INTRODUCTION Assessment is a basic function of classroom educators, one that is guided and influenced by a countless factors. Most of the information that learners have about their learning and what that means about the subject, about themselves, and about their futures -comes from classroom assessments. Similarly, most of what parents and educators know about their children’s learning comes from classroom assessments. As well as being directly evident in schools, classroom assessment is linked by extensive research to the professional practice of educators.
As well, legislation and policies in South Africa identify assessment as a central role of educators. It is essential to recognise that educator’s understandings and beliefs about learner learning, and classroom assessment influence the learning environments created for the learners in their schools. Within their schools, educators are the classroom managers with the responsibility of fostering cultures that promote learner learning.
Because of the direct nature of the link between teaching practice and learner learning, what educators believe about assessment and how these beliefs shape their teaching practices sheds light on important connections among teaching and learning. As classroom assessment movement generates important discussions about assumptions, understandings, and beliefs that underpin learner learning, it also challenges both traditional and current methods of assessment and that indicates negative impact on learner’s achievement. As such, assessment influence teaching and learning.
To prove this, educational research is producing a significant body of evidence to support assessment for learning as a way to enrich learner learning and improve learner achievement. The intent of this essay is to give a short review of the educator’s context (myself), identify and discuss what the educator consider to be the most important principles of good classroom assessment; evaluate the extent to which the educator’s classroom assessment practice is based on and; on all the theory on assessment and principles; the strategy that the educator will use to improve her assessment practice will be discussed.
CONTEXT The changes in post-apartheid South Africa have been accompanied by significant changes in the education system. The most notable include introduction of outcomes-based assessment. Established assessment practices appear to be hampering the efforts to transform school education. Educators are unable or unwilling to adapt their assessment practices to the changing demands of South African school education.
Although the changes were driven by the government’s drive to “redress past injustices in educational provision” (Department of Education, 1996:1) they have not necessarily resulted in major changes at classroom level as some educators still apply the same pedagogical practices they used a decade ago (Vandeyar & Killen, 2003). This problem relates particularly to assessment because, as Collins (1992:36) argues, “curriculum designed on the finest principles with the very best of intentions makes no change to what goes on in the classroom if assessment procedures remain the same”. The same could be said of policy, i. . new policies related to outcomes-based assessment, may be well-intentioned, but established practices seem to be hampering the government’s efforts to transform school education. The reluctance of many South African educators to change their assessment practices in response to new policies and curriculum guidelines may be due to their ingrained conceptions of assessment (Vandeyar & Killen, 2003). Brown (2003:1) provides a strong argument that all pedagogical acts are affected by the conceptions educators have about the act of teaching, the process and purpose of assessment, and the nature of learning.
Such conceptions act as filters through which educators view and interpret their own teaching environment (Mason, 2005) and act as barriers to change (Richards & Killen, 1993). Consequently, any efforts to change educator’s pedagogical practices, whether by mandate or through professional development activities, may be doomed to failure, unless these conceptions are acknowledged, challenged and eventually changed (Vandeyar & Killen, 2003). The NCS places a strong emphasis on assessment as a major tool that educators should use as a vehicle for improving the quality teaching and learning in their classrooms.
Such an emphasis calls for a paradigm shift in educator’s perceptions of assessment, and of the relationship between teaching, learning and assessment. However, it has been my experience that little or nothing has improved inside the classroom. To blame the current NCS as a failure will not take us anywhere. One way for a educator to respond to the challenges of the new curriculum is to become a reflective practitioner. According to Killen (2007), “a reflective practitioner is one who can think about teaching while teaching and responding appropriately to the unique situations that arise” (p. 7). Being reflective means being able to: “pursue actively the possibility that existing practices may effectively be challenged and, in the light of evidence about their efficacy, replaced by alternatives” (Killen, 2007, p. 97). I am a reflective practitioner who recognises that learning is a life-long process and that self-reflection is one of the key components of that process. I have high expectations for myself and model these expectations for learners. I recognise problems, identify and implement solutions, and evaluate outcomes.
I continually evaluate the effects of my actions on others (learners, parents, and other professionals in the learning society) and actively seek out opportunities to grow professionally. I use data from my own learning environment as a basis for reflecting upon and experimenting with personal teaching practices. I work with other professionals and conduct independent activities to ensure that I am both using and continuing to develop best practices. I demonstrate and model the use of higher-order thinking skills in the classroom. I encourage all learners in their development of critical and creative thinking and problem solving.
I use a variety of strategies to teach and assess their acquisition of these skills. I provide opportunities for critical and creative expression, developing a repertoire of problem solving strategies, activities, and projects to assist all learners in demonstrating their ability to use higher order thinking. Learners in my classroom demonstrate that they can think critically and creatively and solve problems. I discovered assessment opportunities and possibilities to engage learners in learner interaction and I was fascinated and I saw an amazing opportunity for learners to learn from one another and seeing other perspectives.
During my teaching and my learner’s learning, learners also shared opinions. Actually I posed questions, I guided them, I observed all the discussions and if I heard a couple of good comments, I brought these out for other learner’s attention. I always guided my learners to a certain direction. I challenged them to make connections. I think they are enjoying the fact that I was challenging them to give their thoughts. In particular the use of reflective activities is part of the lessons. IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES OF GOOD CLASSROOM ASSESSMENT Principle 1: Objectives
I entered the teaching profession with an understanding of my role as a educator and expectations that the school have of me (interaction between me and the school along with learner and knowledge they need). Guided by these, I outline my lessons in a way that my learners are informed. When I enter the classroom, my learners are always aware of what is about to happen because my objectives are explained to them. Therefore they always know what I expect from them. The theory needs the role of the educator to change to optimise the benefit of education.
Educators are required to write objectives to show what they want to achieve. The fundamental benefit of writing objectives is the clarification for the educator to show her goals (Bertram, et. al. 2000). It forces the educator to think about what achievement is intended and to think and plan in detailed, specific terms (McDonald – Ross, 1973). Mc Donald declares that, setting objectives prescribes the choice of teaching means (McDonald-Ross, 1973), which can make teaching easier. To me this suggest teaching and learning with the objectives, not teaching and learning from the objectives.
I think when objectives are seen as a tool to assist the learning process they appear to be more readily adopted and integrated. The educator can “…then works back these objectives to decide on content and methods which would achieve these objectives” (Bertram, et. al, 2000). Bertram, et. al. (2000) understand objective as a statement which describes an intended outcome of the educational process. “Objective describes the kind of behaviour the learner is intended to display through thoughts, actions and feelings and the context in which the behaviour is to operate” (Centre for Adult Education, 1998, p. ). Principle 2: Clarity and Transparency I define all the outcomes in order to help the learners know what is expected from them at the end of the lesson. This does not necessarily mean that I am predicting what the learners should know. The fact that I discuss and explain the outcomes to the learners that leaves a room for other things which the learners may discover, which I can take into consideration in the future lesson or topic. For me to do this, I am doing so because to me, this is to mean that no teaching or learning can take place without set outcomes.
It clearly does not mean closure as far as learning is concerned, as I understand learning is an on going process. I am sure people setting the curriculum; they also know that this is not to say that the guidelines they have given educators means the end of road (education), therefore there is still a room or space for learners to come up with their own thinking. Bertram, Fotheringham and Harley (2001) pronounce that, the straight point for curriculum design in OBE is defining the ultimate exit outcomes that learners are to demonstrate and perform.
They further state that, in order to do this successfully, there have to be clearly defined standards against which the outcomes can be measured and accredited (Bertram, et. al. 2001). This is echoed by Malcolm (1999) in his point of ‘assessment requires analysis of performance’. Malcolm (1999) in his emphasis on standards agrees by saying, a particular performance-whether a test, a project report, or behaviour as a team member-has to be analysed in relation to relevant outcomes and whatever learning is demonstrated.
The idea is to produce what Australians call a profile of learner achievement- a description of achievement of the relevant outcomes separately-rather than a summary score, (Malcolm, 1999). Tests remain a part of the assessment armoury, but are analysed in relation to specific outcomes (Malcolm, 1999). Principle 3: Motivation and Support Education in SA has become undeniably focused on accountability for learner learning. This calls for educators to foster intrinsic motivation for change and improvement in learner’s performance and behaviour and in schools.
Because learning is a frustrating and effortful task, weak learners lose the motivation for learning. In junior secondary school, the pacing of the explicit curriculum is accelerating to an extent that weaker learners are left well behind, with little hope of catching up. Since they have rarely experienced the rewards of educator affirmation in primary school, they will have little opportunity to develop the self-motivation associated with a successful learner identity. T o promote this, I foster deeper understandings of classroom assessments.
I support, appreciate, praise and acknowledge my learners. This is evident in the OBE system. If the learner does not get there by the end of a lesson, then the educator and learner try again, from a different angle, with additional time (The Department of Education, 1996). (The Department of Education, 1996) also state that, nobody can fail; because all the prospect of learning is always there in the future. Spady (1994) talks in a similar vein about assessment in a pencil.
With additional time and energy, the pencilled not there yet can become outcome achieved, written in ink, (Spady, 1994). An alternative view of the idea that all learners can learn focuses not on standard of achievement, but increment of progress. Malcom (1999) is on view that, learning in this view is a process; with successful learning measured by improvement in standard rather than standard itself. All learners, whether gifted, disabled or in between, have the right to progress. This is value added education (Malcolm, 1999). Schools want ore motivated and more skilled learners that will improve schools academic results. Therefore good teaching is characterised by assessments that motivate and engage learners in ways that are consistent with their philosophies of teaching and learning (Macmillan). Stiggins (2001) advocates a vision of education where assessment is used to motivate and build the confidence of learners rather than intimidate them, noting that this thinking challenges traditional beliefs that anxiety motivates learners to improve their performance (p. 760). Principle 4: Multiple methods
Assessment that is fair, leading to valid inferences with a minimum of error, is a series of measures that show learner understanding through multiple methods (Macmillan). According to Macmillan, a complete picture of what learners understand and can do is put together in pieces comprised by different approaches to assessment. While testing experts and testing companies stress that important decision should not be made on the basis of a single test score, some educators at the local level and at the national level seem determined to violate this principle (Macmillan).
There is a need to understand the entire range of assessment techniques and methods, with the realisation that each has limitations (Stiggins, 2001). Children vary. For this reason, Malcolm (1999) proposes that educators must either use a variety of single inputs, or multidimensional input that enable all children to respond. Instead of being frustrated that children learn different things from an activity, educators can design activities especially to facilitate differences, (Malcolm, 1999). Malcolm (1999) insists that educators can acknowledge inputs to learning from sources other themselves and their textbooks.
In his conclusion, Malcolm (1999) advice educators to run a number of activities in parallel that suit different learners but that address all the same general outcome. In theory, educators following the OBE approach have freedom to help the learners achieve the outcomes in any way that is appropriate for the learner’s needs. Educators are free to decide on the content and teaching methods as long as they help learners to achieve the outcomes. Principle 5: Learner-centred approach I generally use learner-centered approach during my teaching.
In my teaching experience, once learners become more accustomed to the idea and perhaps more interested in the subject material, their learning becomes easier. When OBE was introduced in South Africa, the clear message from the Department of Education (1996) was that educators would be required to make “a paradigm shift from a educator and content-driven curriculum to an outcomes-based and learner-centred curriculum” (Geyser, 2000:22). South Africa has moved progressively closer to a society where context, teaching and learning are not centred at the educator anymore.
Learners are now responsible for their own learning. Learner-centered classroom assessment is a valuable resource to begin a career-long exploration of all the critical aspects of educational assessment (Stiggins, 2001). According to Stiggins (2001), learner-centered classroom assessment is based on the contention that learner achievement and academic self-concept are determined, by and large, on the basis of learner’s perceptions of their own success in classrooms. It presents a philosophy that places learners at the center of the classroom equation (Stiggins (2001)).
According to Coleman (1966) ‘the extent to which an individual feels that he [or she] has some control over his [or her] own destiny” (p. 23) made more of a difference. Christie (2008) termed this agency. According to Christie (2008), once learners understand this idea, they can apply it directly to their own lives. By doing so, they will build knowledge and motivation and act for change. When disadvantaged learners possessed a sense of control or agency, this worked powerfully to their advantage (Christie, 2008).
At the very most, this helped to me to recognise my misperceptions and move the focus of learning from the educator-centered to learner-centered. (Hattie, 1999) emphasises the educator’s role in developing a shared vision and establishing a learning-centred climate (p. 26-27). Without too much shift in the way learning is framed, educator can institute practices that reflect a learner-centered, critical perspective, which ultimately lead to the ability to use critical assessment techniques (Macmillan).
This will make learners responsible for their learning from the first day the class meets (Macmillan). The value of learner’s thinking and learning helps to move the instructor’s role from one of final arbiter to one of a facilitator, which in turn helps make learners more responsible for their own learning (Huot, 2002) According to Rose (2004), in learner-centred modes a context is provided in which learners are expected to discover concepts for themselves. (Rose, 2004) maintains that learner-centred activities provide a modicum of support for all learners,
Principle 6: Communication For teaching practice to be effective there is a crucial need for educators to listen to and communicate with the learners, including those whose home language is not English. In my classroom I always communicate with my learners in such a way that they understand every step of their learning. I always communicate with them in terms of; what is it that they have to learn, why they are learning it and how they are going to learn it. In this way, I always find my learners always eager to learn.
In my teaching experience, I have realised that once learners know what is expected from them they easily work towards and with expectations since everything is made transparent to them. This relates well with Lawrence Stenhouse definition of curriculum. Stenhouse’s definition is: A curriculum is an attempt to communicate the essential principles and features of an educational proposal into such a form that it is open to critical scrutiny and capable of effective translation into practice (Stenhouse, 1975, p. 4).
Most of my learners are indigenous. Some of them found some assessment difficult and they explained to me that they did not understand what is really expected from them. The fact that English is a second language to most of them is a big problem. “Assessment may be open to misinterpretation arising because of ambiguities which are inherent in the meaning of language” (Bertram, et. al. (2000, p. 116). This is not to mean that assessment cannot be achieved; the educator can mediate (Bertram, et. al. (2000). I follow this by doing scaffolding.
Characteristically, scaffolding provides high levels of initial support, and gradually reduces this as learners move towards independent control of the learning task or text (Rose, 1999). According Rose (1999) scaffolding enables learners to read and write complex texts with the support of their educators and peers. It does so by initially supporting learners to understand the roles of the language features that constitute a written text, as a means to fluently and accurately read the text without becoming over loaded. (Rose, p. 30-31). An effective educator will always understand her learners and their level of language Rose (1999).
A distinction can be made between what second language learners know and understand about the second language they are acquiring, and their actual performance” (Bertram, et. al. (2000, p. 114). Principle 7: Feedback Feedback is defined as a “means of providing information how and why the child understands and misunderstands, and what directions the learner must take to improve” (Hattie, 1999, p. 9). In his research, Mason found that “the single most powerful factor that enhances achievement is feedback on their learning provided to learners” (Mason, 2005, p. 5). Feedback is vital in any learning.
Feedback as an assessment strategy relies mostly on observation, which the educator uses to evaluate learners’ daily activities, discussions in cooperative learning, and during oral presentations (Hattie, 1999). This relates to my teaching practice. I use observations to assess learners in an ongoing manner to determine whether the intended outcomes are being achieved or not; and then proactively acts immediately by providing feedback. I provide any formative feedback to let learners know when they are communicating well and when they are making errors or fail to communicate.
I give more guidance to my learners and that encourages them to be eager to work (learn). The important role of feedback in improving teaching design in general, and learner performance in particular, has long been recognised by educational researchers (Mory, 1992). In my classroom, I maintain constructive feedback. Without adequate preparation for the initiating question, feedback to learner responses is more likely to be rejection than affirmation (Rose, 2004). Feedback can positively influence what learners learn because assessment drives learner learning (Hattie, 1999). Principle 8: Diversity
I value learners from diverse cultures and linguistic and experiential backgrounds; and I treat all learners equally. I model behavior and implement lessons that teach acceptance, tolerance, resolution, and mediation. I establish a comfortable environment that fosters diversity and exhibits a climate of openness, inquiry and support to promote diversity. This is informed by Stenhouse’s definition of the curriculum, that, “curriculum must be in a form that it is open to critical scrutiny” (Stenhouse, 1975, p. 4). Also, I frequently involve multicultural activities. Learners are different. Learners are different due to their social classes.
This makes a difference to the learning outcomes and their experiences. I therefore-identify, adapt, and design teaching appropriate to learner’s strengths, stages of development, learning styles, socioeconomic status, disabilities and challenges, levels of language acquisition, and other needs. Due to that, the school will not produce equal outcomes for all learners. Unequal outcomes, it is assumed, are a reflection of unequal abilities (Christie, 2008). I make provisions for individual learners who have particular talents, perspectives, and needs. Success at school is the result of individual merit (Christie, 2008).
Acording to Christie (2008), those who do well at school and rise to the top are those with most ability and merit. Learner performance at school relates to their social backgrounds. Middle class learners tend to do better than their working class counterparts (Christie, 2008). Wealth and poverty makes a difference in school. For this reason, I use my knowledge of families, cultures, and communities to connect teaching to learner’s experiences, and I use school, family, and community resources in teaching activities. CLASSROOM ASSESSMENT PRACTICE EVALUATION Every week I set a test for my learners.
When I set a test, I cover some important points. First of all, the test must match as closely as possible the objectives of the teaching I was assessing. The main goal of the teaching is to equip learners with knowledge and skills. Therefore some of the questions that I use help learners to understand and analyse the questions I ask. I do this with the aim of finding out if the learners understood the concepts I used and also if they could apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills to the question posed. This helps me to know where the information gaps are, and to fulfil school assessment requirements.
After I finish marking I record the test scores and check if there are any learners who have failed. If there are any I become disappointed by the learner’s performance and reflect on both my teaching and my assessment. After seeing the failure rate of my learners I start identifying in respect to my practice. I critically evaluate and reflect on the quality of the test questions. I do this, this way: My first step is: I focus on the number of correct responses per question. My second step is to ask the following questions in an attempt to explain the test results: What did I want my learners to learn? • Were learners learning what I wanted them to learn? • How could I modify my test items so that as many learners as possible would be successful? These questions always encourages me to think about the alignment between what I taught, the questions I set and what the learners are able to do. STRATEGY I have a command of the subject matter. I am very confident that I am on the right track (aligning with OBE requirements). But I must say that OBE is very challenging. Some learners are still reluctant to change their habits. They told me their feelings.
They claim that the way I assess them destructs their own way of learning. Betram, et. al, agree with this, “OBE… will not take account of individual learner development and individual learning styles” (Bertram, et. al. 2000). I then continuously give my learners hints and discuss my responses to different learners according to their level. Changing my strategies all the time is the best way that encourages my learners to learn and it also encourages learners to break out of their old habits. I use a variety of teaching skills to create learning experiences that make the subject matter meaningful for them.
I link the subject matter to their prior knowledge and experience, to other disciplines, and then apply it to real world integrated settings to ensure currency. In teaching the content, I use multiple representations and explanations of disciplinary concepts; use a variety of materials and technologies; represent and use different viewpoints; and engage learners in generating knowledge and testing theory. I am competent in diagnosing basic skill problems in my subject. I devise strategies to remediate basic skills within the content area. All this is informed by being an OBE product.
I did my entire educator training during the introduction of the OBE. During its up and down set up. But I truly believe that above all the success, it is my educators in school, my lecturers in university who helped me to be able to adapt to any changes that were made in OBE. In my belief, educators play a bring role in the learner’s responses. Actually to me, as much as our families ground us; educators make us who we are. CONCLUSION What is most essential about assessment is understanding how general, fundamental assessment principles and ideas can be used to enhance learner learning and educator effectiveness.
This will be achieved as educators and administrators learn about conceptual and technical assessment concepts, methods, and procedures, for both large-scale and classroom assessments, and apply these fundamentals to teaching. Assessment in my experience allows learners to observe other people’s reflection, not to criticise, just to react to other people and reflect their own performance. I think I would like to say that learners stands on others shoulders and can see much further than just by themselves, so they actually use other people’s opinions, other people’s contribution and not only learn by themselves.
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