Smith (2007, p. 8) states that assessment is a complex issue that is a key element in education but in its different forms is used to address the, often competing, demands of a wide range of stakeholders. Broadly, these demands fall into two categories, those that are designed to provide accountability data allowing for comparison of the performance of groups and institutions, regionally, nationally and internationally and those which focus on learning and teaching aimed at supporting and encouraging the progress of individual pupils.
According to Smith (2007, p. 9) assessments to monitor national standards to make teachers, administrators and politicians accountable are known as evaluative. Summative assessments are those used to classify pupils for university placement for employers, to determine which stream pupils should be put in at school or to report on the achievements of pupils to themselves and parents. These can be put in the category called assessment of learning. Assessments that support and help pupils to learn by diagnosing difficulties are diagnostic whilst those which support and help pupils to learn by providing feedback are formative, both can be described as assessment for learning (AFL).
A recent report (Faleye & Dibu-Ojerdine 2005, p. 1) states that studies have shown that the bulk of the assessments conducted by most school teachers are aimed at finding out the extent of students learning (i.e. achievement) in a given period of time. This is usually followed by an external summative examination that aims at classifying students to different
ability or achievement levels for the purpose of certification. This is supported by Collins, Reiss & Stobart (2008, p. 3) who argue that test preparation in its current form contributes little to pupils’ understanding in science and that the only purpose was to equip pupils with sufficient factual knowledge and scientific terms to answer written questions on science test papers. Some evidence is provided by Black, Broadfoot & Gardiner (2002. P. 5) that so called summative assessments can cause more harm than good, especially for pupils less than eleven years old, they contest that lower achieving pupils are doubly affected by this type of test as being labelled as failures has an impact on how they feel about their ability to learn. It also lowers further their already low self-esteem and reduces the chance of future effort and success. Indeed Tymms (2008, p. 2) argues that Primary school children's understanding of science is harmed by the way England's testing system holds schools and teachers to account.
Prestage (2006, p.4) contends that external tests and targets have been the dominant culture in education for 17 years and that changes should be made because of the competitive nature of summative assessment. It benefits the brightest pupils, but evidence shows that, rather than raising...