Reading Harold Jarche's blog on testing today:
"As Clark mentions in his article, if you can demonstrate mastery then training is not necessary. For learning professionals, it is important to design tests that can validate competency. This is an overlooked area of instructional design as too much effort is spent on delivering content, in my opinion. Another rule that we had in military training, though not always followed, was to design the proficiency test before developing any training. The proficiency test had to correlate with the job performance area that was being addressed. In this way, the direct link between training and job performance was obvious. Considering my last post, this could be a good thing for the training department."
This post and your previous one bring to mind a thought I had whilst attending the ASTD Conference in San Diego earlier in the year (where my eyes were opened to P2P learning).
The proliferation of web learning devices, gadgets and tools coupled with the tendency towards open source knowledge may herald the demise or at least modification of a long extant distinction between formative and summative testing.
In short, if you publish a summative test - designed to demonstrate mastery of the learning objectives of any particular intervention it will become de facto a formative test for those equiped with the tools and the motivation to find out the relevant stuff for themselves.
All organisations need to do is be clear about the skills and behaviours they seek to encourage and reward and let the employees do the rest. In a large number of areas (although not all) if they designed and published the assessments and then paid a bonus to employees who passed them, they could probably cut a large section out of their budgets. It would even leave them money to support those who do not have the tools or the inclination to teach themselves and still be better off. Mind you the likelihood of this happening in the near future is small.
Life has become or is becoming an open book test.