Rethinking assessment : the challenging issues for schools and teachers : a thesis submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Educational Administration, Massey University, Albany
This thesis examines how four urban primary schools used changes to their assessment practices as a means to improve the learning opportunities and outcomes of their students. In 1993, a new national curriculum was introduced into New Zealand schools and this was accompanied by legislation and guidelines mandating new requirements in assessment. These reforms were occurring against a backdrop of burgeoning developments in assessment internationally. The study documents how the four schools responded to the new demands, to the challenges posed by alternative approaches to assessment and how they were able to incorporate and build on their previous assessment practices. Action research was selected as the methodology and was used both by the schools and the researcher on two distinct yet overlapping levels. lt gave the schools the opportunity to take ownership of the issues that emerged and greater control over the research process. The data gathering strategies woven into the programme included group discussions, individual interviews, observations, questionnaires, document analysis and a Help Desk which formalised contact with the schools between school-based visits and workshops and provided the researcher with valuable ongoing insights into the work of the schools. The thesis incorporates an analysis of methodological issues relating to collaboration, the tension between first and second order domains of action research and difficulties the schools experienced in relation to the action research process itself. The data revealed a number of emerging themes. Summative rather than formative assessment practices dominated the aspects of assessment the schools selected to work on as a result of their baseline data collection. All of the schools put new school-wide recording systems in place. This had the most impact on the practices of the teachers who, in the past, had assessed in an ad hoc way, often based on 'gut reaction'. For many teachers, it was first time they had investigated and understood assessment theory. The data also highlighted that many do not have a level of technical assessment expertise that allows then to design basic assessment tasks that they know to be valid measures or to analyse and use the results with confidence. Although the common orientation of the teachers was towards a learner-centred philosophy, there is a considerable gap between theory and practice. Rethinking assessment practices provided some of the teachers with a vehicle for shifting the locus of control in their classrooms. Traditional reporting practices were also challenged and possibilities emerged for new assessment partnerships with parents. For some teachers, giving honest feedback to students and parents, in particular, poses a dilemma. The transfer of assessment information both within and between schools remains a possible barrier to student achievement. The thesis concludes that, overall, the curriculum and assessment changes appear to have had a positive impact on the learning and teaching programmes in the four schools, but that much professional development work remains to be done if both contemporary assessment theory and policy are to translate into classroom practice.