Language Teachers’ Conceptions of Assessment: A Chilean Perspective

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18th May 2020 Linguistics Reference this

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Chapter One Introduction

 

The purpose of this chapter is to present the current study. This introduction has been divided into four sub-sections: overview, aims of the study, research settings and organization of the dissertation.

 

1.1  Overview

 

Educational research has put forward the difficulties of implementing new forms of assessment, especially those which aim to promote assessment for learning (Brown, Lake, & Matters, 2009; Stiggins, 2005). A relevant amount of research in this area deals with teachers’ assessment practices and a considerable number explores grading practices, rather than studying which beliefs are likely to be responsible for these practices (Duncan & Noonan, 2007; Xu & Liu, 2009; Simon et al., 2010). Most of these studies have reached the conclusion that attention on teachers’ beliefs and conceptions are necessary to understand these difficulties. Results have highlighted the important role of teachers’ conceptions as one of the key elements that influence decisions made in the classroom (Sato & Kleinsasser, 2004; Remesal, 2007).

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As a result, in the last two decades approaches to investigate teachers’ conceptions of assessment have been developed (Brown, 2004; Davis & Neitzel, 2011; Karp & Woods, 2008; Remesal, 2007). These studies have allowed the development of a continuum of beliefs and conceptions about the purposes of assessment, which is composed of extreme pedagogical purposes, mixed purposes, extreme accounting purposes of assessment and an additional section where assessment is seen as irrelevant (Barnes, Fives, & Dacey, 2015; Remesal, 2007). These studies have also allowed to visualize the different conceptions of teachers who are placed in low and high assessment contexts, and how the cultural and the contextual factor play a significant role in the shaping of teachers’ conceptions of assessment. (Brown, 2008; Brown & Remesal, 2012, Fulmer, Lee, & Tan, 2015; Harris & Brown, 2009; Segers & Tilemma, 2011).

However, there are few studies which address differences of conceptions of assessment between pre-service and in-service language teachers and the implications that these differences may have for the implementation of changes in language teaching policies. Given the relevance of conceptions of assessment in the process of teaching and the changes that language educational policies are experiencing in Latin American countries like Chile, it is of great importance to visualise how these two groups of teachers conceive conceptions as to set the bases for future effective language assessment policies and as a result, for language teaching.

1.2  Aims of the study

 

The purpose of the current study is to investigate assessment practices and conceptions of assessment among pre-service and in-service language teachers in Chile. This study will allow to identify which types of assessment are used by pre-service and in-service language teachers and which are their views on this topic. Likewise, results will enable to make comparisons between different language assessment contexts and help to determine where are Chilean language teachers placed in terms of low and high-stake assessment contexts. Finally, the current study aims to provide a baseline description of the existing assessment practices which may be used to ensure effective implementation of educational reform and help to shape effective assessment language policies in Chile.

 

1.3  Research settings and scope of the study

 

The current study focused on pre-service and in-service language teachers from a public accredited university located in Santiago of Chile during the month of June and July 2019. The sample of pre-service language teachers consisted of 89 students who were in their last year of their teaching language training, and at the same time were doing their final internship. For the group of in-service language teachers, a total of 101 participants were part of this study. The condition for this group was that these teachers had graduated from university at least five years ago and were currently working as language teachers in any educational level. Additionally, 3 pre-service and 3 in-service language teachers were interviewed to gain a deeper insight into the questionnaire results. Questionnaires were submitted online using survey platform Qualtrics while interviews were conducted through video-calling software Skype.

1.4  Organisation of the dissertation

 

This dissertation is organized into five chapters. In chapter one, a short introduction to research background and the reasons for conducting this study are put forward. Chapter two presents the literary review where the construct of conceptions and assessment are defined. Previous studies and their key issues are analysed and discussed as well. Chapter three focuses on the research context and methods used in this study. This chapter provides a detailed description of the Chilean educational language teaching system along with an explanation of how mixed methods were used for collecting data for this research. After that, in chapter four, results are presented, analysed and used to answer the research questions. Finally, this dissertation concludes with chapter five where relevant issues to this study are discussed, along with the implications of the results for the research context. This chapter concludes with the limitations of the study and makes suggestions for further research in this area.

Chapter Two Literary Review

2.1 Introduction

This chapter presents the literary review for this study. This section is divided into three subsections: conceptions, assessment and teachers’ conceptions of assessment. The first subsection provides a definition and a detailed explanation on the benefits of using conceptions when studying teachers’ thoughts. Then, it explores the construct of assessment from a language teaching perspective, while the last part of this section puts forward the most relevant conceptions of assessment studies along with their results.

2.2. Conceptions 

Conceptions are defined as a general mental structure which includes beliefs, meanings, concepts, proposition, rules, mental images, preferences, among others (Thompson, 1992). This definition informs this dissertation.

To understand the structure features of conceptions is necessary to explore the research into concepts. According to previous studies (Bromme, 2003; Ertmer, 2005; Jonassen, 2005), debate on this topic mainly deals with whether concepts are systematic and organized or they are unsystematic and disorganized. To start with, Goswami (1998) points out that concepts are abstract, coherent, and causal-explanatory systems that allow the identification of a domain and are far more complex constructs than surface features. This would imply that concepts have organized structures or beliefs about specific domains, along with theories and rules on how to include or exclude content from a domain (Brown, 2008). Likewise, concepts would record people’s attitudes to a domain, which in their functioning, articulate and guide the experience of predicting and providing meaning to a phenomenon (Flavell, Miller, & Miller, 2002).

On the other hand, Clark (1986) has indicated that teachers have inconsistent and imperfect ways of thinking as many of the problems that they face are issues that do not have a suitable solution for. As a result, this statement may indicate that conceptions would not be the correct construct to study teachers’ thinking as conceptions have been labelled as systematic and organized. However, this is just true for the systematic view of concepts. Informational atomism (Fodor, 1998) indicates that mental representations are made of contradictory concepts as these concepts are stored in different pieces in our brain (diSessa, 1988). This suggests that a teacher does not have a rigid structure where different parts or definitions are related to one domain; it means that concepts are kept in certain experiences of things that stimulate that concept (Brown, 2008). This shows that a teacher could have one concept of a phenomenon in one context and a different concept of the same phenomenon in another context (Brown, 2008). This view also matches Abelson’s (1979) description of belief system as a non-consensual process, meaning that what a person believes does not have to match with other parts of that person believes in, creating unconscious contradictions. Clark (1988) claims that most of what a teacher thinks of is obtained from many sources, such as generalization from personal experiences, belies, values, biases, prejudices, among others, meaning that an atomistic view of concepts could be a useful construct to report teachers’ experiences, as long as this construct is understood as disjointed, disorganized and inconsistent (Brown, 2008). Therefore, this dissertation agrees with the notion that conceptions are not stored in an organised mental structure, but they are locked in different segments of the brain, highlighting the statement that conceptions are imperfect and inconsistent.

Additionally, Larsson (1984) has established that conceptions are useful when it comes to characterize how things appear to a person or a group of people. It is important to notice that conceptions are not scientific truths, they are not highly theoretical conceptualizations of what something is or appear to be (Brown, 2008), rather they can be seen as phenomenological primitives (p-prims), a concept coined by Sessa (1993). P-prims are defined as knowledge structures which are minimal abstractions of phenomena and normally involve two parts; an observed phenomenon and a and explanation of how these phenomena work (Sessa, 1993). It must be noticed that p-prims are phenomenological, in the sense that they are interpretations of reality mostly primitive, as meaning emerging from these knowledge structures is often based on rudimentary self-explanation (Sessa, 1993).

The relevance of p-prims to conceptions is that these cannot be deconstructed into simpler units as they are elemental components which orientate how human beings understand, relate and make decisions about reality (Brown, 2008). An example to visualize how p-prims influence a person’ life is the one presented in Braun and Mislevy’s article (2005) on intuitive test theory. This article argues that most people think that the score of a test is the sum of all the items answered correctly, as it is assumed that all items have the same level of validity and accuracy when it comes to performance, knowledge or the skills that are being tested (Braun & Mislevy, 2005). However, as it may be observed when making progress in school life, this is not the case how tests are designed; items do not have same level of difficulty and their constructs do not measure the same parts of a specific domain (Braun & Mislevy, 2005). Thus, what has been learnt from early experiences, regarding test constructions, is said to be a procedure that works well and following that logic, it should be true (Brown, 2008). This is one of the p-prims on test score that it is taken by many people as they progress through education (Brown, 2008), illustrating the fact that p-prims as early knowledge structures play a major role in what human beings think, eventually influencing a person’s conceptions of categories.

As a result, conceptions only represent what a person experiences about a certain domain at any one time, meaning that conceptions can be erroneous or incomplete, however they still make sensesof what a person knows, believes, thinks and feels about reality (Brown, 2008). Likewise, conceptions are highly aligned with the phenomenographic research which has explored how people view and approach the experiences of their personal worlds (Purdie, Hattie, and Douglas, 1996). Research by Marton (1988, 1984a) indicates that phenomenography starts by knowing person’s experiences, and their perceptions and interpretations of their experiences rather than with some clear and objective reality. After this initial exploration has been completed, it creates categories for the concepts that enclose a person’s interpretation of their experiences in order to identify categories and ideas which can be shared by other participants (Marton, 1988, 1994a). Furthermore, the construction of concepts by phenomenography cannot be wrong or mistaken, as they have to be seen as subjective theories of a phenomenon that a person or group has, which is similar to what it is seen in a conception (Brown, 2008).

 Concepts, and for extension conceptions have some common characteristics. To begin with, concepts are used to express human purposes and intentions to organized peoples’ world (Brown, 2008). This is expressed using language and specifically through metaphors (Brown, 2008). This process implies choosing language and concepts which closely express their mental representations of a phenomenon (Elbaz, 1983), meaning that concepts do not stand only for how a person understands the time but also indicate how a person tries to behave in the real world (Colapietro, 2006). Another relevant characteristic of concepts is that they can be classified into different domains which are shaped by the way groups of people understand, represent and try to experience the world, meaning that the power of concepts is totally based on their expressions through metaphors, and how these metaphors are associated with real physical experiences and observations (Brown, 2008). Regarding the elements that compound a domain within a conception, it can be said that they are formed by an evaluate and affective component (Abelson, 1979). A conception has an emotional attitude toward a phenomenon and at the same time an evaluation of this phenomenon, thus conceptions are marked by being personal interpretation of what a phenomenon is, and which are the attitudes to take toward the phenomena (Brown, 2008).

As a result, conceptions only represent what a person experiences about a certain domain at any one time, meaning that conceptions can be erroneous or incomplete, however they still make senses of what a person knows, believes, thinks and feels about reality (Brown, 2008). Likewise, conceptions are highly aligned with the phenomenographic research which has explored how people view and approach the experiences of their personal worlds (Purdie, Hattie, and Douglas, 1996). Research by Marton (1988, 1984a) indicates that phenomenography starts by knowing person’s experiences, and their perceptions and interpretations of their experiences rather than with some clear and objective reality. After this initial exploration has been completed, it creates categories for the concepts that enclose a person’s interpretation of their experiences in order to identify categories and ideas which can be shared by other participants (Marton, 1988, 1994a). Furthermore, the construction of concepts by phenomenography cannot be wrong or mistaken, as they have to be seen as subjective theories of a phenomenon that a person or group has, which is similar to what it is seen in a conception (Brown, 2008).

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 The relationship between knowledge and belief has been a relevant topic of discussion in educational research, which is why it is necessary to provide a brief definition of these two constructs to fully understand the impact they have on the construct of conceptions. Nespor (1987) suggests that belief systems are disputable, more inflexible and less dynamic than knowledge systems. He adds that knowledge systems are open to evaluation and critical examination, while beliefs do not, and at the same time reports that knowledge system information is kept semantically, while beliefs are locked in episodic memory with information that comes from experience or cultural sources (Nespor, 1987). This is also supported by Roehler, Duffy, Hermann, Conley, and Johnson (1988) as they argue that beliefs are static and do not change in a teacher’s mind regardless of the situation. They add that knowledge is fluid and can evolve as new experiences interpreted and incorporated into a teachers’ schemata. In an article by Ernest (1989), it is suggested that knowledge is the cognitive outcome of thought, while belief is said to be the affective outcome, however, Ernest (1989) also indicates that beliefs have a significant cognitive component. Thus, the use of conception allows to provide a more general structure of mental representations (Thompson, 1992) along with the development of frameworks for describing teachers and students’ overall perception about phenomena (Barnes et al, 2015; Brown, 2008).

Finally, studies have shown that concepts which are obtained from experiences of reality have shown resistant to educational change (Pajares, 1992; Thompson, 1992), meaning that teachers would not change their teaching behaviour unless they see their practices are collapsing after they had incorporated adjustments (Brown, 2008). Brown (2008) pointed out some of the sources where resistance to conceptual change seems to come from:

  • The ‘in-pieces’ feature of concepts, meaning that they are isolated from each other producing that people cannot be aware of their inconsistencies.
  • The invisibility of concepts, meaning that concepts are implicit, so it is difficult to visualize peoples’ conceptual understanding, they are rather automatic, habitual and hardly examined.
  • The experiential and episodic nature of concepts
  • The effectiveness of exiting conceptions; why would somebody change their understanding of a process now if it has always done it through intuition?
  • Cognitive and personality features of a person
  • Lack of ability to make inferences about social behaviour, attributing behaviour to disposition rather than situations.

2.3 Assessment

 

From a general perspective, assessment is defined as the process of measuring students’ performance on a specific task to make inferences about their abilities; it can take different forms which include tests, quizzes, interviews, written samples, observations, and so on (Coombe, 2018). In language teaching, assessment is understood as a systematic process of evaluating and measuring data and information about the knowledge, understanding and ability that students have, with the objective of improving their language learning processes and development (Coombe, 2018), which is the definition that informs this dissertation. This construct has become a key element when it comes to teaching. Research has proved that assessment influences significantly students’ learning in different ways (Scouller, 1998, Gibbs, 1999; Elwood & Klenowski, 2002; Black et al, 2002; Ramsden, 2004; Simms & George, 2014).

Scouller (1998) analysed the influence of assessment methods on students’ approaches to two different types of evaluations. Her results indicated that students used higher order intellectual skills and deeper learning approaches when it came to essay writing, while lower level of cognitive processing and surface learning approaches were used to complete multiple choice questions (MCQ), meaning that students modified their learning behaviour in accordance with the type of assessment. Gibbs (1999) illustrated through case examples how assessment can be used to strategically change students’ learning behaviour, while Ramsden (2004) effective case studies put forward indications on how to use assessment as an improvement tool.

Simms and George (2014) stated that assessment was not a polarizing factor, as it should be incorporated in daily teaching as a unifying theme that places this construct beyond technique, supporting the perspective that assessment is a constant process that occurs in each lesson and it is conceived in the feedback experience that take place when teaching, aiming for an understanding of assessment as a formative process incorporated in the learning and teaching context. All these studies seem to agree with the idea that assessment is a powerful tool that shapes how much, which approach and what students learn, determining which form of knowledge and cognitive abilities students will utilize based on what they are asked to demonstrate (Frannson, 1977).

Elwood and Klenowski (2002) showed that assessment is the starting point for better learning based on the creation of a community of understanding in relation to assessment criteria and a common understanding and interpretation of what those criteria meant. Elwood and Klenowski (2002) designed a module for MA students which was based on issues-based approach to assessments which had a pedagogical approach that relied on the use of steps to clarify assessment criteria from the day one of the module. The objective of these steps was to create a shared understanding of the assessment criteria as a way to improve learning and put forward the notion that effective learning must start from a fully understood concept of assessment (Elwood & Klenowski, 2002).

Black et al (2002) analysed 19 studies which provided empirical and sound evidence to understand the overall impact of assessment on students’ motivation. This study found that one of the impacts that tests had on students was the reduction in self-esteem of those students who did not have good results, especially when these tests were framed in high stakes contexts. Additionally, it was observed that the repetition and use of tests made students aware of the importance of this type of instrument, producing the development of test-taking strategies in these students, which did not help them to develop high order thinking (Black et al, 2002). Accordingly, the analysis showed that teachers were mainly adopting a teaching style that prioritised the transmission of knowledge, resulting in an emphasis on the subjects tested at the expense of personal and social development (Black et al, 2002). Finally, implications to teacher professional development are put forward, highlighting the awareness that teachers must have to identify the limited validity of tests and other types of assessment and how tests results can be used to maximise instances of positive impacts on students’ motivation (Black et al, 2002).

As it was proved that assessment plays a key role in the teaching context, educational institutions have witnessed how assessment has been used as the main tool to achieve new roles designed by policy-makers (Stiggins, 2005). Stiggins (2005) put forward that some indicators of these changes are expressed in the increase of the frequency of summative assessments, use of data from these assessments more effectively and the use of assessment for learning, which aims to provide evidence of students’ progress in their knowledge and skills framed in the context assessment standards. In language classes, Fulcher (2012) stated that during the twenty-century assessment and testing responsibilities have been increased on teachers as a result of a sustained interest in language assessment as a policy tool, the use of language tests to make decision concerning immigration issues, and the increasing attention given to classroom assessment in language modules due to the necessity of countries to be part of a capitalist globalised economy. Thus, language teachers are now required to obtain information on students’ progress, use this data to modify their teaching practices and at the same time provide feedback to students (Shepard, 2000).

As assessment policies have been introduced into school systems, tensions have increased between assessment practices and learning objectives as conditions within school contexts have not allowed teachers to fulfil new activities (Gebril, 2017). Brown (2011) argues that one of reasons why assessment policies fail in certain contexts is the lack of cooperation in the proposed new usage of assessment which can be avoided by visualizing how assessment is understood by teachers.

2.4 Teachers’ conceptions of assessment

 

 Research on teachers’ conceptions of assessment has been highly influenced by Brown’s studies (2004, 2006). In Brown’s 2004 study, 525 school teachers and managers completed a 50-item Teachers’ Conceptions of Assessment (COA-III) questionnaire. This questionnaire was based on four main purpose-defined conceptions of assessment: (1) assessment improves teacher instruction and student learning by providing quality information for decision-making, (2) assessment make students accountable for their learning; (3) schools are made accountable through assessment; (4) assessment is irrelevant to the work of teachers and the life of students (Brown, 2004). Three of these purposes were identified in previous pieces of research (Torrance & Pryor, 1998; Warren & Nisbet, 1999) while the irrelevancy feature of assessment was put forward by Brown (2004).

The first purpose of assessment is based on the notion that assessment is useful to improve students’ learning and the quality of the teaching (Black & William, 1998). As for this to be true, it is necessary for assessment to describe students’ performance and that the information of students’ performance be reliable and accurate (Brown, 2004). Techniques include in this purpose for assessment range from informal teachers’ judgements to formal assessment tools aimed to identify content and process of student learning. The second conception of assessment is that students are held accountable for their learning and performances using different types of assessment, which is expressed in teachers grading students, checking their students’ performance based on fixed criteria and evaluations related entry selection to higher educational institutions (Brown, 2004). Likewise, the third purpose of assessment is related to teachers’, educational institutions’ or systems’ being accountable (Firestone et al, 1998). The main purpose of this conception is to demonstrate and evaluate if institutions are providing a good quality of education, depending on the educational and political context, and to sanction schools and teachers who do not reach required standards (Firestone et al, 1998). Additionally, this conception is supported by two rationales; to demonstrate publicly that schools and teachers are providing quality education (Hershberg, 2002) and improving quality of teaching and instruction (Linn, 200). Finally, the last conception is that assessment, understood as a formal process of evaluating students’ performance, is not necessary in teaching and learning, as teachers can use their knowledge of students and their understanding of the curriculum and pedagogy to conduct an intuitive evaluation, which takes place in daily interactions with students (Brown, 2004). Another reason why assessment may be refused is because it may inhibit and restrict teachers’ autonomy and professionalism, redirecting the real purpose for teaching from students’ learning to having students performed well in standardized evaluations (Dixon, 1999).

Brown’s study (2004) showed that New Zealand teachers agreed with the conceptions that assessment is useful to improve teaching and learning and that assessment is also necessary to make schools accountable, while rejecting the conception that assessment was irrelevant. Brown’s (2004) rightly notes that policies which aim to improve quality and quantity must be presented in such a way that association with student accountability is minimized, while teachers’ commitment to improve the teaching of their own students and school accountability are maximized, as to match what New Zealand teachers identity with, resulting in less resistance when new policies are introduced in the school system (Brown, 2004). A relevant issue that has been raised since this study was put forward is the cross-cultural differences in teachers’ conceptions of assessment, suggesting that teachers’ conceptions of assessment are different across contexts and that these differences are the reflection of teachers’ internalization of their society’s cultural practices (Brown & Harris, 2009; Brown, Lake, & Matters, 2011).

As COA-III was translated and administered in different countries, results showed variations in pattern and strength of agreement for each factor. These differences can be explained by grouping pieces of research in two categories: studies in low-stakes accountability contexts and high-stakes accountability contexts. Countries like New Zealand, Australia, Spain, and the Netherlands can be labelled as low-stakes accountabilities context as they require few compulsory national assessments and most of the decisions made regarding assessment are taken at school level (Brown, 2008; Brown & Remesal, 2012, Harris & Brown, 2009; Segers & Tilemma, 2011). Brown et al. (2011) administered COA-III in the Australian context, obtaining results very similar to the ones of New Zealand. Brown (2011) argues that similarity in results were found as Australian and New Zealand assessment contexts are similar. However, Brown and Remesal (2012) administered COA-III to 996 freshman and sophomore students in their respective teacher preparation program in Spain. Results indicated that the four-factor model did not represent what pre-service teachers’ beliefs structure, as two separate factors emerged from this study (Brown & Remesal, 2012). These new factors were named as “Bad” and “Ignore”, showing that Spanish pre-service teachers did not agree with New Zealand pre-service teachers, as the former conceived assessment as bad while the latter find assessment useful as improvement, school and student accountability. Remesal and Brown (2012) indicated that one of the reasons why Spanish pre-service teachers endorsed the purpose of assessment as bad is because by the time the study was conducted, the government of Spain was piloting regional standardized test at primary levels, which could have produced this negative response to assessment by these pre-service teachers located in Catalonia community. Finally, Segers and Tilemma (2011) found similarities between Dutch and New Zealand teachers’ conceptions of assessment. In their study, 351 Dutch secondary school teachers completed the questionnaire and identified two similar factors with the New Zealand teachers. The concepts that were similar were school accountability and irrelevance, while two new concepts emerged from this study: assessment is used to make instructional decisions and measure high quality skills (Segers & Tillema, 2011). Segers and Tillema concluded that these differences may be attributed to national debate on assessments as a tool to measure higher-order thinking processes.

On the other hand, countries like China, Iran and Egypt can be labelled as high-stakes assessment countries as these three countries use public examinations to determine placement into different levels of education. Brown et al (2009) administered COA-III to teachers in Hong Kong and found out that those teachers who conceived that assessment makes students accountable were likely to believe that assessment could be used to improve teaching. The difference with the studies from New Zealand is seen in the negative correlation between the conception of improvement and student accountability purpose. As a result, in 2011 (Brown, Hui, Yu, & Kennedy) repeated the study but this time included teachers from China. The sample of 1,464 teachers from Hong Kong and China indicated that teachers from these two contexts had similar conceptions of assessment, highlighting the significant place that the improvement purpose had and the negative correlation of this conception with the irrelevance purpose (Brown, Hui, Yu & Kennedy, 2011). Likewise, a study from Iran (Pishghadam & Shayesteh, 2012) which included 103 English language teachers matched Brown’s (2004) four factor model, however differences in the degree of agreement differed from the New Zealand sample. Iranian teachers had a strong correlation between assessment for improvement and assessment for school accountability ((Pishghadam & Shayesteh, 2012). Similarly, Gebril (2017) administered COA-III to 170 pre-service and in-service language teachers in Egypt. His results showed that in-service teachers endorsed the improvement function of assessment more than pre-service teachers and at the same, he found that there was a strong relationship between the evaluative conception of assessment and the improvement conception (Gebril, 2017), which matches with results obtained in China (Brown et all, 2011) and Iran (Pishghadam & Shayesteh, 2012). Teo and Chen (2019) analysed Chinese school teachers’ conceptions of assessment in relation to high and low stake assessments. In their study, they used a modified version of Brown’s questionnaire (2004) but kept its four major factors: improvement, school accountability, student accountability and irrelevance (Teo & Chen, 2019). 1,013 teachers indicated their agreement with most factors in this study, however the conception of assessment as improvement factor for learning and teaching was seen as the most important and had a positive correlation with school accountability.

A different approach to the study of conception of assessment was put forward by Remesal (2007). In her qualitative study, she interviewed 50 primary and school teachers and based on her results developed a model of conception of assessment. This model presented five conceptions about assessment: extreme pedagogical, mixed pedagogical, mixed undefined, mixed accounting, and extreme accounting (Remesal, 2007). The conceptions located in the pedagogical area are related to formative assessment and linked to a vision of assessment as a tool for improvement of teaching and learning, on the other hand, conceptions placed in the accounting area are perceived as assessment as an instrument of social control, aiming to certify students’ final results and expose the professional activity of teachers (Remesal, 2007). Her study concluded that teachers’ conceptions of assessment has to be explored within and across particular context as a to produce strategies of change which are likely to be understood and accepted by those teachers (Remesal, 2007).

Another approach to the study of conceptions of assessment was developed by Davis and Neitzel (2011) in the United States. Their qualitative work included the observation and interviewed of 15 upper-elementary and middle school teachers using self-regulated learning as the tool to examine teachers’ conceptions of assessment (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). Their study identified that teachers’ conceptions of assessment were related to four different audience: teachers, students, parents and “higher-ups”, referred as governmental, state and district level audiences (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). Ten conceptions of assessment were identified within these four audiences; for the teacher audience, results indicated that teaches conceived assessment (1) as a tool to inform and evaluate their instructional moves, (2) identify students who needed more peer and teacher support, (3) to evaluate students learning, identifying if students have acquired academic knowledge and checking understanding and (4) to evaluate students’ investment (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). For the student audience, teacher put forward three conceptions: (5) assessment is useful to hold students accountable, (6) assessment to instruct material, and (7) assessment as a tool to provide feedback to students (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). In the parent audience, teacher only conceived one conception: (8) assessment as a way to inform parents about students’ performance, while in higher up audience teachers expressed two conceptions: (9) assessment as a tool for teacher accountability and (10) the use of assessment as preparation for high-takes testing (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). This research concluded with the statement that there were mismatches between teachers’ assessment practices and the tenets of SRL which happened as teachers are asked to satisfy various assessment audiences whose interests did not match with SRL (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). This study is similar to Remesal’s (2007) in the sense that it aimed to explore teachers’ conceptions of assessment locally to see if teachers’ conceptions matched with teachers’ practices, concluding that the assessment context played an important role in shaping their conceptions of assessments, meaning that differences in teachers’ conceptions of assessment and factors model are likely to be found in different educational systems.

Karp and Woods (2008) examined physical education pre-service teachers’ beliefs about assessment in the United States. Their study employed interviews, surveys and artefacts to obtain pre-service teachers’ conceptions of assessment before, during and after their training formation (Karp & Woods, 2008). Their sample consisted of 17 participants and results indicated that pre-service teachers had different conceptions about the purposes of assessment for teachers and for students. For the teacher group, pre-service teacher expressed that assessment was useful to facilitate learning, to determine where students were in terms of skills and knowledge, to show that students had achieved standards and to evaluate teachers’ effectiveness (Karp & Woods, 2008). In relation to student group, pre-service teachers indicated that assessment was useful to motivate students and show them where they were in relation to curriculum goals (Karp & Woods, 2008). Finally, this study concluded highlighting the influence that existing assessment beliefs from school experiences had in shaping how pre-service teachers conceived assessment in their practices (Karp & Woods, 2008). This was expressed in the resistance found in the incorporation of alternative and authentic assessment methods over traditional forms of assessment (Karp & Woods, 2008).

From this review on different approaches to conceptions of assessment, it can be stated that Brown’s (2004) quantitative line of research has set up the bases on the studies of conceptions by providing a predictive model composed of four main categories which allowed researchers to operate in a conceptual framework which allows them to visualize abstract teachers’ thoughts by placing these constructs into clear and specific categories. However, further research (Segers & Tilemma, 2011; Remesal, 2007) has shown that there is a possibility that Brown’s (2004) predictive model do not match completely with assessment conceptions in specific contexts, proving that to explore successfully teachers’ conceptions of assessment it is required to incorporate qualitative instruments (Davis & Neitzel, 2011; Remesal, 2007) as these insights are useful to incorporate the cultural factor of each assessment context.

Chapter One Introduction

 

The purpose of this chapter is to present the current study. This introduction has been divided into four sub-sections: overview, aims of the study, research settings and organization of the dissertation.

 

1.1  Overview

 

Educational research has put forward the difficulties of implementing new forms of assessment, especially those which aim to promote assessment for learning (Brown, Lake, & Matters, 2009; Stiggins, 2005). A relevant amount of research in this area deals with teachers’ assessment practices and a considerable number explores grading practices, rather than studying which beliefs are likely to be responsible for these practices (Duncan & Noonan, 2007; Xu & Liu, 2009; Simon et al., 2010). Most of these studies have reached the conclusion that attention on teachers’ beliefs and conceptions are necessary to understand these difficulties. Results have highlighted the important role of teachers’ conceptions as one of the key elements that influence decisions made in the classroom (Sato & Kleinsasser, 2004; Remesal, 2007).

As a result, in the last two decades approaches to investigate teachers’ conceptions of assessment have been developed (Brown, 2004; Davis & Neitzel, 2011; Karp & Woods, 2008; Remesal, 2007). These studies have allowed the development of a continuum of beliefs and conceptions about the purposes of assessment, which is composed of extreme pedagogical purposes, mixed purposes, extreme accounting purposes of assessment and an additional section where assessment is seen as irrelevant (Barnes, Fives, & Dacey, 2015; Remesal, 2007). These studies have also allowed to visualize the different conceptions of teachers who are placed in low and high assessment contexts, and how the cultural and the contextual factor play a significant role in the shaping of teachers’ conceptions of assessment. (Brown, 2008; Brown & Remesal, 2012, Fulmer, Lee, & Tan, 2015; Harris & Brown, 2009; Segers & Tilemma, 2011).

However, there are few studies which address differences of conceptions of assessment between pre-service and in-service language teachers and the implications that these differences may have for the implementation of changes in language teaching policies. Given the relevance of conceptions of assessment in the process of teaching and the changes that language educational policies are experiencing in Latin American countries like Chile, it is of great importance to visualise how these two groups of teachers conceive conceptions as to set the bases for future effective language assessment policies and as a result, for language teaching.

1.2  Aims of the study

 

The purpose of the current study is to investigate assessment practices and conceptions of assessment among pre-service and in-service language teachers in Chile. This study will allow to identify which types of assessment are used by pre-service and in-service language teachers and which are their views on this topic. Likewise, results will enable to make comparisons between different language assessment contexts and help to determine where are Chilean language teachers placed in terms of low and high-stake assessment contexts. Finally, the current study aims to provide a baseline description of the existing assessment practices which may be used to ensure effective implementation of educational reform and help to shape effective assessment language policies in Chile.

 

1.3  Research settings and scope of the study

 

The current study focused on pre-service and in-service language teachers from a public accredited university located in Santiago of Chile during the month of June and July 2019. The sample of pre-service language teachers consisted of 89 students who were in their last year of their teaching language training, and at the same time were doing their final internship. For the group of in-service language teachers, a total of 101 participants were part of this study. The condition for this group was that these teachers had graduated from university at least five years ago and were currently working as language teachers in any educational level. Additionally, 3 pre-service and 3 in-service language teachers were interviewed to gain a deeper insight into the questionnaire results. Questionnaires were submitted online using survey platform Qualtrics while interviews were conducted through video-calling software Skype.

1.4  Organisation of the dissertation

 

This dissertation is organized into five chapters. In chapter one, a short introduction to research background and the reasons for conducting this study are put forward. Chapter two presents the literary review where the construct of conceptions and assessment are defined. Previous studies and their key issues are analysed and discussed as well. Chapter three focuses on the research context and methods used in this study. This chapter provides a detailed description of the Chilean educational language teaching system along with an explanation of how mixed methods were used for collecting data for this research. After that, in chapter four, results are presented, analysed and used to answer the research questions. Finally, this dissertation concludes with chapter five where relevant issues to this study are discussed, along with the implications of the results for the research context. This chapter concludes with the limitations of the study and makes suggestions for further research in this area.

Chapter Two Literary Review

2.1 Introduction

This chapter presents the literary review for this study. This section is divided into three subsections: conceptions, assessment and teachers’ conceptions of assessment. The first subsection provides a definition and a detailed explanation on the benefits of using conceptions when studying teachers’ thoughts. Then, it explores the construct of assessment from a language teaching perspective, while the last part of this section puts forward the most relevant conceptions of assessment studies along with their results.

2.2. Conceptions 

Conceptions are defined as a general mental structure which includes beliefs, meanings, concepts, proposition, rules, mental images, preferences, among others (Thompson, 1992). This definition informs this dissertation.

To understand the structure features of conceptions is necessary to explore the research into concepts. According to previous studies (Bromme, 2003; Ertmer, 2005; Jonassen, 2005), debate on this topic mainly deals with whether concepts are systematic and organized or they are unsystematic and disorganized. To start with, Goswami (1998) points out that concepts are abstract, coherent, and causal-explanatory systems that allow the identification of a domain and are far more complex constructs than surface features. This would imply that concepts have organized structures or beliefs about specific domains, along with theories and rules on how to include or exclude content from a domain (Brown, 2008). Likewise, concepts would record people’s attitudes to a domain, which in their functioning, articulate and guide the experience of predicting and providing meaning to a phenomenon (Flavell, Miller, & Miller, 2002).

On the other hand, Clark (1986) has indicated that teachers have inconsistent and imperfect ways of thinking as many of the problems that they face are issues that do not have a suitable solution for. As a result, this statement may indicate that conceptions would not be the correct construct to study teachers’ thinking as conceptions have been labelled as systematic and organized. However, this is just true for the systematic view of concepts. Informational atomism (Fodor, 1998) indicates that mental representations are made of contradictory concepts as these concepts are stored in different pieces in our brain (diSessa, 1988). This suggests that a teacher does not have a rigid structure where different parts or definitions are related to one domain; it means that concepts are kept in certain experiences of things that stimulate that concept (Brown, 2008). This shows that a teacher could have one concept of a phenomenon in one context and a different concept of the same phenomenon in another context (Brown, 2008). This view also matches Abelson’s (1979) description of belief system as a non-consensual process, meaning that what a person believes does not have to match with other parts of that person believes in, creating unconscious contradictions. Clark (1988) claims that most of what a teacher thinks of is obtained from many sources, such as generalization from personal experiences, belies, values, biases, prejudices, among others, meaning that an atomistic view of concepts could be a useful construct to report teachers’ experiences, as long as this construct is understood as disjointed, disorganized and inconsistent (Brown, 2008). Therefore, this dissertation agrees with the notion that conceptions are not stored in an organised mental structure, but they are locked in different segments of the brain, highlighting the statement that conceptions are imperfect and inconsistent.

Additionally, Larsson (1984) has established that conceptions are useful when it comes to characterize how things appear to a person or a group of people. It is important to notice that conceptions are not scientific truths, they are not highly theoretical conceptualizations of what something is or appear to be (Brown, 2008), rather they can be seen as phenomenological primitives (p-prims), a concept coined by Sessa (1993). P-prims are defined as knowledge structures which are minimal abstractions of phenomena and normally involve two parts; an observed phenomenon and a and explanation of how these phenomena work (Sessa, 1993). It must be noticed that p-prims are phenomenological, in the sense that they are interpretations of reality mostly primitive, as meaning emerging from these knowledge structures is often based on rudimentary self-explanation (Sessa, 1993).

The relevance of p-prims to conceptions is that these cannot be deconstructed into simpler units as they are elemental components which orientate how human beings understand, relate and make decisions about reality (Brown, 2008). An example to visualize how p-prims influence a person’ life is the one presented in Braun and Mislevy’s article (2005) on intuitive test theory. This article argues that most people think that the score of a test is the sum of all the items answered correctly, as it is assumed that all items have the same level of validity and accuracy when it comes to performance, knowledge or the skills that are being tested (Braun & Mislevy, 2005). However, as it may be observed when making progress in school life, this is not the case how tests are designed; items do not have same level of difficulty and their constructs do not measure the same parts of a specific domain (Braun & Mislevy, 2005). Thus, what has been learnt from early experiences, regarding test constructions, is said to be a procedure that works well and following that logic, it should be true (Brown, 2008). This is one of the p-prims on test score that it is taken by many people as they progress through education (Brown, 2008), illustrating the fact that p-prims as early knowledge structures play a major role in what human beings think, eventually influencing a person’s conceptions of categories.

As a result, conceptions only represent what a person experiences about a certain domain at any one time, meaning that conceptions can be erroneous or incomplete, however they still make sensesof what a person knows, believes, thinks and feels about reality (Brown, 2008). Likewise, conceptions are highly aligned with the phenomenographic research which has explored how people view and approach the experiences of their personal worlds (Purdie, Hattie, and Douglas, 1996). Research by Marton (1988, 1984a) indicates that phenomenography starts by knowing person’s experiences, and their perceptions and interpretations of their experiences rather than with some clear and objective reality. After this initial exploration has been completed, it creates categories for the concepts that enclose a person’s interpretation of their experiences in order to identify categories and ideas which can be shared by other participants (Marton, 1988, 1994a). Furthermore, the construction of concepts by phenomenography cannot be wrong or mistaken, as they have to be seen as subjective theories of a phenomenon that a person or group has, which is similar to what it is seen in a conception (Brown, 2008).

 Concepts, and for extension conceptions have some common characteristics. To begin with, concepts are used to express human purposes and intentions to organized peoples’ world (Brown, 2008). This is expressed using language and specifically through metaphors (Brown, 2008). This process implies choosing language and concepts which closely express their mental representations of a phenomenon (Elbaz, 1983), meaning that concepts do not stand only for how a person understands the time but also indicate how a person tries to behave in the real world (Colapietro, 2006). Another relevant characteristic of concepts is that they can be classified into different domains which are shaped by the way groups of people understand, represent and try to experience the world, meaning that the power of concepts is totally based on their expressions through metaphors, and how these metaphors are associated with real physical experiences and observations (Brown, 2008). Regarding the elements that compound a domain within a conception, it can be said that they are formed by an evaluate and affective component (Abelson, 1979). A conception has an emotional attitude toward a phenomenon and at the same time an evaluation of this phenomenon, thus conceptions are marked by being personal interpretation of what a phenomenon is, and which are the attitudes to take toward the phenomena (Brown, 2008).

As a result, conceptions only represent what a person experiences about a certain domain at any one time, meaning that conceptions can be erroneous or incomplete, however they still make senses of what a person knows, believes, thinks and feels about reality (Brown, 2008). Likewise, conceptions are highly aligned with the phenomenographic research which has explored how people view and approach the experiences of their personal worlds (Purdie, Hattie, and Douglas, 1996). Research by Marton (1988, 1984a) indicates that phenomenography starts by knowing person’s experiences, and their perceptions and interpretations of their experiences rather than with some clear and objective reality. After this initial exploration has been completed, it creates categories for the concepts that enclose a person’s interpretation of their experiences in order to identify categories and ideas which can be shared by other participants (Marton, 1988, 1994a). Furthermore, the construction of concepts by phenomenography cannot be wrong or mistaken, as they have to be seen as subjective theories of a phenomenon that a person or group has, which is similar to what it is seen in a conception (Brown, 2008).

 The relationship between knowledge and belief has been a relevant topic of discussion in educational research, which is why it is necessary to provide a brief definition of these two constructs to fully understand the impact they have on the construct of conceptions. Nespor (1987) suggests that belief systems are disputable, more inflexible and less dynamic than knowledge systems. He adds that knowledge systems are open to evaluation and critical examination, while beliefs do not, and at the same time reports that knowledge system information is kept semantically, while beliefs are locked in episodic memory with information that comes from experience or cultural sources (Nespor, 1987). This is also supported by Roehler, Duffy, Hermann, Conley, and Johnson (1988) as they argue that beliefs are static and do not change in a teacher’s mind regardless of the situation. They add that knowledge is fluid and can evolve as new experiences interpreted and incorporated into a teachers’ schemata. In an article by Ernest (1989), it is suggested that knowledge is the cognitive outcome of thought, while belief is said to be the affective outcome, however, Ernest (1989) also indicates that beliefs have a significant cognitive component. Thus, the use of conception allows to provide a more general structure of mental representations (Thompson, 1992) along with the development of frameworks for describing teachers and students’ overall perception about phenomena (Barnes et al, 2015; Brown, 2008).

Finally, studies have shown that concepts which are obtained from experiences of reality have shown resistant to educational change (Pajares, 1992; Thompson, 1992), meaning that teachers would not change their teaching behaviour unless they see their practices are collapsing after they had incorporated adjustments (Brown, 2008). Brown (2008) pointed out some of the sources where resistance to conceptual change seems to come from:

  • The ‘in-pieces’ feature of concepts, meaning that they are isolated from each other producing that people cannot be aware of their inconsistencies.
  • The invisibility of concepts, meaning that concepts are implicit, so it is difficult to visualize peoples’ conceptual understanding, they are rather automatic, habitual and hardly examined.
  • The experiential and episodic nature of concepts
  • The effectiveness of exiting conceptions; why would somebody change their understanding of a process now if it has always done it through intuition?
  • Cognitive and personality features of a person
  • Lack of ability to make inferences about social behaviour, attributing behaviour to disposition rather than situations.

2.3 Assessment

 

From a general perspective, assessment is defined as the process of measuring students’ performance on a specific task to make inferences about their abilities; it can take different forms which include tests, quizzes, interviews, written samples, observations, and so on (Coombe, 2018). In language teaching, assessment is understood as a systematic process of evaluating and measuring data and information about the knowledge, understanding and ability that students have, with the objective of improving their language learning processes and development (Coombe, 2018), which is the definition that informs this dissertation. This construct has become a key element when it comes to teaching. Research has proved that assessment influences significantly students’ learning in different ways (Scouller, 1998, Gibbs, 1999; Elwood & Klenowski, 2002; Black et al, 2002; Ramsden, 2004; Simms & George, 2014).

Scouller (1998) analysed the influence of assessment methods on students’ approaches to two different types of evaluations. Her results indicated that students used higher order intellectual skills and deeper learning approaches when it came to essay writing, while lower level of cognitive processing and surface learning approaches were used to complete multiple choice questions (MCQ), meaning that students modified their learning behaviour in accordance with the type of assessment. Gibbs (1999) illustrated through case examples how assessment can be used to strategically change students’ learning behaviour, while Ramsden (2004) effective case studies put forward indications on how to use assessment as an improvement tool.

Simms and George (2014) stated that assessment was not a polarizing factor, as it should be incorporated in daily teaching as a unifying theme that places this construct beyond technique, supporting the perspective that assessment is a constant process that occurs in each lesson and it is conceived in the feedback experience that take place when teaching, aiming for an understanding of assessment as a formative process incorporated in the learning and teaching context. All these studies seem to agree with the idea that assessment is a powerful tool that shapes how much, which approach and what students learn, determining which form of knowledge and cognitive abilities students will utilize based on what they are asked to demonstrate (Frannson, 1977).

Elwood and Klenowski (2002) showed that assessment is the starting point for better learning based on the creation of a community of understanding in relation to assessment criteria and a common understanding and interpretation of what those criteria meant. Elwood and Klenowski (2002) designed a module for MA students which was based on issues-based approach to assessments which had a pedagogical approach that relied on the use of steps to clarify assessment criteria from the day one of the module. The objective of these steps was to create a shared understanding of the assessment criteria as a way to improve learning and put forward the notion that effective learning must start from a fully understood concept of assessment (Elwood & Klenowski, 2002).

Black et al (2002) analysed 19 studies which provided empirical and sound evidence to understand the overall impact of assessment on students’ motivation. This study found that one of the impacts that tests had on students was the reduction in self-esteem of those students who did not have good results, especially when these tests were framed in high stakes contexts. Additionally, it was observed that the repetition and use of tests made students aware of the importance of this type of instrument, producing the development of test-taking strategies in these students, which did not help them to develop high order thinking (Black et al, 2002). Accordingly, the analysis showed that teachers were mainly adopting a teaching style that prioritised the transmission of knowledge, resulting in an emphasis on the subjects tested at the expense of personal and social development (Black et al, 2002). Finally, implications to teacher professional development are put forward, highlighting the awareness that teachers must have to identify the limited validity of tests and other types of assessment and how tests results can be used to maximise instances of positive impacts on students’ motivation (Black et al, 2002).

As it was proved that assessment plays a key role in the teaching context, educational institutions have witnessed how assessment has been used as the main tool to achieve new roles designed by policy-makers (Stiggins, 2005). Stiggins (2005) put forward that some indicators of these changes are expressed in the increase of the frequency of summative assessments, use of data from these assessments more effectively and the use of assessment for learning, which aims to provide evidence of students’ progress in their knowledge and skills framed in the context assessment standards. In language classes, Fulcher (2012) stated that during the twenty-century assessment and testing responsibilities have been increased on teachers as a result of a sustained interest in language assessment as a policy tool, the use of language tests to make decision concerning immigration issues, and the increasing attention given to classroom assessment in language modules due to the necessity of countries to be part of a capitalist globalised economy. Thus, language teachers are now required to obtain information on students’ progress, use this data to modify their teaching practices and at the same time provide feedback to students (Shepard, 2000).

As assessment policies have been introduced into school systems, tensions have increased between assessment practices and learning objectives as conditions within school contexts have not allowed teachers to fulfil new activities (Gebril, 2017). Brown (2011) argues that one of reasons why assessment policies fail in certain contexts is the lack of cooperation in the proposed new usage of assessment which can be avoided by visualizing how assessment is understood by teachers.

2.4 Teachers’ conceptions of assessment

 

 Research on teachers’ conceptions of assessment has been highly influenced by Brown’s studies (2004, 2006). In Brown’s 2004 study, 525 school teachers and managers completed a 50-item Teachers’ Conceptions of Assessment (COA-III) questionnaire. This questionnaire was based on four main purpose-defined conceptions of assessment: (1) assessment improves teacher instruction and student learning by providing quality information for decision-making, (2) assessment make students accountable for their learning; (3) schools are made accountable through assessment; (4) assessment is irrelevant to the work of teachers and the life of students (Brown, 2004). Three of these purposes were identified in previous pieces of research (Torrance & Pryor, 1998; Warren & Nisbet, 1999) while the irrelevancy feature of assessment was put forward by Brown (2004).

The first purpose of assessment is based on the notion that assessment is useful to improve students’ learning and the quality of the teaching (Black & William, 1998). As for this to be true, it is necessary for assessment to describe students’ performance and that the information of students’ performance be reliable and accurate (Brown, 2004). Techniques include in this purpose for assessment range from informal teachers’ judgements to formal assessment tools aimed to identify content and process of student learning. The second conception of assessment is that students are held accountable for their learning and performances using different types of assessment, which is expressed in teachers grading students, checking their students’ performance based on fixed criteria and evaluations related entry selection to higher educational institutions (Brown, 2004). Likewise, the third purpose of assessment is related to teachers’, educational institutions’ or systems’ being accountable (Firestone et al, 1998). The main purpose of this conception is to demonstrate and evaluate if institutions are providing a good quality of education, depending on the educational and political context, and to sanction schools and teachers who do not reach required standards (Firestone et al, 1998). Additionally, this conception is supported by two rationales; to demonstrate publicly that schools and teachers are providing quality education (Hershberg, 2002) and improving quality of teaching and instruction (Linn, 200). Finally, the last conception is that assessment, understood as a formal process of evaluating students’ performance, is not necessary in teaching and learning, as teachers can use their knowledge of students and their understanding of the curriculum and pedagogy to conduct an intuitive evaluation, which takes place in daily interactions with students (Brown, 2004). Another reason why assessment may be refused is because it may inhibit and restrict teachers’ autonomy and professionalism, redirecting the real purpose for teaching from students’ learning to having students performed well in standardized evaluations (Dixon, 1999).

Brown’s study (2004) showed that New Zealand teachers agreed with the conceptions that assessment is useful to improve teaching and learning and that assessment is also necessary to make schools accountable, while rejecting the conception that assessment was irrelevant. Brown’s (2004) rightly notes that policies which aim to improve quality and quantity must be presented in such a way that association with student accountability is minimized, while teachers’ commitment to improve the teaching of their own students and school accountability are maximized, as to match what New Zealand teachers identity with, resulting in less resistance when new policies are introduced in the school system (Brown, 2004). A relevant issue that has been raised since this study was put forward is the cross-cultural differences in teachers’ conceptions of assessment, suggesting that teachers’ conceptions of assessment are different across contexts and that these differences are the reflection of teachers’ internalization of their society’s cultural practices (Brown & Harris, 2009; Brown, Lake, & Matters, 2011).

As COA-III was translated and administered in different countries, results showed variations in pattern and strength of agreement for each factor. These differences can be explained by grouping pieces of research in two categories: studies in low-stakes accountability contexts and high-stakes accountability contexts. Countries like New Zealand, Australia, Spain, and the Netherlands can be labelled as low-stakes accountabilities context as they require few compulsory national assessments and most of the decisions made regarding assessment are taken at school level (Brown, 2008; Brown & Remesal, 2012, Harris & Brown, 2009; Segers & Tilemma, 2011). Brown et al. (2011) administered COA-III in the Australian context, obtaining results very similar to the ones of New Zealand. Brown (2011) argues that similarity in results were found as Australian and New Zealand assessment contexts are similar. However, Brown and Remesal (2012) administered COA-III to 996 freshman and sophomore students in their respective teacher preparation program in Spain. Results indicated that the four-factor model did not represent what pre-service teachers’ beliefs structure, as two separate factors emerged from this study (Brown & Remesal, 2012). These new factors were named as “Bad” and “Ignore”, showing that Spanish pre-service teachers did not agree with New Zealand pre-service teachers, as the former conceived assessment as bad while the latter find assessment useful as improvement, school and student accountability. Remesal and Brown (2012) indicated that one of the reasons why Spanish pre-service teachers endorsed the purpose of assessment as bad is because by the time the study was conducted, the government of Spain was piloting regional standardized test at primary levels, which could have produced this negative response to assessment by these pre-service teachers located in Catalonia community. Finally, Segers and Tilemma (2011) found similarities between Dutch and New Zealand teachers’ conceptions of assessment. In their study, 351 Dutch secondary school teachers completed the questionnaire and identified two similar factors with the New Zealand teachers. The concepts that were similar were school accountability and irrelevance, while two new concepts emerged from this study: assessment is used to make instructional decisions and measure high quality skills (Segers & Tillema, 2011). Segers and Tillema concluded that these differences may be attributed to national debate on assessments as a tool to measure higher-order thinking processes.

On the other hand, countries like China, Iran and Egypt can be labelled as high-stakes assessment countries as these three countries use public examinations to determine placement into different levels of education. Brown et al (2009) administered COA-III to teachers in Hong Kong and found out that those teachers who conceived that assessment makes students accountable were likely to believe that assessment could be used to improve teaching. The difference with the studies from New Zealand is seen in the negative correlation between the conception of improvement and student accountability purpose. As a result, in 2011 (Brown, Hui, Yu, & Kennedy) repeated the study but this time included teachers from China. The sample of 1,464 teachers from Hong Kong and China indicated that teachers from these two contexts had similar conceptions of assessment, highlighting the significant place that the improvement purpose had and the negative correlation of this conception with the irrelevance purpose (Brown, Hui, Yu & Kennedy, 2011). Likewise, a study from Iran (Pishghadam & Shayesteh, 2012) which included 103 English language teachers matched Brown’s (2004) four factor model, however differences in the degree of agreement differed from the New Zealand sample. Iranian teachers had a strong correlation between assessment for improvement and assessment for school accountability ((Pishghadam & Shayesteh, 2012). Similarly, Gebril (2017) administered COA-III to 170 pre-service and in-service language teachers in Egypt. His results showed that in-service teachers endorsed the improvement function of assessment more than pre-service teachers and at the same, he found that there was a strong relationship between the evaluative conception of assessment and the improvement conception (Gebril, 2017), which matches with results obtained in China (Brown et all, 2011) and Iran (Pishghadam & Shayesteh, 2012). Teo and Chen (2019) analysed Chinese school teachers’ conceptions of assessment in relation to high and low stake assessments. In their study, they used a modified version of Brown’s questionnaire (2004) but kept its four major factors: improvement, school accountability, student accountability and irrelevance (Teo & Chen, 2019). 1,013 teachers indicated their agreement with most factors in this study, however the conception of assessment as improvement factor for learning and teaching was seen as the most important and had a positive correlation with school accountability.

A different approach to the study of conception of assessment was put forward by Remesal (2007). In her qualitative study, she interviewed 50 primary and school teachers and based on her results developed a model of conception of assessment. This model presented five conceptions about assessment: extreme pedagogical, mixed pedagogical, mixed undefined, mixed accounting, and extreme accounting (Remesal, 2007). The conceptions located in the pedagogical area are related to formative assessment and linked to a vision of assessment as a tool for improvement of teaching and learning, on the other hand, conceptions placed in the accounting area are perceived as assessment as an instrument of social control, aiming to certify students’ final results and expose the professional activity of teachers (Remesal, 2007). Her study concluded that teachers’ conceptions of assessment has to be explored within and across particular context as a to produce strategies of change which are likely to be understood and accepted by those teachers (Remesal, 2007).

Another approach to the study of conceptions of assessment was developed by Davis and Neitzel (2011) in the United States. Their qualitative work included the observation and interviewed of 15 upper-elementary and middle school teachers using self-regulated learning as the tool to examine teachers’ conceptions of assessment (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). Their study identified that teachers’ conceptions of assessment were related to four different audience: teachers, students, parents and “higher-ups”, referred as governmental, state and district level audiences (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). Ten conceptions of assessment were identified within these four audiences; for the teacher audience, results indicated that teaches conceived assessment (1) as a tool to inform and evaluate their instructional moves, (2) identify students who needed more peer and teacher support, (3) to evaluate students learning, identifying if students have acquired academic knowledge and checking understanding and (4) to evaluate students’ investment (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). For the student audience, teacher put forward three conceptions: (5) assessment is useful to hold students accountable, (6) assessment to instruct material, and (7) assessment as a tool to provide feedback to students (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). In the parent audience, teacher only conceived one conception: (8) assessment as a way to inform parents about students’ performance, while in higher up audience teachers expressed two conceptions: (9) assessment as a tool for teacher accountability and (10) the use of assessment as preparation for high-takes testing (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). This research concluded with the statement that there were mismatches between teachers’ assessment practices and the tenets of SRL which happened as teachers are asked to satisfy various assessment audiences whose interests did not match with SRL (Davis & Neitzel, 2011). This study is similar to Remesal’s (2007) in the sense that it aimed to explore teachers’ conceptions of assessment locally to see if teachers’ conceptions matched with teachers’ practices, concluding that the assessment context played an important role in shaping their conceptions of assessments, meaning that differences in teachers’ conceptions of assessment and factors model are likely to be found in different educational systems.

Karp and Woods (2008) examined physical education pre-service teachers’ beliefs about assessment in the United States. Their study employed interviews, surveys and artefacts to obtain pre-service teachers’ conceptions of assessment before, during and after their training formation (Karp & Woods, 2008). Their sample consisted of 17 participants and results indicated that pre-service teachers had different conceptions about the purposes of assessment for teachers and for students. For the teacher group, pre-service teacher expressed that assessment was useful to facilitate learning, to determine where students were in terms of skills and knowledge, to show that students had achieved standards and to evaluate teachers’ effectiveness (Karp & Woods, 2008). In relation to student group, pre-service teachers indicated that assessment was useful to motivate students and show them where they were in relation to curriculum goals (Karp & Woods, 2008). Finally, this study concluded highlighting the influence that existing assessment beliefs from school experiences had in shaping how pre-service teachers conceived assessment in their practices (Karp & Woods, 2008). This was expressed in the resistance found in the incorporation of alternative and authentic assessment methods over traditional forms of assessment (Karp & Woods, 2008).

From this review on different approaches to conceptions of assessment, it can be stated that Brown’s (2004) quantitative line of research has set up the bases on the studies of conceptions by providing a predictive model composed of four main categories which allowed researchers to operate in a conceptual framework which allows them to visualize abstract teachers’ thoughts by placing these constructs into clear and specific categories. However, further research (Segers & Tilemma, 2011; Remesal, 2007) has shown that there is a possibility that Brown’s (2004) predictive model do not match completely with assessment conceptions in specific contexts, proving that to explore successfully teachers’ conceptions of assessment it is required to incorporate qualitative instruments (Davis & Neitzel, 2011; Remesal, 2007) as these insights are useful to incorporate the cultural factor of each assessment context.

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