Summative assessments are useful to determine a student's level of mastery and can be an indicator of potential for success in subsequent courses or units. If a student does poorly on a summative assessment, for example, remedial instruction may be required. Summative assessments help teachers evaluate content and delivery and make adjustments as needed. Summative assessments are not always useful for informing instruction. When they are used at the end of a course, for example, the teacher may not have the opportunity to work further with that particular group of students.
Assessments can be misused when results are interpreted according to a certain agenda. For example, a school district may be facing a severe budget crisis and opt to reduce services to save money. Particularly when a test is evaluated subjectively, the results can be skewed to show that a child does not need a referral for special services.
The discussion so far has focused on authentic assessments. "In a high-stakes approach to assessment, the test is the major tool; in an authentic approach, the teacher is the major tool" (Vacca, Vacca and Mraz, 2011, p. 94). The teacher is well positioned to observe students and provide feedback. Teachers use observational assessments all the time, sometimes formally with the use of observation forms or anecdotal logs, but most often informally, as a matter of daily course. Many teachers believe, and it is difficult to argue with this, that they know their students better than any assessment tool could possibly reveal. Nevertheless, high-stakes testing is a fact of life in today's education system. Teachers must be prepared to guide their students through the process. They must adhere to the highest ethical standards as they do so.
There are reports every year in Massachusetts of teachers or teachers' aides helping students on the high-stakes Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test. Passing the MCAS is a high school graduation requirement in the state. Colleges look at MCAS scores as part of the admission process. Teacher effectiveness is judged, in part, on students' achievement and it may not be long before jobs and salaries are tied directly to students' test scores. With all those pressures, it is no wonder educators are tempted to cheat. State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester recently noted there are roughly ten incidents reported every year; each one, he insists, is taken seriously (Oakes, 2011). Massachusetts is not alone. Other states have reported incidents in which teachers helped students cheat. USA Today recently reported on over 1,600 cases of cheating in selected school districts in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. (When teachers cheat, 2011). One may expect students to try cheating, but it is surprising and disappointing when the perpetrators are teachers. Even in the case of high-stakes testing, it can never be condoned. Fortunately, schools are actively seeking ways to catch cheating and even prevent it from occurring in the first place. In Georgia, for example, independent monitors were placed at seventy-four schools that were considered a "severe concern" with respect to cheating. Results were extremely positive (When teachers cheat, 2011). Cheating is a problem that must be acknowledged. Leadership at the state, local and building levels can be an effective force is maintaining the integrity of high-stakes testing. Each individual teacher is also responsible for maintaining a personal commitment to honesty and integrity.
Assessments are an important part of instructional design. They provide information about what students have mastered and what further work needs to be done. When constructed correctly, assessments are an accurate reflection of the content in a unit or course of study. Students use assessments to demonstrate their level of mastery. Teachers use the information to provide feedback to students and adjust their own instruction as needed to facilitate student success.
Meyers, N.M., & Nulty, D.D. (2009). How to use five curriculum design principles to align authentic learning environments, assessment, studens' approaches to thinking and learning outcomes. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 34(5), 565-577.
Oakes, B. (2011). Education Commissioner: MCAS cheating rare, taken seriously. WBUR.org.
Retrieved from http://www.wbur.org/2011/03/22/mcas-cheating
When teachers cheat, don't blame the tests. (2011). USA Today 3/11/11. Retrieved from Master FILE Premier database.
Vacca, R.T., Vacca, J.L., and Mraz, M. (2011). Content area reading:…