Issues And Challenges In Malaysian Primary Context Education Essay

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Assessment is undoubtedly vital to the education process. In Malaysian schools, the most visible assessment is summative assessment. Summative assessment is used to measure what students have learnt at the end of a unit, to ensure if they have met required standards on the way to earning certification for school completion, or as a method of selecting students for entry into further education.

However, assessment may also serve as a formative function. In classrooms, formative assessment refers to frequent, interactive assessments of student progress and understanding to identify learning needs and adjust teaching appropriately. Teachers using formative assessment approaches and techniques are better prepared to meet diverse students' needs - through differentiation and adaptation of teaching to raise levels of student achievement and to achieve a greater equity of student outcomes. But there are major barriers to wider practice, including perceived tensions between classroom-based formative assessments, and high visibility summative tests to hold schools accountable for student achievement, and a lack of connection between systemic, school and classroom approaches to assessment and evaluation.

Therefore, in this research, we want to find out the true concept of assessment for learning; how it can help learning, the elements inside it, the implementation in classrooms and the effectiveness of the formative assessment. Besides, we also want to investigate the issues and challenges in assessment for learning in primary school context. We want to determine what are the issues and challenges of implementing assessment for learning in primary classrooms.

Keywords: Issues and Challenges, Assessment for Learning, Formative Assessment, Primary School

1. Introduction

2. Literature Review

3. The Current Study

3.1 Participant Recruitment

3.2 Data Collection and Analysis

4. Findings

4.1 Quantitative Data

4.2.1 The Analysis of Survey Data

4.2.2 Issues and Challenges in Assessment for Learning

4.2.2.1 Item 1

4.2.2.2 Item 2

4.2.2.3 Item 3

4.2.2.4 Item 4

4.2.2.6 Item 6

4.2.2.7 Item 7

4.2.2.8 Item 8

5. Discussion

6. Conclusion

Acknowledgements

References

Introduction

In the past, assessment was used as a measure of success and failure by simply giving a grade to students and was regarded as a terminal activity. However, assessment has nowadays taken on a broader meaning than what we usually perceive. Rowntree (1977) considered assessment as a way of getting to know students and the quality of their learning and Ramsden (1992) described it as a way of teaching more effectively through understanding what students know and do not know while Wiggins (1998) held that the primary aim of assessment is to "educate and improve student performance, not merely to audit it". From the above purposes of assessment, it is crystal clear that 'assessment for learning' has drawn a great deal of attention in the education sectors in recent years.

As an on-going assessment, it is conducted in the classroom using various methods such as discussions, observations, self-assessment, peer-assessment, dialogues, questioning and portfolio. The benefits of having formative assessment is being addressed by Gipps (1997), when she points out that assessment for learning has been very much for professional purposes: for feedback on teaching, for identifying children with special needs or delays in learning, and for record-keeping.

However, while the importance of 'assessment for learning' are being recognized, a new challenge is to look for the issues and challenges hidden behind its' implementation. Thus, the current study, based on the experiences of the primary teachers in Perak Tengah district, is an effort to offer such an account.

Literature Review

Teachers are currently in the midst of the curriculum reform. They face several issues that require particular attention. One of these is the change in the concept of "assessment of learning" to "assessment for learning". To realize this assessment concept, diversified assessment tools and strategies are encouraged to assess students' performance on different aspects on their learning. Stiggins (2001) says that, in an assessment for learning environment, rather than something happens at the end of the learning, assessment is used to support and inform learning, build self-confidence, and capacity for success. But, to what extent will these formative assessments work out in Malaysian primary schools?

The problem with 'assessment for learning' is that we have conflicting evidence about how good teachers are at making these. In the ILEA Junior School Study, Mortimore and colleagues (Mortimore et al, 1988) found that the judgments of junior teachers were 'accurate' in that they were generally consistent with test scores. However by contrast, a number of other studies (e.g. Tizard et al, 1988; Bennett et al, 1984; Hart et al, 1989) draw attention to the fact that primary school teachers are not particularly accurate in estimating what children know, their future potential, or even how they rank with respect to each other. This is an important issue, for a number of reasons. First, a teacher's judgment of a pupils' progress affects the curriculum that is offered. Second, the gender, social class and appearance of the child can have a stereotyping effect on teachers' judgment. And third, there is the self-fulfilling prophecy that enhanced teacher expectation which can limit the pupils' performances.

Every class has its distinctive characteristics of diversity, demonstrated by a different mix of, for example, personalities, interests, learning styles, abilities. All these compositions make each class unlike any other class. Airasian (2005) says that it is essential to assess the characteristics of each pupil and the class as a whole so that the teacher will have some basis to group, teaches, motivate, manage, and reward students. Airasian also warns that if assessment is not done well, a disorganized, disruptive, unresponsive classroom environment results, in which communication and learning are inhibited. This brings us to think about the problems that affect the validity of observation assessment. According to Airasian (1988), there are two main problems which occur during observation assessment that can diminish the validity of the information gathered: observer prejudgment and logical error. Observer prejudgment occurs when prior information or beliefs lead to labeling a pupil prematurely and incorrectly while logical error occurs when the wrong indicators are used to determine a pupil's status and characteristics.

Observer prejudgment refers to situations in which a teacher's prior knowledge, first impressions, or personal prejudices stereotypes interfere with the ability to make a fair and objective assessment of a pupil. When this happens, the validity of the assessment is reduced. Being labeled and stereotyped without fair chance to show one's true characteristics can injure pupils and inhibit their learning. During observation assessment, teachers should be particularly sensitive to possible gender, racial, cultural, handicap and social class prejudices and stereotypes.

Logical errors on the other hand is when teachers select the wrong indicators to assess a pupil's characteristics, they make another error that can lower the validity of their assessments. A logical error occurs when teachers mistakenly assume that the behavior they observe provide information about the pupil's characteristics they wish to describe. For example, teachers observe samples of pupil's behavior and use those samples to form perceptions of the pupil's true behavior pattern. The issue that comes in teacher assessment is how well the observed sample represent the pupil's true behavior pattern.

Besides that, at school level there are different assessment approaches, and it is quite likely that there is a variety of practice within individual schools: Murphy (1987) suggests that it 'seems to be fairly typical for primary schools not to have an explicitly stated whole-school assessment policy'. The policy is rather to let individual teachers adopt their own approach; where informal assessments are made, the recording of these may well be brief. A study of record-keeping in primary schools by Cliff et al (1981) found that quite often records provided only very partial information about the child's achievements.

However, when teachers are asked to make more specific judgments of children's ability and understanding in relation to a list of criteria, it is likely that they will be less affected by stereotype and surface effects such as neatness of work, pleasantness of manner, etc. As Norman Thomas, ex-Chief Inspector for primary schools put it: 'Observation is rarely good in any field unless the observer has a clear idea of what might be noticed and how that fits into the general context (Thomas, 1982). Thus, accurate observation of human behavior necessitates that the observer be aware of certain potential problems in the collection of data, their interpretation, the diagnosis of a student's weaknesses, and the eventual development of a valid educational program for children. One major source of inaccuracy is the various biases of the subject and/or the experimenter. Rosenthal (1966) has discussed influences of experimenter-behavior on an individual's performance. He notes that substantial errors in observation can result from factors such as not varying the time the data collected; using a single technique to evaluate performance; selecting an inappropriate technique which does not directly evaluate performance; inaccuracy in recording data; preconceived notions the evaluator may have of the individual; and lack of rapport between the observer and the observed.

Moreover, the spontaneity of informal observation limits what teachers are able to see and what pupils are willing to show. The time available to observe pupils is often brief, since attention must be distributed among many pupils and classroom activities. This lack of time for prolonged observation reduces the opportunity to perceive stable and typical pupil behavior patterns. The fewer the opportunities to observe a pupil, the more difficult it is to judge whether the observed behavior is typical behavior. In short, the sample of behavior that is observed under these circumstances may not be a reliable indicator of a pupil's typical behavior.

Another important component of this framework is the purpose of planning instruction. Clark & Peterson (1986) point out that teachers plan in order to modify the curriculum to fit the unique characteristics of their particular class and resources. They reflect on and integrate information about their pupils, the subject matter, their past teaching experience, available resources, and the classroom environment in order to derive an instructional blueprint. But according to Smith & Robert (1969), teachers may not have enough time for informal progress checks, particularly where classes are large, and where teachers and children are required to cover a certain amount of material during a prescribed time period. This instructional inflexibility does not allow the teacher to pace the program according to the children's important educational and psychological characteristics. It is unfortunate indeed that a numbers of teachers find themselves obligated to meet such restricting demands that adjusting instruction according to individual differences of students is completely forgotten.

Smith & Robert (1969) also stated that it is difficult to stimulate teachers to become skilled in the use of informal diagnostic procedures because most university and teacher-training college programs do not provide opportunities for learning informal classroom evaluation. Many colleges and universities require prospective teachers to complete a course in measurement and evaluation; however this course typically focuses on formal techniques of measurement, some of which may require administration and interpretation by trained clinicians. Less attention is given to observing the behavior of children within the ongoing class. Thus, many teachers do not develop sensitivity to techniques which might be used for evaluating behavior in dynamic setting. They are not trained to see the relationships between certain behavior and other events, or to separate a simple relationship from a clear case of cause and effect. A child might have a reading problem and do poorly in spelling because of reversals caused by visualization difficulty. Here the reading problem does not necessarily cause the spelling difficulty, or vice versa; both problems occur as the result of a third variable, which in this case is an ability to make use of visual stimuli. An unalert teacher could erroneously interpret poor achievement in reading and spelling in some cause and effect fashion, and remain unaware of the influence of this third active variable.

3. The Current Study

The current study is a quantitative case study which focuses on the issues and challenges that primary school teachers encounter in Malaysian schools. Collecting quantitative data is chosen as our research method since it requires a formal, objective, and systematic process in which numerical data are utilized to obtain information.

3.1 Participant Recruitment

To look for potential participants, the first author asked for a name list from her father- En. Mohd Sabri bin Abu Hasan, who works in Pejabat Pelajaran Daerah (PPD) Perak Tengah. It was done because she wanted to select the 100 participants carefully. As both her parents are teachers, the first author has adapted quite well to her surrounding and known most of the 'experienced' teachers named in the list and their achievements in schools. This advantage has enabled her to choose the best participants for this research (the teachers who had been teaching for 25 years and more).

3.2 Data Collection and Analysis

Data collection began in late August of 2010 and ended in late September 2010. Data were collected when the first author went to 7 different schools in Perak Tengah (based on the list) and distributed the questionnaire. The schools are SK Bota Kanan, SK Titi Gantong, SK Seri Iskandar, SK Padang Changkat, SK Bota Kiri, SK Serikaya and SK Layang-Layang Kanan, respectively. This study will mainly focus on the data related to the focal participants' issues and challenges encountered when implementing assessment for learning in Malaysian primary schools.

4. Findings

Questionnaire:

Name: …………………………………… Sex: Male / Female

School: ………………………………………………

Issues and Challenges in implementing Assessment FOR Learning in Malaysian Primary Classrooms

Rate the items below according to your experience. Tick only 1 choice for each item below.

Self-Assessment

(for Classroom Teachers)

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Sometimes

Agree

Strongly Agree

1.

It is challenging to assess a diverse classroom with mixed gender and races.

0

10

5

0

85

2.

I am 100% confident that what I assess is accurate

75

15

10

0

0

3.

I investigate my student's background first and use them as a guide for my assessment.

0

5

10

70

15

4.

I am convinced that the indicators which I use to assess my students are correct.

5

75

10

10

0

5.

I have enough time to evaluate all my students.

80

10

5

5

0

6.

All the teachers in this school use the same formative assessment method.

90

5

5

0

0

7.

When I was a trainee teacher, I was trained to construct test items for formative assessment.

70

10

0

20

0

8.

I view myself as a competent psychologist for children even though I have no qualification in related fields.

0

5

10

75

10

4.2.1 The Analysis of Survey Data

Self-Assessment

(for Classroom Teachers)

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Sometimes

Agree

Strongly Agree

1.

It is challenging to assess a diverse classroom with mixed gender and races.

0%

10%

5%

0%

85%

2.

I am 100% confident that what I assess is accurate

75%

15%

10%

0%

0%

3.

I investigate my student's background first and use them as a guide for my assessment.

0%

5%

10%

70%

15%

4.

I am convinced that the indicators which I use to assess my students are correct.

5%

75%

10%

10%

0%

5.

I have enough time to evaluate all my students.

80%

10%

5%

5%

0%

6.

All the teachers in this school use the same formative assessment method.

90%

5%

5%

0%

0%

7.

When I was a trainee teacher, I was trained to construct test items for formative assessment.

70%

10%

0%

20%

0%

8.

I view myself as a competent psychologist for children even though I have no qualification in related fields.

0%

5%

10%

75%

10%

4.2.2 Issues and Challenges in Assessment for Learning

4.2.2.1 Item 1

Item 1: It is challenging to assess a diverse classroom with mixed gender and races.

Item 1

For Item 1: It is challenging to assess a diverse classroom with mixed gender and races, 85% of the teachers answered strongly agree, 10% of them answered disagree while only 5% answered sometimes.

4.2.2.2 Item 2

Item 2: I am 100% confident that what I assess is accurate.

Item 2

For Item 2: I am 100% confident that what I assess is accurate, 75% of the teachers answered strongly disagree, 15% of them answered disagree and while only 10% answered sometimes.

4.2.2.3 Item 3

Item 3: I investigate my student's background first and use them as a guide for my assessment.

Item 3

For Item 3: I investigate my student's background first and use them as a guide for my assessment, 70% of the teachers answered agree, 15% of them answered strongly agree, 10% answered sometimes and 10% answered disagree.

4.2.2.4 Item 4

Item 4: I am convinced that the indicators which I use to assess my students are correct.

Item 4

For Item 4: I am convinced that the indicators which I use to assess my students are correct, 75% of the teachers answered disagree, 10% of them answered agree, 10% answered sometimes and 5% answered strongly disagree.

4.2.2.5 Item 5

Item 5: I have enough time to evaluate all my students.

Item 5

For Item 5: I have enough time to evaluate all my students, 80% of the teachers answered strongly disagree, 10% of them answered disagree, 5% answered sometimes and only 5 % answered agree.

4.2.2.6 Item 6

Item 6: All the teachers in this school use the same formative assessment method.

Item 6

For Item 6: All the teachers in this school use the same formative assessment method, 90 % of the teachers answered strongly disagree, 5% of them answered disagree and 5% answered sometimes.

4.2.2.7 Item 7

Item 7: When I was a trainee teacher, I was trained to construct test items for formative assessment.

Item 7

For Item 7: When I was a trainee teacher, I was trained to construct test items for formative assessment, 70% of the teachers answered strongly disagree, 20% of them answered agree and 10% answered disagree.

4.2.2.8 Item 8

Item 8: I view myself as competent psychologist for children even though I have no qualification in related fields.

Item 8

For Item 8: I view myself as a competent psychologist for children even though I have no qualification in related fields, 75% of the teachers answered agree, 10% answered agree, 10% answered sometimes and only 5% answered disagree.

5. Discussion

For Item 1, almost all the teachers agree that it is quite a challenge to assess a diverse classroom with mixed gender and races. This is because they are afraid that this diversity may affect their judgments. For instance, they might have different impression on students and thus might not be fair to certain gender or races. As said by Tizard et al (1988); Bennett et al (1984) & Hart et al (1989), the gender, social class and appearance of the child can have a stereotyping effect on teachers' judgment.

For Item 2, the teachers also think that what they assess is not completely accurate. It is a challenge for them as they realize that every student have their own characteristics and level of knowledge. Teachers know that they are not able to predict accurately student's future potential or even their current level of knowledge. Tizard et al (1988); Bennett et al (1984) & Hart et al (1989), draw attention to the fact that primary school teachers are not particularly accurate in estimating what children know, their future potential, or even how they rank with respect to each other.

For Item 3, most of the teachers investigate their students' backgrounds and use them as a guide for their assessment even though they have not met the students yet. This is a very serious issue as it can affect the validity of their assessment. According to Airasian (1988), this can cause the teacher to have 'observer prejudgment'. This refers to situations in which a teacher's prior knowledge, first impressions, or personal prejudices stereotypes interfere with the ability to make a fair and objective assessment of a pupil. When this happens, the validity of the assessment is reduced. Being labeled and stereotyped without fair chance to show one's true characteristics can injure pupils and inhibit their learning.

For Item 4, 80 percent of the teachers are not convinced that the indicators which they use to assess their students are correct. This is another issue that the teachers are facing. They know that using the wrong indicators to assess their students may lower the validity of their assessment. According to Airasian (1988), this is called logical errors. When teachers select the wrong indicators to assess a pupil's characteristics, it can lower the validity of their assessments. A logical error occurs when teachers mistakenly assume that the behavior they observe provide information about the pupil's characteristics they wish to describe. For example, teachers observe samples of pupil's behavior and use those samples to form perceptions of the pupil's true behavior pattern. The issue that comes in teacher assessment is how well the observed sample represent the pupil's true behavior pattern.

For Item 5, almost all of the teachers (90%) in the schools think that they do not have the sufficient time to evaluate all their students. This is a challenge to them as the spontaneity of informal observation limits what teachers are able to see and what pupils are willing to show. The time available to observe pupils is often brief, since attention must be distributed among many pupils and classroom activities. This lack of time for prolonged observation reduces the opportunity to perceive stable and typical pupil behavior patterns. The fewer the opportunities to observe a pupil, the more difficult it is to judge whether the observed behavior is typical behavior. In short, the sample of behavior that is observed under these circumstances may not be a reliable indicator of a pupil's typical behavior (Airasian, 1988). Smith (1969) also said that teachers may not have enough time for informal progress checks, particularly where classes are large, and where teachers and children are required to cover a certain amount of material during a prescribed time period. This instructional inflexibility does not allow the teacher to pace the program according to the children's important educational and psychological characteristics. It is unfortunate indeed that a numbers of teachers find themselves obligated to meet such restricting demands that adjusting instruction according to individual differences of students is completely forgotten.

For Item 6, almost all the teachers (95%) in this survey deny that they use the same formative assessment method. This is an issue that has been happening not only in the district, but almost in every school in Malaysia. The assessments in the classrooms are decided by individual teachers, so there is likely no standard method for each teacher in the school. Besides that, at school level there are different assessment approaches, and it is quite likely that there is a variety of practice within individual schools. Murphy (1987) suggests that it 'seems to be fairly typical for primary schools not to have an explicitly stated whole-school assessment policy'. The policy is rather to let individual teachers adopt their own approach; where informal assessments are made, the recording of these may well be brief. A study of record-keeping in primary schools by (Cliff et al, 1981) found that quite often records provided only very partial information about the child's achievements.

For Item 7, 80% of the teachers participated in the survey admitted that when they were a trainee teacher, they were not trained for formative assessment. It is a challenge for them to perform observation in the classrooms when they do not have the knowledge about it. Smith & Robert (1969) stated that it is difficult to stimulate teachers to become skilled in the use of informal diagnostic procedures because most university and teacher-training college programs do not provide opportunities for learning informal classroom evaluation. Many colleges and universities require prospective teachers to complete a course in measurement and evaluation; however this course typically focuses on formal techniques of measurement, some of which may require administration and interpretation by trained clinicians. Less attention is given to observing the behavior of children within the ongoing class. Thus, many teachers do not develop sensitivity to techniques which might be used for evaluating behavior in dynamic setting. They are not trained to see the relationships between certain behavior and other events, or to separate a simple relationship from a clear case of cause and effect. A child might have a reading problem and do poorly in spelling because of reversals caused by visualization difficulty. Here the reading problem does not necessarily cause the spelling difficulty, or vice versa; both problems occur as the result of a third variable, which in this case is an ability to make use of visual stimuli. An unalert teacher could erroneously interpret poor achievement in reading and spelling in some cause and effect fashion, and remain unaware of the influence of this third active variable.

For Item 8, 85% of the teachers in this school view themselves as competent psychologist for children even though they have no qualification in the related field. This is another issue that can happen when teachers are overconfident with their observing skills. Smith & Robert (1969) stated that as teachers become skillful in diagnosing the patterns of strengths and weaknesses in children, there is some danger in their beginning to view themselves as competent school psychologists or clinicians. Therefore, it is important that teachers understand their limits and their abilities to diagnose educational difficulties. To do otherwise violates ethical principles of psychology and education, and could deleteriously influence a child's educational, psychological, or social life in a very dramatic way.

6. Conclusion

Assessment for learning is not used to evaluate learning but rather to help learners learn better, and it does so by helping both pupils and teachers to see: the learning goals and criteria, where each learner is in relation to the goals, where they need to go next, and ways to get there.

Thus, this research focuses to reveal the issues and challenges faced by the teachers while applying 'assessment for learning' in Malaysian primary schools. By identifying the difficulties in carrying out formative assessments, teachers will then become more aware of how pupils learn and become more engaged with pupils in the learning process.

No doubt, it is vital to address the issues and challenges confronted by the teachers in their teaching and learning process, however there are other needs which also warrant attention. Pupils could differ tremendously in the affective and social dimensions, which may directly or indirectly impact the pupils' academic performances. Therefore, it can be difficult to gauge how best to do formative assessments with groups of pupils who may be at different stages of development. More thoughts should be given to provide opportunities for multiple assessments because students, who often feel they could do more, will work once they have seen the formative feedback and would like the chance to have another go. More thoughts should also be given to how these issues and challenges can be used more flexibly to deal with diversity identified.

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge and extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following persons who have made the completion of this research proposal possible:

Our lecturer, DR. Rasheed Saad, for his vital encouragement and support.

All teachers in Perak Tengah district from SK Bota Kanan, SK Titi Gantong, SK Seri Iskandar, SK Padang Changkat, SK Bota Kiri, SK Serikaya and SK Layang-Layang Kanan who participated in our survey, for their contributions in advancing the project.

All Faculty of Education members and staffs

Most especially to our families and friends

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