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Blurring the Lines between Formative and Summative Assessment

Cheating in higher education is a widespread concern, and summative assessments are often thought to exacerbate this issue. This post examines the potential of blurring the lines between formative and summative assessment to reduce the likelihood of students cheating in the university context. The post explores the theoretical underpinnings of assessment, various assessment strategies, and studies that support the efficacy of blended assessment approaches. Furthermore, it discusses how these approaches can foster academic integrity and intrinsic motivation among students.

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The prevalence of cheating in higher education has been a persistent concern, with the majority of students admitting to engaging in dishonest behaviors during their academic careers (McCabe, Butterfield, & Trevino, 2012). Cheating not only undermines the value of education but also hinders the development of crucial skills and competencies required for success in the workplace (Bertram Gallant, 2008). Therefore, it is crucial to explore strategies to minimize cheating in the university context.

One potential approach is to blur the lines between formative and summative assessment, which can decrease the likelihood of students cheating while promoting a more engaging and holistic learning experience. This paper will examine the theoretical underpinnings of assessment, discuss various blended assessment strategies, and review the literature supporting the efficacy of these approaches in reducing cheating and fostering academic integrity.

Theoretical Underpinnings of Assessment

Assessment is a critical component of the educational process, serving multiple purposes, such as evaluating learning, guiding instruction, and providing feedback to students (Black & Wiliam, 1998). Assessments are typically classified into two categories: formative and summative. Formative assessments are ongoing evaluations used to provide feedback and support learning during the instructional process (Sadler, 1989). In contrast, summative assessments are used to evaluate learning outcomes at the end of a learning period, often for grading or certification purposes (Bloom, Hastings, & Madaus, 1971).

The distinction between these two assessment types has been criticized for creating a dichotomy that does not accurately represent the complexities of the assessment process (Carless, 2011). Moreover, the high-stakes nature of summative assessments has been linked to increased cheating (Murdoch & Joseph, 2014). By blurring the lines between these two types of assessment, educators can foster a more engaging and authentic learning environment that promotes academic integrity.

Blended Assessment Strategies

Several blended assessment strategies have been proposed in the literature to combine the strengths of formative and summative assessments while reducing the likelihood of cheating. Some of these strategies include:

Portfolio Assessment

Portfolio assessment is an approach that encourages students to collect and reflect on their work over time, providing a comprehensive view of their learning progress (Paulson, Paulson, & Meyer, 1991). This approach can serve both formative and summative purposes, as it allows for ongoing feedback and a final evaluation of the student’s work (Barrett, 2007). Studies have shown that portfolio assessment can promote academic integrity and reduce cheating by fostering intrinsic motivation and self-regulation among students (Stefani, 1998; Sluijsmans, Brand-Gruwel, & van Merriënboer, 2002).

Scaffolded Assessment

Scaffolded assessment involves breaking down complex tasks into smaller, manageable components and providing ongoing support and feedback to students (Reiser, 2004). This approach can help reduce cheating by making it more difficult for students to plagiarize or collaborate inappropriately, as each component of the task requires individualized engagement and critical thinking (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004). Scaffolded assessment can also serve formative and summative purposes by providing opportunities for feedback and adjustment during the learning process and a final evaluation of the completed task (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

Authentic Assessment

Authentic assessment focuses on evaluating students’ ability to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world situations (Wiggins, 1990). This approach often includes problem-based learning, simulations, and case studies, which require students to engage in higher-order thinking and complex problem-solving (Gulikers, Bastiaens, & Kirschner, 2004). Authentic assessment can serve both formative and summative purposes by providing ongoing opportunities for feedback and reflection, as well as a final evaluation of students’ performance in realistic contexts (Herrington & Herrington, 2006). Research suggests that authentic assessment can reduce cheating by making it more difficult for students to engage in dishonest behaviors and by fostering a sense of responsibility and ownership of their learning (Newmann, King, & Carmichael, 2007).

Recommendations for Implementation

To implement blended assessment approaches effectively in the university context, educators should consider the following recommendations:

  1. Develop a clear rationale for combining formative and summative assessments, focusing on the benefits for student learning and academic integrity.

  2. Carefully design assessment tasks that align with course learning outcomes and promote critical thinking, problem-solving, and authentic application of knowledge and skills.

  3. Provide ongoing support, feedback, and opportunities for revision during the assessment process to foster a growth mindset and encourage students to take responsibility for their learning.

  4. Encourage student self-assessment and reflection as integral components of the assessment process to promote self-regulation and intrinsic motivation.

  5. Train faculty and staff in the principles and practices of blended assessment approaches, emphasizing the importance of maintaining academic integrity.


Blurring the lines between formative and summative assessment in the university context can potentially reduce the likelihood of students cheating by fostering a more engaging and holistic learning experience. Blended assessment approaches, such as portfolio assessment, scaffolded assessment, and authentic assessment, can help promote academic integrity and intrinsic motivation among students. Further research is needed to explore the long-term effects of these approaches on students’ academic performance, skill development, and attitudes toward cheating.

Case StudY

The following case studies showcase the successful implementation of blended assessment approaches in three distinct university courses. The purpose of these case studies is to provide examples of how the combination of formative and summative assessment strategies can effectively reduce the likelihood of student cheating, promote academic integrity, and enhance overall learning experiences. Each case study highlights the context, implementation, and outcomes of a specific blended assessment approach, including portfolio assessment, scaffolded assessment, and authentic assessment, in various disciplines within higher education.

Case Study 1: Portfolio Assessment in a Business Management Course


A large university introduced portfolio assessment in a business management course to enhance students’ engagement and promote academic integrity. The course was designed for undergraduate students majoring in business administration and aimed to develop students’ problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication skills.


The university decided to incorporate portfolio assessment as a blended assessment approach, combining formative and summative elements. Throughout the semester, students were required to complete various tasks, including individual assignments, group projects, case analyses, and reflective journal entries. Each task was aligned with specific course learning outcomes and contributed to the final portfolio.

Students received ongoing feedback from the instructor and peers, with opportunities to revise and improve their work before submitting the final portfolio. In addition to regular class meetings, the university provided online resources and workshops to support students in creating and maintaining their portfolios. The final portfolio accounted for 60% of the students’ final grade, with the remaining 40% allocated to a traditional final exam.


Following the implementation of the portfolio assessment, the university observed a significant decrease in instances of cheating and plagiarism. Students reported increased engagement and motivation, as well as a better understanding of the course material. The university also found that students developed enhanced critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which could be attributed to the ongoing feedback and opportunities for revision provided by the portfolio assessment approach.

Case Study 2: Scaffolded Assessment in a Science Education Course


A medium-sized university sought to improve academic integrity and promote deep learning in a science education course designed for pre-service teachers. The course aimed to equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to teach scientific concepts effectively.


The university introduced scaffolded assessment as a blended approach to encourage students to engage with the course material actively. The assessment consisted of a semester-long project where students were required to design a science education unit plan for a specific grade level. The project was divided into several smaller tasks, each focusing on a different aspect of the unit plan, such as learning objectives, instructional strategies, and assessment methods.

Throughout the semester, students received formative feedback from the instructor and peers on each task, which they could use to revise and improve their work. At the end of the semester, the final unit plan was submitted for summative evaluation, accounting for 70% of the students’ final grade. The remaining 30% was allocated to a traditional midterm exam.


Following the implementation of the scaffolded assessment, the university observed a decline in cheating and plagiarism incidents. Students reported a greater sense of ownership over their learning and improved problem-solving skills. The scaffolded assessment approach allowed students to receive continuous feedback and make adjustments to their work, leading to an increased understanding of the course material and better preparedness for their future teaching careers.

Case Study 3: PBL Training and Support for STEM Instructors


A prestigious technical university aimed to reduce cheating and foster academic integrity in an engineering course focused on designing sustainable energy systems. The course was targeted at undergraduate students majoring in engineering and aimed to develop their problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration skills.


The university introduced authentic assessment as a blended approach, combining formative and summative elements. Students were required to work in teams to develop a sustainable energy system for a real-world scenario. The project was divided into several stages, including research, design, prototyping, and evaluation, which required students to apply their knowledge and skills in a practical context.

Throughout the project, students received ongoing feedback from the instructor, industry experts, and peers. They were encouraged to reflect on their learning and make adjustments to their work based on the feedback received. At the end of the semester, the final project was submitted for summative evaluation, accounting for 80% of the student’s final grade. The remaining 20% of the grade was allocated to individual reflective essays, in which students discussed their learning experiences, challenges, and achievements throughout the project.


After implementing the authentic assessment approach, the university noticed a substantial decrease in cheating and plagiarism incidents. Students reported increased motivation, engagement, and collaboration, as well as a better understanding of the real-world applications of their engineering knowledge. The authentic assessment approach allowed students to develop practical skills and problem-solving abilities, better preparing them for their future careers in engineering. Additionally, the industry experts involved in the project provided valuable insights, further enhancing the students’ learning experiences.


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