Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Assessing Teacher Assessment

Dr Joanna Goodman, an education consultant and Fellow of the CIEA, considers the importance of professional development in assessment for all teachers, as schools enter a new dawn of developing their own processes.

Giving schools greater freedom in assessing students’ learning between different key stages in the national curriculum, has raised new issues over teacher assessment and the role of teacher-assessor. Teachers have always made evaluative judgements about pupils’ performance, but the new curriculum seems to be placing increasing demands on teachers as assessors. Putting teacher assessment at the heart of learning will have implications for schools in terms of planning, training and developing assessments leads. Furthermore, moderation procedures will need to be reviewed to ensure standardisation.

If we are serious about the high quality of school-based assessment, then we need to be serious about developing identified staff whose prime responsibility would focus on overseeing assessment and moderation within a school or within groups of schools. If, however, we want to develop teacher assessment that is valid and reliable (meaning it measures constructs that it is designed to measure appropriately), we may have to consider developing teachers’ assessment skills as part of their professional development. Since assessment is such an integral part of any educational process (Gipps and Murphy, 1994; Earl, 2003) and since it has greatly increased in schools over the last two decades, it is likely to have an enormous impact on the way teachers see their teaching and the way pupils experience their education (Tymms, 2000; Gibbs et al., 2002; Goodman, 2011). So perhaps now is a good time to start the discussion on the need of developing teachers as skilled assessors. It may be crucial to future teaching and learning development to establish to what extent effective teacher assessment skills could contribute to improved teaching and learning outcomes.

The changing school environment and educational climate call for a greater scrutiny of assessment practices in schools. Effective use of assessment that can consistently inform future planning and teaching is key to improving learning outcomes for young people. Talking to teachers and school leaders, I sense a certain degree of anxiety regarding the increased expectations being placed on the importance of teacher assessment and the need for greater professional dialogue about developing teachers’ assessment skills. With increasing pressure for improved outcomes, there is a need for greater specialisation of skills within professional development of teachers.

So where do we start? Perhaps with defining assessment and what it may mean in different contexts and purposes that it can serve. Do we consider assessment as a form of evaluation and making judgements about learning that feed into the learning process or do we think of assessment as a measuring device? What is it that we want to assess? How are we going to assess it and why? Indeed, considering a ‘good’ assessment, Professor Robert Coe, Director of CEM at the University of Durham, identifies a 47-question checklist which includes construct validity, content validity, criterion-related validity, reliability, freedom from biases, robustness, educational value and accessibility.

“An assessment is never a neutral event”, Stobart (2008) asserts, “…if it is for selection, then there may be high-stakes outcomes for the individual taking it. If it is for accountability purposes, then there may be consequences for the school… The task is to make the test good enough to encourage effective teaching and learning” (ibid.). For these reasons, it is worth looking at re-assessing teacher assessment skills when evaluating the effectiveness of assessment practices.

Earl, L.M. (2003). Assessment As Learning. Using Classroom Assessment to Maximize Student Learning. London: Sage Publications. Gipps, C., Hargreaves, E., McCallum (2000). In S. Askew Feedback for Learning. London: Routledge Falmer. Gipps, C. and Murphy, P. (1994). Fair test? Assessment, achievement and equality. Buckingham: Open University Press. Goodman, J. (2011). Assessment Practices in an Independent School: The Spirit versus the Letter. King’s College London. Stobart, G. (2008). Testing Times: The uses and abuses of assessment. Oxon: Routledge. Tymms, P. (2000). Baseline Assessments and Monitoring in Primary Schools: Achievements, Attitudes and Value-added Indicators. London: David Fulton Publishers.