Some educational programs have adopted the premise that the same assessment can serve both formative and summative goals; however, how observers understand and integrate the intended uses of assessment may affect the way they execute the assessment task. The objective of this study was to explore the effect of foregrounding a different intended use (formative vs summative learner assessment) on observer contributions (ratings and comments).
In this randomized, experimental, between-groups, mixed-methods study (May–September 2017), participants observed 3 prerecorded clinical performances under formative or summative assessment conditions. Participants rated performances using a global rating tool and provided comments. Participants were then asked to reconsider their ratings from the alternative perspective (from which they were originally blinded). They received the opportunity to alter their ratings and comments and to provide rationales for their decision to change or preserve their original ratings and comments. Outcomes included participant–observers’ comments, ratings, changes to each, and stated rationales for changing or preserving their contributions.
Foregrounding different intended uses of assessment data for participant–observers did not result in differences in ratings, number or type of comments (both emphasized evaluative over constructive statements), or the ability to differentiate among performances. After adopting the alternative perspective, participant–observers made only small changes in ratings or comments. Participant–observers reported that they engage in the process in an evaluative manner despite different intended uses.
Foregrounding different intended uses for assessments did not result in significant systematic differences in the assessment data generated. Observers provided more evaluative than constructive statements overall, regardless of the intended use of the assessment. Future research is needed to explore whether these results hold in social/workplace-based contexts and how they might affect learners.