I recently read Gavin Brown’s article Teachers’ conceptions of assessment: implications for policy and professional development (2004). In this article four main conceptions were identified amongst primary school teachers in New Zealand:
- assessment for improving teaching and learning
- assessment for school accountability
- assessment for student accountability
- assessment is irrelevant
I am an IBPYP workshop leader and one of the conceptual understandings addressed in almost every workshop is “Individual teachers’ beliefs and experiences related to teaching affect the way they perform” (International Baccalaureate, 2014). It may seem obvious, but oftentimes we are not conscious of our beliefs, they operate in the background. Certainly until I read Brown’s article if anyone had asked me what my conceptions of assessment were, I would have said it was used to improve student learning and to evaluate the effectiveness of the school’s programmes.
However, after reading the article I reflected that there absolutely were times when I thought (and still think) assessment was irrelevant, particularly assessments that didn’t impact on what my students were going to be learning the next day or next week. Until I was a curriculum coordinator I often thought standardised assessment was a waste of time too. Again, the time between the testing and the time we got the results and could implement action was too great.
And until I took PME 800 Self-regulated Learning, I had only a nebulous idea of how assessment connected with student accountability, and most of the connections were negative. So many times I have seen really capable learners shut down under testing conditions because they cannot access all the strategies they usually use in their daily learning lives. In my own experiences as a student, I always worked to maintain good marks in school, but I was never particularly motivated by them. I knew how to play the “give the teacher what s/he wants” game, so marks seemed largely arbitrary and not a true reflection of my learning. Given these experiences I am sure that my classroom assessment practices were about reducing student’s reliance on formal assessment data to inform their image of themselves as learners.
And this is the point Brown tries to make in his article.
“Thus, all pedagogical acts, including teachers’ perceptions and evaluations of student behaviour and performance (i.e., assessment), are affected by the conceptions teachers have about many educational artefacts, such as teaching, learning, assessment, curriculum, and teacher efficacy. It is critical that such conceptions and the relationships of those conceptions among and between each other, are made explicit and visible. This is especially so if it is considered prudent or advisable that teachers’ conceptions be changed, which, of course, is the point of professional development activities (Borko et al., 1997).” (Brown, 303).
Back to my current context for inquiry. My goal is to prepare a series of workshops and support systems for staff to help them implement our school assessment policy and improve the teaching-assessing-planning cycle. This will require that some of these conceptions be addressed and changed. How can I elicit this information in a meaningful way that will allow teachers to make their beliefs apparent to themselves? How do I then help them understand that some of their conceptions may have been having a negative impact on student learning?
Brown, G. (2004). Teachers’ conceptions of assessment: implications for policy and professional development. Assessment in Education, 11(3), 301-318.
International Baccalaureate (2014). Global Session Guidelines: Teaching and Learning, Category 2.