Evidence LibrarySystematic reviewsSummative assessment and motivationSummative assessment and motivation - students
A systematic review of the impact of summative assessment and tests on students' motivation for learning. User perspective: students' views

The views of some primary and secondary school pupils about the findings of the review were sought through discussion and written response.

Primary pupils

These responses were from pupils in Years Five and Six at a small rural primary school. There were 15 pupils in the class. The pupils discussed some of the main findings from the report and then wrote their individual answers on paper. At times it was necessary to simplify the language of the report to make the information accessible to the pupils. This was done as impartially as possible in order to maintain the context of the original text. What follows are all the responses where children wrote more than 'yes'/'agree' or 'no' or 'don't know'. The children are used to being consulted and have licence to express their views freely. In the past they have discussed with their teacher how they feel about statutory assessment.

The main points covered in the discussion are highlighted below, with the pupils' responses in italics.

  • Feedback on assessment has an important role in determining further learning
    'Yes, because you understand your mark'
    'True, because then you know what you did wrong and what you need to improve'
    'Yes, you will be able to know how/what you could do to improve'
    'Yes, it gives direct targets'
    'Yes, because it helps you understand more'

  • Teacher feedback that focuses on students' capabilities rather than the task can influence the effort students put into further learning
    'It will make you feel that you don't want to do it again'
    'If someone tells you that you are not very good at something it might make you want to prove them wrong'
    'It might make you not want to try again'
    'It's a bit upsetting'
    'It won't help you want to try again'
    'It doesn't say why and isn't very positive'

  • An education system that puts great emphasis on evaluation and selectivity produces students with strong extrinsic orientation towards grades and social status
    'It won't give you a very nice life'
    'All you want to do is get a grade'
    'You should have a chance to go where you want'
    'I think it's too harsh'
    'It's unfair, you should be able to go as you want'

  • High-stakes assessment can produce classrooms which favour only those who learn in particular ways
    'I think that's wrong, people should be able to do other things. We need exciting stuff to do'
    'You need to teach pupils what else there is, some people are better at art and D.T. but teachers have to teach them what they don't understand'
    'We need to be able to relax at school and be taught how we want within reason'

  • Teachers can be very effective in training students to pass tests
    'Sometimes they can'
    'Not fair'
    'It's not fair on other schools'
    'Either you're good or you're not'
    'They could but it would be wrong'

  • Tests are narrow instruments
    'You might be good at them but not at other subjects'
    'They should do more subjects'
    'Yes, they don't know if they're good at other things'
    'They only focus on a bit of a pupil's brain'
    'They don't show the whole person'

  • State tests in the USA lower self-esteem for students
    'Yes, you start to feel bad about yourself'
    'It's not fair on the children, they might be teased'
    'If things are not good, you would give up. You'll think you're awful'

  • Teachers can become over-concerned with tests and not with the pupils they teach
    'Yes, but I don't think they should! It's the pupils - they're people'
    'I don't think they should, and it probably doesn't happen very often'
    'Yes, it would make me upset because if I had low marks all the time you would be upset'
    'They can, but not always, in many cases pupils don't realise it's wrong'

  • Pupils are aware of the performance ethos in the classroom and know that tests can only give a narrow view of what they can do
    'It makes pupils under pressure and scared'
    'That would pressurise you'
    'It could feel like everyone is counting on you and it makes you pressurised'
    'Hopefully so!'
    'You feel like everything is depending on you'

  • Pupils dislike selection tests and can become very anxious about them
    'Yes, because if you get something wrong you couldn't get in' (to the school/college you wanted to)
    'Some people worry and don't concentrate'
    'Yes, if your friend did well, you would look stupid and feel bad about yourself'
    'Yes, this is true'

    Secondary pupils

    Four Upper Sixth Formers from a comprehensive school in East London were interviewed. Three of these had been in the National Curriculum 'guinea pig' year - the first to be assessed at 7, 11, 14, 16, 17 and 18. There were two boys and two girls. Three were members of minority ethnic communities. Two were seen by the head of sixth form as sailing through the system with few problems and two were students who had had some negative experiences of the examination system. All, however, were very firmly A-Level students.

    The group was introduced to the broad focus of the EPPI-Centre review and then taken through some of the findings. Their views were elicited on whether these resonated at all with their own experiences. At first they answered with particular reference to their recent Sixth Form experience. A new layer of external summative testing was introduced into this a year ago with Curriculum 2000 at the end of the first year of A-level study - AS level. The students were then asked to think back over their time in school since the infants, and to comment on their experiences of summative assessment. They did so, introducing themes under the headings of motivation, teaching, learning and curriculum, as well as high-stakes testing.

    The group was then asked to grade some of the findings of the review according to how correct they felt they were according to the following rating scale:

    1.Very Wrong
    2. Wrong
    3. Maybe
    4. Agree
    5. Strongly Agree

    These negative effects of summative assessment and testing were considered:

  • A lowering of the self-esteem of the less successful students, which can reduce their effort and image of themselves as learners

    (Rating 4) 'If you work hard and get a low grade you can get disaffected'
    (Rating 4) 'Even if you are clever in other areas it can lower your self-esteem across the board. All teaching is exam focussed'
    (Rating 4) 'Either way, if there are lots of tests and no high grades it can lower self-esteem'
    (Rating 4) Either way - high grades can boost but low grades disaffect'

  • A shift towards performance goals rather than learning goals, which is associated with less active and less deep learning strategies and with interest in achievement rather than interest in the subject.

    (Rating 4) 'Syllabus-obsessed teaching is common'
    (Rating 5) 'Feel quite strongly that more interactive teaching is better'

  • The creation of test anxiety, which affects students differentially

    (Rating 5) 'Tests show how clever you are'

  • Judgements of value being made about students, by themselves and others, on the basis of achievement in tests rather than their wider personal attainment

    (Rating 5) 'If you don't get the grade you can get put down by pupils'
    (Rating 5) 'This is even true amongst a group of close friends'

  • The restriction of their learning opportunities by teaching which is focused on what is tested and by teaching methods which favour particular approaches to learning

    (Rating 3) 'Gave an example where pupils rejected the chance to learn by doing a science experiment because it would take too long and it was not perceived that it would ultimately help them in the test'.

    Finally, the students were asked to rate the degree to which it is true to say that a lot of summative assessment has a negative impact on pupil motivation. There was overall agreement with the statement 'lots of testing limits pupil motivation'.

    Overall the students thought that summative assessment was okay to some degree, but that they had had too much. 'We were guinea pigs - it was really unfair.'

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