Formative and summative assessments (also referred to as supervision and evaluation) are important components of effective instructional leadership. Therefore, it is necessary to clearly understand what these approaches comprise, how they are implemented, in what way they can overlap, and what is distinctive about each of them. However, certain confusion exists in the way these terms are defined and utilized: some researchers and practitioners sometimes use them as interchangeable notions. Although these processes have some similarities, it does not seem wise to erase the line between them since it may lead to further confusion and misunderstandings in research on this topic.
First of all, if two processes are closely intertwined and are often utilized as a combination, it does not mean that they are identical. If one describes an entity that includes two interconnected elements, one will probably not refer to it by using only one of them. For instance, Brandon et al. (2018) refer to the combination of these processes as “supervision and evaluation” without using these terms interchangeably (p.1). It might seem redundant, as in the cases where the two notions are used as a unity, it makes the paper wordy. However, this word choice seems the most appropriate since it illustrates both the distinction and the connection between formative and summative assessment.
On the one hand, both supervision and evaluation are mentioned, demonstrating that they are separate and equally significant elements of instructional leadership. On the other hand, by constantly utilizing them as one complex term, the scholars highlight how they are often intertwined in practice. So, it might be more accurate to use both notions as two distinctive units instead of using them interchangeably.
Secondly, there are cases when it is necessary to describe special features of either supervision or evaluation, and then confusion of the terms would lead to a misunderstanding. For example, while explaining the essence of “the complexity challenge,” Brandon et al. (2018) differentiate between supervision and evaluation (p. 4). According to the scholars, there were not many issues with teacher evaluation in the studied cases since it is often a part of “the regular pattern of administrative practice” (Brandon et al., 2018, p.4). However, teacher supervision is considered to be the core of this challenge because it is not “clearly articulated” and “well-integrated into leadership practice” (Brandon et al., 2018, p.4). The fact that two terms may be contrasted this way proves they should not be regarded as interchangeable.
Finally, while laypeople might make mistakes in terminology, it is unacceptable for researchers to do so. Scholars should be very accurate and precise with their word choice and the use of terms, which should have one definite meaning. Even if the two processes are so closely connected in practice that it is difficult to separate them, one should not just blend the terms referred to them. It would only distort the results of research and become an obstacle to the improvement of instructional leadership.
In conclusion, even though successful practitioners often use teacher supervision and evaluation in combination, these are two different components of instructional leadership with distinctive functions and features. Therefore, the two terms should not be blended or used interchangeably. In contexts where their discrepancies are not highlighted, it might still be better not to use the terms as synonyms, as it may lead to confusion during further research or discussion.
Brandon, J., Hollweck, T., Donlevy, J.K., & Whalen, C. (2018). Teacher supervision and evaluation challenges: Canadian perspectives on overall instructional leadership, Teachers and Teaching. Web.