation helps in how to think about the ways in which we determine whether our students are learning and have learned. Consider assessment as a process we use to track and document students learning along the way and evaluation as the endpoint which documents what the student actually learned.


Waugh, C. K., & Gronlund, N.E. (2013). Assessment of student achievement. (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).



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