Friday, September 01, 2006

 

Implications of Assessment and Categorisation

Self-fulfilling Prophecy: This refers to the expectations that teachers have of their students and that these expectations (prophecies) may come try due to how they treat their students. This area of research was initially stimulated by a study undertaken by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968). Teachers were told on the basis of IQ test results that certain students were identified as late bloomers and that these students would really come on academically. Eight months later IQ tests were given to all students. It was found that the late bloomers had improved their IQ test scores by as much as 30 IQ points, whereas those not indicated as late bloomers showed no significant improvement. The key point in this study is that the students identified as late bloomers were not chosen on the basis of IQ test scores but were in fact chosen randomly from the class register. It would seem that the only difference between the students was the teacher's expectations.

More recent research has not always replicated these findings, however some studies have. For instance, Rosenthal reviewed 242 studies on labelling and found that in 84 of them labelling did affect performance. However, Fuller found that Black girls in a London comprehensive school fought against the labelling process and did better than expected. Thus we can not conclude that assessment and the possible consequences of creating a SFP will always have the same effect on all students. Certainly there seems to be no direct link between teacher expectations based on assessment and student performance, however intermediary variables, such as self-esteem and self-efficacy, may be effected by such expectations; thus contributing to differences in performance.

Segregation or Inclusion: As refered to in the material on Disruptive Behaviours and also on Special Educational Needs, there is an issue as to whether schools and education services segregate or include all students within their systems. Whilst there are many problems with both segregation (isolation, labelling, negative expectations) and inclusion (disruption of learning for others, lack of appropriate resources and assistance) these processes are done on the basis of assessment. Thus we should be aware that assessment and categorisation can directly affect which schools and what type of educational provision is offered to students.

Cognitive Backwash: This referes to the processes that both students engage in when they know how key assessment systems will occur. For example, if the key assessment is an external examination (GSCEs, AS and A2 levels) then students will tend to learn and prepare just for how the exam will assess them, this may mean plenty of Surface learning so that they get the facts correct , and teachers will teach to the assessment criteria, which may mean lots of note taking for students so that all the correct material is covered and plenty of formative assessment using past examination papers. Obviously the conclusion we reach here is that teachers may end up teaching and students learning in certain ways so that external examination assessment leads to success rather than failure. However this may mean that teaching and learning is being dictated by assessment rather than the other way round.

Affective Backwash: This is the emotional reaction that both students and teachers can experience depending on the nature of the assessment processes that they face. Believe it or not but many teachers do get highly anxious when their students are going to be assessed by external examinations because they feel that the students performance will be a reflection on their teaching. Though more of a problem is the anxiety and stress experienced by many students when faced with certain types of assessment; this can lead to underperformance and even more anxiety and stress when faced by similar types of assessment in the future. Given that assessment of 7 year olds is now a common occurance, one can wonder at the experience they have at school!

High Stakes Testing and Cheating: Popham (1987) coined the term high-stakes testing to refer to school districts in the USA where major educational decisions are based on achievement test scores. Such decisions include school funding allocations, placement decisions, streaming and setting, merit pay for teachers, and evaluations of teachers and principals. Popham believed that standardized tests can serve as "instructional magnets." Such "maglets" focus and improve instruction by concentrating it on specific outcomes.

Other researchers disagree with this view, stating that high-stakes testing may improve test scores without a commensurate gain in learning (Cannell, 1988; lepard, 1990; Shepard &r Dougherty 1991). Part of the reason for such a dispancy between test performance and learning is the extensive time spent in preparation for taking the tests.

In their survey of high-stakes testing, Shepard and Dougherty (1991) found that 6 percent of teachers believed that changing incorrect answers to correct ones on answer documents occurred in their school. The study reported that 8 percent of teachers indicated that students who might have trouble on the test were encouraged to be absent in their school. Additional findings indicated that 23 percent of teachers believed that hints to correct answers were given and that 18 percent believed that questions were rephrased to help students in their school.

These types of teacher behaviors are considered unethical by the major professional educational and psychological associations. Such practices compromise the integrity of the tests and call into question the entire educational process.


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