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A systematic review of the evidence of the impact on students, teachers and the curriculum of the process of using assessment by teachers for summative purposes

What do we want to know?

Assessment by teachers has been claimed to have a range of benefits, including the potential to build up a picture of students' attainment across the full range of activities and goals; a reduction in pressure; freedom for teachers to pursue learning goals in ways best suited to their students; use of assessment formatively; and avoidance of negative impacts of summative tests on motivation for learning.  However, it is also claimed that summative assessment by teachers can impact on their relationship with students and their workload, and cause problems of quality and reliability.  This review aims to bring research evidence to bear on these issues.

Who wants to know?

Policy-makers, those involved in teacher education and professional development, employers, parents and pupils.

What did we find?  

Impact on students

  • Students need more help, in the form of better descriptions and examples, to understand the assessment criteria and what is expected of them.
  • The impact depends on the high-stakes use of the results, and on the teachers' interpretation of their role, either in improving learning or maximising marks.  High-stakes use encourages some teachers to give high grades where there is doubt, which may not be in the students' interests.
  • Older students respond positively to summative assessment of their coursework by teachers.
  • In internal summative assessment, non-judgemental feedback motivates students for further effort.  Using grades as rewards and punishments is harmful to learning.
  • The way teachers present classroom assessment activities may affect students' orientation to learning goals or performance goals.

Impact on teachers and the curriculum

  • Teachers vary in the way they respond to the role of assessors and to the approach they take to interpreting external assessment criteria.  Strict adherence to the criteria leads them to be less concerned with students as individuals.  Close external control of teacher assessment inhibits teachers from gaining detailed knowledge of their students.
  • In assessment for internal purposes, the introduction of assessment techniques that require students to think more deeply leads to changes in teaching that extend the range of students' learning experiences.
  • New assessment practices are likely to have a positive impact on teaching if teachers find them of value in helping them to learn more about their students and to develop their understanding of curriculum goals. 
  • High-stakes use can result in teachers reducing assessment to routine tasks, restricting students' opportunities for learning from them.
  • Shared criteria for assessment lead to positive impact on students and teaching; without these, there is little positive impact on teaching and a potential negative impact on students.  Teachers need opportunities to share and develop their understanding of assessment procedures; they should be able to work collaboratively and across schools.

What are the implications?

  • Summative assessment by teachers has the potential for positive effects on students and teachers, without the negative effects associated with external tests and examinations.  It is most effective when teachers use evidence gathered over a period of time and with flexibility in choice of tasks.  Introducing new assessment practices can support improvements in teaching, provided that the techniques are well matched to learning goals.
  • Teachers need time and opportunity to assimilate summative assessment into their practice and design appropriate classroom programmes.
  • Using the results for high-stakes school accountability reduces the validity of the assessment.
  • Students should be helped to understand the criteria by which they are assessed.
  • The basis for the results of internal assessments should be made clear to all concerned.  Achievement grades should not be influenced by non-academic factors, such as behaviour.
  • Teachers should emphasise learning outcomes rather than achievement of high grades when presenting assessment tasks to students.
  • Schools should set aside time for teachers to discuss assessment issues, plan assessments and moderate the results.

How did we get these results?

Twenty-three studies were synthesised; all were written in English; most were conducted in England or the USA.  All studies were concerned with students between the ages of 4 and 18.

This summary was prepared by the EPPI Centre

This report should be cited as: Harlen W (2004) A systematic review of the evidence of the impact on students, teachers and the curriculum of the process of using assessment by teachers for summative purposes. In Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. 

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