by Dr. Anne Davies
Why involve students? Why consider revisiting classroom assessment and the role of summative assessment? Recent research in this area is clearly pointing towards needed changes. What is the key classroom assessment research that every school leader needs to know about? There are seven important research studies focused on assessment that have often been missed by those planning to measure student achievement and set policies to encourage best teaching and assessment practices.
First, Butler (1987; 1988) conducted experimental design studies and found that student work receiving marks and grades (with or without feedback) was clearly associated with decreasing student achievement, while specific feedback without marks and grades was clearly associated with increasing achievement.
Second, Black and Wiliam (1998) summarized classroom assessment research conducted internationally over a ten-year period. Their findings explain the power of classroom assessment and its role in improving learning. They detailed the significant learning achievements students experience – especially struggling students – when assessment for learning techniques are employed. Key strategies include:
- setting clear success criteria;
- increasing specific, descriptive feedback; and
- decreasing summarized, evaluative feedback such as marks and letter grades.
Third, Harlen and Deakin-Crick (2003) studying the role of tests and motivation to learn found that students who do less well on tests and evaluations of any kind tend to be less motivated and, as a result, do even less well on subsequent tests and evaluations. Based on their research, they strongly recommend that students be engaged in assessment for learning activities – such as setting criteria, giving and receiving feedback, and collecting evidence of learning – in order to increase achievement levels, as well as motivation to learn.
Fourth, Meisels et al.'s (2003) study examined the impact of curriculum- embedded performance assessment on students' subsequent performance on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS). Students were found to far exceed demographically matched contrast groups in reading and greater gains in math. The researchers note that obtaining continuous information about students during the learning and engaging students as active participants in the classroom assessment process, "appears to enhance teaching and improve learning" (p. 11). They go on to say, "When well-constructed, normative assessments of accountability are linked to well-designed, curriculum-embedded instructional assessments, children perform better on accountability exams, but they do this not because instruction has been narrowed to the specific content of the test. They do better on the high stakes tests because instruction can be targeted to the skills and needs of the learning using standards-based information the teacher gains from ongoing assessment and shares with the learner" (p. 12).
Fifth, Rodriguez (2004) "evaluated the relationship between assessment practices and achievement and the mediated roles of students' self-efficacy and effort." TIMSS is an international math assessment. For this study the United States portion was used to estimate the relationships. Rodriguez found that teachers' classroom assessment practices have a significant relationship to classroom performance. Classroom assessment practices include writing assignments, data collection activities, long and short-term individual projects, oral reports, worksheets, homework, journal writing, quizzes, tests, observations, student responses in class, and externally created exams that were used to give feedback, group students, diagnose learning problems, and plan future lessons. While acknowledging the complexity of considering the role of classroom assessment, Rodriguez's findings do raise important questions regarding the relationship between classroom assessment practices, student self-efficacy and effort and achievement on external assessments such as TIMSS.
Sixth, the Assessment Reform Group in the UK has commissioned a series of studies examining summative assessment. Working Papers are available on their website. Some of their main findings include:
- Top-down approaches to teachers' assessment are not as effective as are approaches involving teachers in working together and developing necessary procedures using their professional expertise.
- When teachers work with each other and review evidence of student learning to determine whether or not students are meeting the standards with sufficient quality, teachers become more confident and better able to make independent judgements.
- The accuracy, or reliability, of teachers' assessment for external reporting purposes can be increased by increasing the degree of specification of the task and/or the criteria used in judging the process or outcome.
- When teachers use clearly specified criteria that describes progressive levels of competence they are more able to reliably assess a greater range of classroom work. Looking at a greater range of student work increases validity. Further, learning to use clearly specified criteria has a positive impact on student learning.
- The reliability of teachers' assessment increases when teachers participate in developing criteria, have some ownership of them and understand the language used. Further, teachers who learn to assess student work as part of external summative assessment processes using clearly specified criteria, improve the quality of their classroom assessment.
- The way teachers assess and grade student work impacts students' motivation for learning, particularly their goal orientation, when grades are used as rewards or punishments. The negative impact can be alleviated by ensuring that students have a firm understanding of assessment processes and criteria.
Seventh, Formative Assessment – Improving Student Learning in Secondary Classrooms, (2005) a report based on research findings and classroom-level observations in 8 countries (Australia [Queensland], Denmark, England, Finland, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, and some provinces in Canada) concluded that classroom assessment that supports student learning:
- Establishes a classroom culture that encourages interaction and the use of assessment tools.
- Establishes learning goals, and tracks individual student progress toward those goals.
- Uses varied instruction methods to meet diverse student needs.
- Uses varied approaches to assessing student understanding.
- Provides feedback on student performance and adaptation of instruction to meet identified needs.
- Involves students actively in the learning and assessment process.
The research is compelling. School leaders intending to make a difference for students need to focus on classroom assessment.
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