Determining the Stakes of Assessments

Posted by Julie Delazyn

Determining the stakes of an assessment helps you plan it appropriately, allocate resources wisely and determine an appropriate security level for it.

You can identify low-, medium- or high-stakes assessments by considering their consequences to the candidate. An exam, for instance, normally has significant consequences while a survey has low or no consequences.

This chart displays the consequences of different types of assessments and other factors that help indicate whether they are low-, medium- or high-stakes:


In low-stakes assessments, such as quizzes and surveys, the consequences to the candidate are low, and so the legal liabilities are low. These assessments are often taken alone since there isn’t any motivation to cheat or share answers with others. Little planning is required: subject matter experts (SMEs) simply write the questions and make them available to learners. The consequences of low-stakes tests are  easily reversed. If someone gets a poor score on a quiz, for instance, they could improve their score on a retake.

But what about the consequences of a high-stakes test, such as a nursing certification exam? It would very difficult, if not impossible, to reverse the consequences of failing such a test. This kind of test, therefore, requires a great deal of planning. This might include job task analysis, setting pass/fail scores, specifying the methods and consistency of delivery required, and determining how results will be stored and distributed. Psychometricians must analyze the results of such a test and ensure that it is valid and reliable. The motivation to cheat is high, so strong security measures – including the positive identification of each test taker – are in order. For example, high stakes tests related to national security might use biometric screening such as retinal scans to ensure that test takers are who they say they are.

Understanding the stakes of an assessment is an essential step in determining the steps you will take in authoring, delivery and reporting on it. For more details about assessments and their uses, check out our white paper, Assessments Through the Learning Process. You can download it free here, after login. Another good source for testing and assessment terms is our glossary.

3 Responses to Determining the Stakes of Assessments

  1. Jay Powell says:

    Hi Julie,
    There is only one use of testing, whichever the procedure and whatever the level of challenge. This is to inform us teachers about the progress of our students.
    Their types of “wrong” answer tell us where they are in their cognitive maturity. The change, if any, in their cognitive maturity from the last assessment, tells us their progress. If we tried an intervention and it didn’t work, we should try something different. If they made nor change, we need to find out why they are stalled. If they made ordinary gains, we need to rethink what we did that would lead to extrordinary gains. When extraordinary gains occur, we need to examine how these gains can be replicated with other students.
    In this way, their progress is accellerated and our ability to teach effectively is improved. In this way of looking at teaching, “pass/fail” is an inappropriate anachronism that we should dfiscarded and by our students. They will know in their hearts whether they surpassed the recent beast efforts and this self-knowledge, acknowledged by us as thier teachers is the reward they need to push back the frontiers of their ignorance.
    The emphasis should be that everyone exceeds expectations, seeking excellence. The competition should always be with past performance. Otherwise progress leads to an ego trip for the successful and lack of progress leads to discouragement and disillusionment.
    The idea of scaled marks is invalid because there is an intervening variable between the student, the test and the score. This is the way the student interprets the questions. Tests are measures of thought processes not knowledge. To use them as measures of knowledge is invalid and misclassifies more than two student in three.
    We are too busy transmitting information to pay attention to what is actually being learned. Are we teachimg cheating because we are pushing our students beyond their current capabilities? Are we teaching mediocrity because we are setting minimum expectations, and not challenging them enough? Are we teaching memorization because our students are not understanding the concepts we are transmitting and why these are inportant? Are we teaching laziness because we are engaging memories not minds? Our most capable students often drop out of school through shear boredom.
    The good teacher engages minds by producing insight generating experiences. What students need to know, in the Information Age is how to ask the difficult questions and how to produce the best available answers. Anything less than this is a disservice to our students and to the world.
    We have just been through some elections characterized by lies and broken promises. Why did some candidates lie and why did others break promises? Who and what are the vested interestes behind these behaviors? The ability of students to ask and to find the answers to answer such questions is the basis for effective professional performance and effective democracy. Anything less than this is unAmerican.
    Plagerism is unnecessary for people who have the personal integrity to acknowledge the their sources. Honorable people do not need to “fake it.” Creating our wisdom by building upon the wisdom of others is the key to sustainable societies.
    When talking about vested interests. we do not seek cures for diseases because symptom management sustains cash flow in the short term at the expence of social integrity and bankrupting the ordinary citizens.
    If excellence cannot be accomplished without deep collaboration, then we need to teach people how to collaborate deeply. (See: Martin Nowak (2011) “Super Cooperators…” To sustain humanity for our great grandchildren, there is no other way.

  2. admin says:

    Jay– thank you for your intriguing opinion and comment.

  3. admin says:

    Jay– thank you for your intriguing opinion and comment. Kindly, Julie

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