The TAEDES412 Design and develop plans for vocational training is a core unit of competency for the new TAE40122 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification. It describes the skills and knowledge required to design, develop and document delivery plans and session plans within the Australian VET system.
The TAEDES412 unit specifies that the delivery plan and session plans must include formative assessment activities. You may also come across other terms such as summative assessment and diagnosis assessment. This article shall explore:
- What is formative assessment?
- What is summative assessment?
- What is diagnosis assessment?
Searching for definitions
There is no definitive definition of these three terms:
- Formative assessment
- Summative assessment
- Diagnosis assessment.
The Standards for RTOs 2015 does not define these terms. The TAE Training Package does not define these terms. And the Implementation Guide for the TAE Training Package does not define these terms.
I have used the VOCEDplus website to search a glossary of VET terms. This website is maintained by the National Centre for Vocational Research (NCVER).
The VOCEDplus website provides a definition for ‘Formative assessment’.
The VOCEDplus website provides a definition for ‘Summative assessment’.
The VOCEDplus webpages for ‘Formative assessment’ and ‘Summative assessment’ says that both terms are also called ‘Assessment of learning’. However, VOCEDplus website provides two different definitions for ‘Assessment of learning’. If you follow the link from the ‘Formative assessment’ webpage you are given the definition for formative assessment. And if you follow the link form the ‘Summative assessment’ webpage you are given the definition for summative assessment.
It is strange that two different definitions are provided for the same thing.
The VOCEDplus website does not provide a definition for ‘Diagnostic assessment’.
What are the origins of formative and summative assessment?
The origins of the formative and summative assessment in the modern era can be traced back to the mid-20th century when educators and researchers started to promote the use of standardised tests and other assessments in educational settings.
Benjamin Bloom, an American educational psychologist, was influential in the development of formative assessment. In his book, ‘Taxonomy of Educational Objectives’, Bloom described the importance of formative assessment in the learning process. He argued that formative assessment is essential for helping students to progress towards achieving learning objectives. Bloom believed that formative assessment should be an ongoing process that occurs throughout the learning experience, rather than a one-time event. He emphasised the importance of providing students with feedback on their progress, so that they can make adjustments and improvements as needed. 
The following is an example showing when formative assessment would be conducted during a training program.
Bloom also wrote about summative assessment. He distinguished between formative assessment, which is used to guide and monitor learning, and summative assessment, which is used to evaluate learning at the end of a unit or course of study. Bloom believed that summative assessment is important for measuring student achievement. His ideas have influenced the development of many of the assessment practices that are used today, and have helped to promote a more balanced approach to assessment, with both formative and summative assessment playing important roles. 
The following are examples showing how formative assessment is conduct during a training program and summative assessment would be conducted at the end of a training program.
Schools and universities tend to conduct summative assessment and give the result as a grade or mark. The vocational education and training (VET) system in Australia has been designed to allow multiple attempts at becoming competent. The aim is to help people become competent rather than abruptly ending the training and assessment process when a person has been deemed not competent. The aim is to provide an employment pathway for job seekers or for people seeking work skills and career progression.
What is formative assessment?
The VOCEDplus website defines ‘Formative assessment’ as:
Assessment that takes place at regular intervals during a course, with feedback provided along the way to help improve the student’s performance. 
A ‘formative assessment’ in the Australian VET system is an activity used to check what has been learnt, or to determine if the learning objectives have been met. This activity could be conducted:
- at the end of a training session
- at the end of a training day
- at the end of a training topic
- at the end of a training module.
Questions and quizzes (I don’t like the terms ‘tests’ or ‘exams’) can be used to check if people have learnt the required knowledge. And observed practice can be used to check if people have learnt the required skills. Feedback can be provided to the learners. Feedback can be motivational and should be constructive. Feedback should identify areas needing additional training or further practice.
What is summative assessment?
The VOCEDplus website defines ‘Summative assessment’ as:
Assessment that occurs at a point in time and is carried out to summarise achievement at that point in time. Often more structured than formative assessment, it provides teachers, students and parents with information on student progress and level of achievement. 
This definition seems to be for a school context because it refers to teachers, students and parents. We need a definition for the Australian VET context.
In the Australian VET system, ‘Summative assessment’ is the assessment used to determine if a person is competent. This ‘assessment’ is defined in the glossary from the Standards for RTOs 2015 as:
Assessment is the process of collecting evidence and making judgements on whether competency has been achieved, to confirm that an individual can perform to the standard required in the workplace, as specified in a training package or VET accredited course. 
The VOCEDplus website provides this same definition for ‘assessment’.
Trainers and TAFE teachers working in the Australian VET system conduct assessment after all the training for a unit or cluster of units has been completed. This assessment is used to determine if a person is competent.
What is diagnosis assessment?
The VOCEDplus website does not give a definition for ‘Diagnosis assessment’.
Clause 1.7 of the Standards for RTOs 2015 states:
The RTO determines the support needs of individual learners and provides access to the educational and support services necessary for the individual learner to meet the requirements of the training product as specified in training packages or VET accredited courses. 
Most RTOs conduct a pre-training review to determine a person’s suitability for the training program. This includes a ‘diagnosis assessment’ to measure a person’s LLN skills and identify LLN skill gaps that may hinder their participation in the training program.
Many trainers and TAFE teachers are not directly involved in the administration of the pre-training review or the ‘diagnostic assessment’ of a person’s LLN skills.
People studying for their TAE40122 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification will need to know about ‘formative assessment’ because it has been specified within the TAEDES412 Design and develop plans for vocational training unit of competency. It is highly likely that ‘diagnostic assessment’ and ‘summative assessment’ will also be covered.
The following illustrates that ‘diagnostic assessment’ occurs before the training program, ‘formative assessment’ occurs multiple times during the training program, and ‘summative assessment’ occurs after the training program.
The following compares the difference between diagnosis assessment, formative assessment and summative assessment.
I have never heard these terms used by a trainer or TAFE teacher working for an RTO. The only reason I am writing an article about these terms is because it is in the TAE Training Packages. I wish the developers of TAE Training Package hadn’t introduced a range of unnecessary terms that complicates things.
In practice, I would discourage the use of these terms, in particular, ‘formative assessment’ and ‘summative assessment’. The following shows better terms that are more commonly used in the Australian VET system.
 ChatGPT response generate 21 April 2023 (what did Benjamin Bloom say about formative assessment?)
 ChatGPT response generate 21 April 2023 (what did Benjamin Bloom say about summative assessment?)
 https://glossary-vet.voced.edu.au/ assessed 22 April 2023 (formative assessment)
 https://glossary-vet.voced.edu.au/ assessed 22 April 2023 (summative assessment)
 Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015
 Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015
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Training trainers since 1986
2 thoughts on “What is formative assessment? And how does it differ from summative assessment and diagnostic assessment?”
This is a very informative article that clearly demonstrates the differences between the introduced terminology. The plague of the Australian VET system of the last 35 years is with every one iteration of the TP the lexicon of Australian VET is increased in complexity.
Alan, you done a very extensive explanation of the formative and summative assessment and its need where and when. I think the concept is good where there is need for the learning content to be understood by the learner before the learner makes a progression to next level. However, given the fact that this concept may not apply to many competencies.