Changing the culture of assessment: the dominance of the summative assessment paradigm

Christopher Harrison, Karen Konings, Lambertus Schuwirth, Valerie Wass, Cees van der Vleuten

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    64 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Despite growing evidence of the benefits of including assessment for learning strategies within programmes of assessment, practical implementation of these approaches is often problematical. Organisational culture change is often hindered by personal and collective beliefs which encourage adherence to the existing organisational paradigm. We aimed to explore how these beliefs influenced proposals to redesign a summative assessment culture in order to improve students’ use of assessment-related feedback. Methods: Using the principles of participatory design, a mixed group comprising medical students, clinical teachers and senior faculty members was challenged to develop radical solutions to improve the use of post-assessment feedback. Follow-up interviews were conducted with individual members of the group to explore their personal beliefs about the proposed redesign. Data were analysed using a socio-cultural lens. Results: Proposed changes were dominated by a shared belief in the primacy of the summative assessment paradigm, which prevented radical redesign solutions from being accepted by group members. Participants’ prior assessment experiences strongly influenced proposals for change. As participants had largely only experienced a summative assessment culture, they found it difficult to conceptualise radical change in the assessment culture. Although all group members participated, students were less successful at persuading the group to adopt their ideas. Faculty members and clinical teachers often used indirect techniques to close down discussions. The strength of individual beliefs became more apparent in the follow-up interviews. Conclusions: Naïve epistemologies and prior personal experiences were influential in the assessment redesign but were usually not expressed explicitly in a group setting, perhaps because of cultural conventions of politeness. In order to successfully implement a change in assessment culture, firmly-held intuitive beliefs about summative assessment will need to be clearly understood as a first step.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number73
    Number of pages14
    JournalBMC Medical Education
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2017


    • Feedback
    • Programmatic assessment
    • Summative assessment


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