Even though summative assessments are still perceived by many educators, teachers, and administrators to be reliable tools to measure students’ learning, recent research shows strong empirically-based evidence that the use of summative assessments leads to washback (Black & Wiliam, 1998b; Harlen & Deakin, 2002).
For those of you who hear the term washback for the first time, it is a well-known phenomenon by many teachers and educators and it refers to the direct effect of testing on individual learners and it is widely assumed to exist. (Bachman & Palmer, 1996, p. 30).
Research has continuously shown that summative assessments are deleterious in many respects. In this post, I will present to you some of the research-based arguments that show why many schools and language programs have started to leave summative assessments behind.
Firstly, summative assessments affect learners’ motivation for learning.
In education, motivation for learning is critically important. The motivation for learning shows the degree to which the learner is ready to invest time and effort into learning.
Black & Wiliam (1998b) stated that:
‘’If students are given only grades or marks, they do not benefit from feedback. The worst scenario is one in which some students who get low marks this time, also got low marks last time and come to expect to get low marks next time. This cycle of repeated failure becomes part of shared belief between such students and their teachers’’ (p. 144).
Summative assessments cause students to lose faith in their skills. The repeated cycle of failure shape learners’ perceptions of their abilities.
Secondly, summative assessments don’t help students learn (Black & Wiliam, 1998).
Students don’t receive constructive and meaningful feedback that helps them move from the current level to the zone of proximal learning and development.
Typically, learners receive grades after summative assessments and these grades don’t show them how to improve their work, so many students will be lost in the ocean of confusion. Although there are some teachers who give feedback to students after these assessments, but it is too late and it is unlikely to affect learning positively.
Thirdly, summative assessments were found to encourage superficial learning (Black & Wiliam, 1998, p. 145).
Since such assessments are final and judgmental, they are primarily designed to provide measurable results about students’ achievement.
Many students think that getting the grade is what matters. So, they will do everything to get a good grade. True and deep learning will be out of their concern.
These are some of the reasons why many schools and language programs have left summative assessments behind and adopted alternative and performance-based assessments.
I hope you really enjoyed reading this post.
What else can you add to this set of reasons? Please, share your ideas in comments to help others know more.
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- Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74.
- Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2004). Working inside the black box: Assessment for learning in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, 9-20.
- Harlen, W., & Deakin, C. R. (2002). A systematic review of the impact of summative assessment and tests on students’ motivation for learning. Research Evidence in Education Library, 1. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education.
- Bachman, L. F., & Palmer, A. S. (1996). Language testing in practice: designing and developing useful language tests. Oxford, Oxford University Press.