Assessment reliability in relation to subject discipline

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Assessment is an essential tool that teachers use to determine the level of education their learners are at and also to establish pupils learning needs. It allows teachers to check that their aim and learning objectives have actually been met, clarifying that the intended knowledge and understanding, skills and attributes and capabilities are those that are actually learned (LTS 2011).

Section 1 - General Assessment Theory

Purpose of Assessment

Traditionally there have been three types of assessment; evaluative for evaluating institutions, summative to help describe individuals and formative to support learning. The first two, evaluative and summative are grouped together, and the third ignored. (SQA 2011)

However, over the last few decades assessment has changed from psychometrics to a broader model of educational assessment (Gipps, 1994, page 1). There is now a wide variety of different forms of assessment than there has previously been, these include; tests, examinations, coursework, practical and oral assessment. Assessment is used to support the teaching and learning process and to help teachers evaluate pupil's performance and attainment (Gipps, 1994, page 3). It has been suggested by…..that there are two main purposes of assessment, to inform decisions about learning experiences and to report on what has been achieved (assessment of Learning page 15). Glaser (1990 cited in Gipps, 1994, page 10) agrees with this statement and suggests that "assessment must be used in support of learning rather than just to indicate current or past achievement" Therefore, assessment not only allows the teacher to evaluate the learning that is taking place, but also evaluate their own personal teaching practices.

Teaching and learning has to be interaction therefore teachers must know about their pupil's progress and difficulties and adapt their work to the meet their needs. Every pupil has different needs that can be unpredictable, therefore teachers must use a variety of techniques; observation, discussion, activity and written class work and homework to meet the variety of different needs. (Inside the black box)

Assessment should show the learner models of performance that they can follow and also indicate the assistance, experiences and forms of practise required by learners as they improve their performance. (ibid, p. 480 cited in Gipps, 1994, page 10). Therefore, assessments must be a wide range of strategies to assess cognitive aspects than just subject matter acquisition and retention and offer both students and teachers advice in order to use the knowledge to construct further action.

Learning involves the whole person, not just cognitive exercises; therefore the pupil needs to be motivated to learn. If assessments are used correctly it can result in an extremely positive effect on learners as it allows pupils to be focus on what they are supposed to be learning. It provides them with goals which can help increase their motivation and self esteem. Assessments are also not effective in promoting good learning and understanding when the emphasis is just simply on the grade that the pupil will receive, this results in a competition rather that focusing on personal improvement (Black Box page 18).

"Raven on the other hand (cited in Berlak et al., 1992) argues that we must develop assessments which assess performance in relation to valued goals, rather than separating cognitive, affective and conative factors. He also argues that we need approaches which assess them in a unified way, since people do not become competent in activities which they do not value." (Gipps, 1994, page 11)

Problems rise from assessment, for example, tests could be designed for other purposes than supporting learning, also, negative and unwanted effects on teaching and the curriculum have been the result of formal written exams in the UK" (Gipps, 1994, page 3)

" also, failure to articulate the relationship between learning and assessment has resulted "in a mismatch between the high quality learning described in policy documents as desirable and the poor quality learning that seems likely to result from associated assessment procedures" (Willis, 1992b, page 1) (Gipps, 1994, page 3)

Education and Assessment in Scottish Secondary Schools

In Scotland the main bodies that are responsible for education are Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS), the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA), and HM Inspectors of Education (HMIE). The SQA is responsible for the development, accreditation and certification of qualifications to ensure that they meet the needs of Scotland and its people and embeds best practice in learning, assessment and quality assurance in qualifications. The SQA is also responsible for assessment arrangements that seek to ensure that all candidates have an equal opportunity to show that they can achieve national standards that are required for units and courses. The SQA, with support from LTS, provides practitioners with advice, support and CPD on assessment, standards and quality assurance as stated on the LTS website (2011). The partnership also supports the development and delivery of National Assessment Resources 3 to 18; this allows teachers to gain a greater understanding of their own judgements and with the emphasis on CPD, teachers will be able to develop the skills they need (LTS 2011). In addition to this, it is imperative that teachers have access to a wide rage of reliable and valid information, available on NAR, to ensure they have information about assessment and best practice. HMIE inspects schools and other educational facilities to gain an insight into learner experiences and successes, and reports on achievements and publishes reports using quality indicators such as How Good is out School to set a quality framework (LTS 2011). The final body that is responsible for education is the Scottish Government who set the strategic policy direction and provides advice to Scottish Ministers on assessment and qualifications.

The development of a coherent assessment system, Assessment is for Learning, has been a government priority in Scotland since 2001. Information is no longer collected on all pupils through national assessments; they now monitor national achievement through the Scottish Survey of Achievement sample survey. A new vision for Scottish Education has been developed by the Scottish Government, working with the above three bodies, this is A Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). This new development aims to guarantee that young people of the 21st century develop the knowledge and skills for learning, life and work (LTS 2011).

Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) produced the program Assessment is for Learning (AifL) which has been a fundamental aspect in Scottish education and is the platform in which Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) incorporated these approaches to assessment. CfE states that assessment practices are seen from the perspective of the learner, learners should be engaged in all aspects of assessment therefore allowing them to achieve their goals and maximise their potential. (LTS 2011) LTS also works with key partners to ensure that standards and expectations for the next generation National Qualifications are consistent with the value, purpose and principles of CfE including breadth, level of challenge and application of learning (LTS 2011).

High quality learning and teaching approaches will be a result of the CfE and the reinforcement of effective assessment practices. Assessment of pupils progress and achievement throughout their education, up to the end of third year will be assessed based on the teachers assessment of their knowledge and understanding, skills, attributes and capabilities. All of these are described within CfE experiences and outcomes. In addition to this, the next generation of National Qualifications from third year and throughout the senior phase will be aligned to Curriculum for Excellence. (LTS 2011) Building the curriculum 5

Summative assessment

Summative assessment is assessment that is used to record and measure individual's attainment. Assessment of learning can be either internal assessment or external assessment, the SQA conducted this as they are an awarding body. Assessment becomes summative when the results are used to measure attainment against a particular standard or specification and must therefore be quality assured (SQA 2011) The person that marks the exam paper, particularly when pupils progress to standard grades and highers, is marking the pupil with a grade on the basis of how well they performance on the day of the exam, no consideration is taken into account regarding the individuals strengths and weaknesses.

Prior to Curriculum for Excellence, Scotland's national assessment system included the National Assessment 5 to 14 model which included assessments that were mostly summative. The implementation of Curriculum for Excellence takes the Scottish Education System away from summative assessment and steps towards formative assessment. Assessment becomes formative assessment when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet the needs of the learners. (black box page2). Learners learn best when they understand what they are learning and what is expected of them. There is a move away from national curriculum testing, league tables of school performance and target setting, now the argument is that teaching and learning have to be interaction. Teachers must know about pupil's progress and difficulties in order to meet their needs (black box page 1). Therefore, formative assessment takes into account progress and effort made by the pupils and not just on their test score. CfE and AifL states that a main priority in the Scottish educational system is delivering and maintaining a "first class education" is (LTS 2011), this can be sustained by using both formative (Assessment for Learning) and summative (Assessment of Learning) assessments correctly. Summative assessments should become a positive part if the learning process, active involvement in the testing process allows students to see that they can benefit from testing rather than be the victims, therefore testing can improve their learning. (Working inside black box page 15)

Formative Assessment (aka assessment for learning)

An overview of formative assessment is that it can be used to monitoring learning to check whether learning is taking place, it can also be used to diagnose or inform learning to see what is not being learnt and can form learning to see what can be done to improve learning.

Formative assessment is used to identify future learning needs, gaps in learning and can also identify an individual's support needs. Results from formative assessment are used to set learning goals and success criteria, and to provide feedback to learners. Feedback should always be direct and constructive, and should provide information to learners on their next steps. To be effective, feedback needs to be given promptly so that learners can take account of it in their learning. This provides motivation, which is a crucial element in helping individuals to become successful learners. Delayed feedback can cease to have meaning to the learner.

The importance of formative assessment in effective learning has been stressed by the Assessment is for Learning initiatives in schools and further and higher education institutions. Assessment for Learning has been defined by Black and William as 'all those activities undertaken by teachers and/or by their students which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged'.

Formative assessment takes place during the course of teaching and is used essentially as feedback into the teaching and learning process. It is not just feedback on the results of a test that the pupil has completed, it takes into account such things as the effort that pupils have put in and the work and progress that they have made. The feedback that is given to the pupils work depends on the pupil and not only the appropriate criteria. Different individual circumstances must be regarded if the assessment is to help learning and encourage the learner. (W. Harlen and M. James page 370) Formative assessment equips learners to become lifelong learners and so is a key element built into Curriculum for Excellence.

Clarke argues that "formative assessment consists of four basic elements, these are the awareness of the importance of children's high self- esteem, sharing learning goals with pupils, effective questions, self- and peer evaluation and effective feedback." (Clarke S (2005) page 5)

If teachers have the sufficient background knowledge about their pupils existing ideas and skills, and are able to recognise the point reached in development and the necessary steps to take, this can be argued to be formative assessment (W. Harlen and M. James page 369) Sadler furthers this to argue that "if improvement in learning is to take place, students need to come to hold a concept of quality roughly similar to that help by the teacher." (W. Harlen and M. James page 369)

"If children don't learn the way we teach…perhaps we should teach the way they learn" (Eppig, 1981) (Clarke S (2005) page 5). This enables both the teacher and the pupils gain feedback about current understanding and skill improvement that therefore allows them to decide on the way forward.

Principles of Assessment

Assessment of learning is measured against national standards to provide individuals with valuable qualifications that meet their educational and training needs. Therefore, assessments must be fair, reliable and valid. Validity and reliability in assessment are very strongly linked and in many cases are inter-dependent. Although validity and reliability are separate entities, they can be considered together as jointly they define the overall quality of assessment. A valid assessment is one that measures that which its purpose is to measure, and a reliable assessment is one where the same results are gained time after time. This section of this assignment will focus on reliability of assessment. Reliability is concerned with accuracy with which the test measures the skill or attainment it is desired to measure (Gipps, page 67).

Reliability in assessment is a measure of the degree of consistency that the pupil's response to an assessment is judged. Assessment decisions for each individual learner's performance must be consistent for every pupil that participates in the same assessment task in order for the assessment to be reliable. Therefore, procedures must be put in to place to ensure this. The SQA website states that "Assessment decisions are reliable when they are; created by valid assessments that are produced under conditions of assessment that are consistently applied, consistent across the range of assessors applying the assessment in different situations, contexts and with different candidates. They are also reliable when they are taken on the basis of clearly defined standards of performance, the authenticated work of candidates is being assessed and they are consistent over time." (SQA 2011)

Summative assessment can use standard ways of assessing reliability of a test, these include giving the same test a few days apart, using different forms of the "same" test to compare performance of a similar population, or only using one test but dividing it into half randomly so that the performance of the two halves can be compared. However this type of reliability does not show stability over time or across forms of tests, it only highlights consistent response behaviour. It has been argued that there are errors in testing that have to be addressed, such as variations arising within the measurement procedure, changes in the specific sample of tasks, changes in the individual pupil from day to day and also changes in the individual's speed of work. Therefore governing bodies have set up standards, these are; inter-marker reliability, ensuring inter-marker reliability, reliability over time, reliability when specifications change therefore ensuring reliability (ciea, 2011)

Reliability in formative assessment is used to inform teaching in the situations in which it is gathered. Therefore there is always quick feedback for the teacher, who usually has opportunities to use observations of the response to one intervention as information in making the next one. Pryor & Torrance (1996, p. 214) give examples of this process in action and suggest that through this rapid loop of feedback and adjustment between teacher and learner, the information without a doubt acquires greater reliability.

Curriculum for Excellence requires teachers to gather information about each pupils results, evidence from internal assessments are used to measure a pupils achievements from 3- 15. The information gathered is then used to provide feedback to pupils, other teachers and parents. Therefore the results from assessments are important for making choices and decisions, about individual pupils learning. In order for learning outcomes to be met, a variety of evidence must be gathered; this evidence is therefore reliable as it measures what it was designed to. Therefore, teachers have more responsibility as more emphasis is on the teachers' professional judgement.

Valid assessment

Validity is a measure of the accuracy of an assessment, it asks the question, is the assessment actually doing what it is supposed to be doing? Each assessment should be designed to allow candidates to produce the evidence to show that they have the required knowledge, understanding and skills for the qualification they are aiming for. An assessment is valid when it is fit for purpose, allows candidates to produce sufficient evidence of performance that can be measured against the standards defined in the qualification, allows candidates to produce sufficient evidence of the knowledge, understanding and skills that are required to satisfy standards of the qualification and allows all assessors to make reliable assessment decisions for all candidates (SQA 2011).

The relationship between validity and reliability

As mentioned previously, validity and reliability are interdependent. If an assessment produces inconsistent results then the results cannot provide valid information about a pupil's achievement. On the other hand, highly consistent results do not necessarily indicate high validity, since the test may be inappropriate for the competence being assessed. For example, the results of a maths test involving routine calculations may have a high degree of validity for indicating arithmetical skills but a low degree of validity for indicating problem-solving abilities.

High validity and high reliability are more likely to be achieved when assessors:

♦ measure candidates against outcomes of learning which have clearly-defined performance levels

♦ use assessment instruments that are appropriate to the outcomes

♦ minimise subjectivity

(SQA 2011)

Section 2 - Formative Assessment in Mathematics

My Active Research

During my first teaching placement I noticed that within the mathematic department formative assessment techniques were encouraged, for example the traffic light system, but were not very well developed. Therefore, after some observation and discussion with the class teachers it was found that (test thing) and peer- and self- assessment were rarely used within the classroom and so I decided to investigate how effective pupils found the Assessment for Learning technique of (test thing) and peer- and self- assessment to help them with their learning and own understanding of the subject.

To investigate peer- and self- assessment I firstly asked each pupil to complete a questionnaire that would give me an insight into what their knowledge was of the topic of fractions. The questionnaire consisted of six sections; the teacher advised me that the class would be able to complete the first three sections but would struggle with the final three, thus allowing me to plan lessons on the final three sections. However, the pupils' prior knowledge was not what I or the class teacher had predicted; as a result, when I became aware that pupils were struggling with the questionnaire I should have stopped the class. Instead I told them to answer as many questions as they could and once the majority of pupils had completed the questionnaire to the best of their ability I asked them to swap their worksheet with their partner and we went over and discussed the answers as a class. Each section had red; amber and green down the side of the paper to allow pupils to peer assess each other at each section and also state an overall red, amber or green for the questionnaire as a whole. I then asked pupils to look at their worksheet and self assess their work to see if they agreed with the mark their partner gave them and then asked them to raise their hand for red, amber or green. My eyes were truly opened during this first lesson and I learned a very valuable and valid point, it is not safe to presume prior knowledge.

After consulting with the class teacher, I was advised that for the purpose of this action research I should plan lessons to cover four of the six sections in the questionnaire. This would result is a shorter questionnaire at the end of the research.

The next lesson I went straight back to the basics, this lesson took the form of a discussion at the beginning of the period, two short worksheets for each pupils to complete, peer marking and peer assessment and then self assessment. I then asked pupils if the consider themselves red, amber or green for each worksheet and questioned pupils as to why they considered themselves, for example, amber and not red or green. Throughout the lesson I took down notes, especially when pupils were peer and self assessing each other. Pupils were very enthusiastic when they marked each others work, and if errors were made I noted that pupils would ask and discuss with their partner how to get the right answer, therefore allowing understanding to take place with he pupils who explain the answer to their partner to gain understanding through the explanation to their partner.

Lesson Three took a similar form, however I started the class with a note from what was learned and discussed the previous day. A discussion then took place about what we would be learning today, followed by an example that I asked pupils to tell me how to tackle this problem. I then asked pupils to copy down a note for future reference, and I issued them a worksheet that had questions on today's lesson, quantity of a fraction and also questions on yesterday's lesson, simplifying fractions and finding equivalent fractions, to allow me to check for understanding. As the class completed this worksheet I walked around the class and looked over pupils work. I then asked pupils to swap jotters to allow them to peer assess each others work, once all the answers had been discussed I asked pupils to swap back and check to see if they agreed with the red amber or green that their partner had given them. It was then brought to my attention that one pupil thought that they should be green but their partner marked them amber. This brought about a good discussion about different perspectives and opinions on acceptable levels of work, one pupils marked them amber because they had not finished the worksheet, whereas the other pupil believed that as they only got two wrong of the amount they did, they should be marked green.

The next lesson the pupils were booked into the I.C.T suite, ideally I would have preferred to finish my lessons and then take them down but they have a fortnightly slot that I was unable to swap. I did not use my formative assessment methods here as they were completing work on the My Maths application on the computers.

Lesson 5 took place back in the classroom and we moved onto another section. The lesson took similar form to the previous classroom lessons, however this time I had a starter for the pupils to complete first. I then discussed examples at the whiteboard and asked pupils to copy down a note. As they did this I distributed a worksheet and asked them to complete it. Peer assessment and self assessment took place again in the form of peer marking.

The final lesson took the same form as the first; I asked pupils to complete another questionnaire and gave them approximately 20 minutes to complete it. I then finished the formative assessment research by asking pupils to peer mark and therefore peer assess each others work, marking each section red, amber or green and an overall red, amber or green. I then had a discussion with the pupils if they found it useful or helpful to mark each others work, the results of this will be discussed in the next section. Finally I asked pupils to put a remark on the bottom of their worksheet about anything that they have felt over the last few lessons that I took.

Results from Action Research

The research results are shown on the tables presented on Appendix ?? each graph shows the results from both questionnaires.

Section 3 - Reflection on Professional Development

Continued reflection on personal development is an essential part of Curriculum for Excellence and so this section will focus on my own professional development, with reference to I.T.E benchmarks, from carrying out this assignment.

My knowledge of summative and formative assessment within the Scottish Education System has increased greatly (1.1.1). This was developed through the research I carried out in section one, and also within the classroom environment when I was on placement. My knowledge and understanding of Curriculum for Excellence (1.1.2) was also increased through my research. Also, during my action research I carried out my research with a first year class, this allowed me to work with the class teacher to identify which level the pupils were working at, match their demands and plan lessons accordingly. In addition to this, when planning lessons I recognise and developed lesson progression (1.1.3), I was therefore able to develop lessons and justify them.

As stated in section 2, I had to change my initial lesson plans as a result if the first questionnaire to match the needs of the pupils (2.1.1). This challenged my planning skills greatly and also my communication skills. The first lesson I took with this class I struggled to keep pupils motivated and sustain interest, therefore I analysed my performance and asked the class teacher for feedback. As a result I changed and adapted my lessons; this allowed me to greatly develop my communication and planning skills (2.1.2).

With regards to my action research, section 2.3 "Pupil Assessment" is the arguably the most important section of the I.T.E Benchmarks. Not only was my knowledge and understanding about how to apply effective assessment techniques increased but my observation skills and questioning skills have been developed (2.3.1). Pupils were also keen to complete their work as they were aware that their partner would be marking it, therefore individual attainment was increased.

Results of the initial questionnaire (assessment) were used to evaluate pupil's performance, plan lessons and therefore improve teaching and standards of attainment (2.3.2). The results of the two questionnaires and the notes that I made when peer assessment and self assessment took place in the classroom had to be evaluated. This information was then used to investigate whether pupils had met the learning objectives set for them; this is a crucial part of this assignment to ensure that pupil attainment was increased and assessments successful. The comparison and results between the first and the second questionnaire was used to encourage and show pupils how they were able to improve their learning and understanding of the topic of fractions (2.3.2)

This assignment has provided the need to research and evaluate relevant educational literature which has resulted in me achieving a widened understanding of the Scottish educational system and the changes that are occurring at present (2.4.1) especially with regards to Curriculum for Excellence.

Conclusion

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