Standardized Attainment Tasks

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

In the following work I will examine and explain three assessment methods, including their underpinning values and policies, I will also discuss how, or even whether, these underpinning values and policies have helped to inform and shape the three models. The three methods I have chosen to examine are Standardized Attainment Tasks or SATs, coursework and self-assessment. Whilst the three methods are relatively diverse they do all have a common thread in that the initial motivation for their development was to improve students’ learning.

However, I will make the argument that whilst the initial impetus for the development of all three methods contained high ideals in reality political and accountability issues have had a significant effect in diluting these ideals, and to some extent distorted the original motivations behind their development. I will first examine SATs as used in the UK to test children at the ages of 7, 11 and 14 to measure attainment in relation to the National Curriculum.

Currently SATs are used to test childrens’ attainment against educational targets contained in the National Curriculum at the end of the school year. Children are tested in English and Maths at the ages of 7, 11 and 14; and in science at the ages of 11 and 14. Whilst the tests are devised by an external body, and are the same for all children, they are administered by teaching staff at school level. At the lower age scale the children are tested using a range of open-ended tasks but as the age of the children increases the tasks become more like traditional tests.

As mentioned in the introduction the original motivation behind the development of SATs was somewhat ideal. Both the National Curriculum and the subsequent introduction of SATs are the result of the Education Reform Act 1988, which was enacted due to concerns that education standards were falling, and the SATs themselves have been devised by the government appointed School Examinations and Assessment Council. The Task Group on Assessment and Testing report published in 1988 described the need for national testing thus:

Promoting children’s learning is a principal aim of schools. Assessment lies at the heart of this process….. It therefore needs to be incorporated systematically into teaching strategies and practices at all levels. (TGAT 1988: paras 3-41) Indeed, Gregory and Clarke (2003:68), (citing Hargreaves, 2002) point out that the introduction of these tests has had a positive outcome in that students and teachers now know the levels of achievement expected at every stage of a child’s educational career.

However there are other outcomes of the use of SATs that perhaps point to a different, less idealised, motivation for their introduction. Gregory and Clarke (2003:67) argue that such assessments were introduced, and have continued to be used, for a variety of political reasons such as wanting to assure the business community that schools were producing children with the skills and knowledge required of them by employers.

Pring (1995)2 suggests a more worrying reason for the changes implemented by the Education Reform Act 1988, he argues that the Thatcher government was in part motivated by the desire to control and direct teachers and teaching. Whether this is true or not is debateable, but there is certainly a strong desire for increased accountability and without a doubt SATs play a major role in attempts to make schools and teachers more accountable for apparent ‘failures’ of education.

One way that they are used to achieve this is the publication of league tables based upon SATs results, making every school’s performance a matter of public knowledge. This has several drawbacks. The first of these is that publication of such data produces a marketplace culture in the compulsory sector and may lead to some school’s controlling their intake so that they allow only the most able students to attend in order to improve or maintain their scores (Gregory & Clarke, 2003:67).

There is also the issue of teachers feeling pressured to ‘teach to the test’; indeed the official position is that SAT activities can be made an integral part of a teacher’s half term theme (Broadfoot, P. 1995:20). Black (2000:411) (citing Herr, 1992, Wood, 1988 and Smith et al . 1992) suggests that this desire to achieve the best possible results in national tests has a narrowing effect on teaching and leads to children being taught to take tests rather than being taught the subject in hand.

However the governments desire to improve attainment in schools may well be satisfied by this practice as both William (2001) (cited in Gregory and Clarke, 2003:68) and Linn (1994) (cited in Black, 2000:411) point out that rising test scores are the foreseeable result of teachers being able to coach children to meet the demands of the tests with no real improvement in learning. Gregory and Clarke (2003:68) offer support of this view by arguing that SATs have no real impact on the future learning of children with regards to identifying a need to modify instruction, but instead act as a powerful labelling tool.

Given these drawbacks, can it really be said that SATs reflect the statement made by TGAT in 1988 that assessment is at the heart of learning? My own opinion is that they do not, however Sloane and Kelly (2003:13) point out that two studies in the US (Roderick & Engel, 2001 and Tuckman, 2000) show that similar testing there has had a positive outcome on the level of effort exhibited by students and the amount of information they retain, and that this was particularly the case amongst low achieving students.

So if we define learning as the ability to memorise and regurgitate facts and information it can be argued that national assessments such as SATs may well improve learning. In my examination of coursework as an assessment method I have decided to limit the discussion to coursework as used to assess GCSE students. This is primarily because coursework is used in so many different ways to assess different types of course that it would be impossible to get a clear picture of how it has develop by using a wider remit.

Coursework, as it’s name suggests, generally refers to a body or piece of work completed over the length of a course, or within a specified time frame. The purpose of coursework is generally to enable students to develop or demonstrate skills that other forms of assessment such as examinations cannot measure or encourage, Gipps (1994, cited in Bullock et al, 2002:336) sees coursework as giving students the opportunity to demonstrate what they do know rather than testing what they don’t know.

The motivation behind coursework has been to encourage students to develop so called ‘higher order’, transferable skills such as creative and critical thinking and independent learning and communication skills. Indeed, when coursework was introduced as a form of assessment for GCSE courses the justification was that it ‘would provide a useful vehicle for communication skills and give students credit for initiating tasks and assuming responsibility for their own work’ (Bullock et al, 2002:326, citing SEC, 1985).

A further reason coursework was seen to be a beneficial change was that it would benefit those students who were disadvantaged by traditional examinations. Coursework is regarded as giving a clearer picture of the students’ capabilities as it can provide a broader sample of their work than is possible in a traditional timed exam, besides there is also a strong argument that students do not perform to the best of their capabilities under exam conditions (Bullock et al, 2002:336).

However, a stronger argument was that the inclusion of coursework would improve ‘the validity and reliability of the assessment process’ (Torrance 1995:49). Given the above it is relatively safe to argue that the introduction of coursework as a form of summative assessment for GCSE students was intended to improve their quality of learning and thinking skills whilst avoiding the dangers mentioned in relation to SATs earlier of ‘teaching to the test’.

In their study of GCSE English and Geography coursework Bullock et al (2002:329) did indeed find that the majority of students questioned regarding their experiences of coursework believe that they have learned ‘better’ as a result of the coursework they were required to complete. Coursework also provides an ideal opportunity for formative assessment, by examining the work a student has produced at points throughout the course the teacher is able to provide feedback on areas of strength or weakness in order for the student to improve before the final piece of work is submitted. However, in practice this is rarely the case.

Again issues of accountability have come into play with regards coursework. Whilst coursework is largely intended to allow students the opportunity to develop creative thinking skills and promote independent learning Bullock et al (2002:334) found that teachers were concerned with students knowing ‘the rules of the game’ to achieve a good grade. Teachers recognise that whilst a genuinely free handed piece of work from students was likely to be creative it is unlikely to meet the criteria for a good grade, this concern is manifest in teachers offering ‘directed guidance’ (Bullock et al 2002:332).

This pressure to ensure that prescriptive assessment frameworks are adhered to is also recognised by Peterson (1992, cited in Torrance 1995:51) who finds that such pressure results in ‘controlled’ tasks and ‘coursework lessons’ which suggests that the term independent learning is being used loosely in relation to coursework. From the points above it can be argued that the original values underlying the introduction of coursework into GCSE assessment have been distorted by the desire to increase accountability.

Bullock et al (2002:338) concluded that the desire to get ‘marks in the bank’ along with accountability and assessment criteria issues have led to the original aim of developing creative and critical thinking skills being made demoted to the position of being a secondary concern. They point to the lack of consensus on what coursework is intended to achieve, and suggest that if it is indeed intended to promote the development of skills such as creative and independent thinking the current system is not adequate for the achievement of these aims.

In contrast to the two assessment methods examined so far I do not intend to examine self-assessment in relation to any particular age group or level. However the fact that this method is rarely used outside of higher education means that most of the literature I have studied relates to self-assessment as used on degree or Masters programmes. Self-assessment is often discussed alongside peer assessment as a form of formative assessment despite the fact that the two are quite separate and distinct from one another.

Self assessment can take several forms, it can be in the form of reflections on their progress on a course of study, in say a journal or diary; it can be related to a learning contract, whereby the student will identify learning needs and to what extent he has met learning objectives of the course; or alternatively the student may be required to complete a self assessment form containing clear tutor set criteria.

The roots of self assessment lie very much in the humanist school of education theory and Josie Gregory (1995:173) argues that the basis for reflective self assessment stems from the work of Dewey, Kolb and Heron, and that accurate self assessment is an integral part of learning to learn.

There is little disagreement to the view that self assessment can enable the learner to become more self aware, self critical and autonomous (Taras, 2002:501, Rowntree, 1987:144, Merricks, 1995:164) and that such attributes will not only enable the individual to learn more effectively but also to function more effectively in society and the workplace (Rowntree, 1987:144). There is significant support for the argument that learners should be included as active participants in the assessment process in order to give them increased control over their own learning.

Not least of these are Brown and Knight (1994) who argue that self assessment is ‘fundamental to all aspects of learning’, and that ‘Learning is an active endeavour and thus it is only the learner who can learn and implement decisions about his or her own learning: all other forms of assessment are subordinate to it’ 3. However, despite such a volume of argument in favour of the use of self assessment and it’s highly valuable effects many educators are reluctant to implement it (Taras 2002:503). Several reasons for this have been identified.

Taras (2002:504) suggests that there are two reasons that this may be the case, firstly she suggests that tutors are reluctant to share assessment with students because assessment is considered to be inextricably tied up with ‘tutor identity’ and that by relinquishing this aspect of their role to students they become less distinguishable from the rest of society. She also states that as ‘high-stake validating tests and examinations tend to dominate education’ the inclusion of self assessment would be problematic4, this is an argument that Merrick (1995:165) agrees with, saying that self assessment is distrusted by outside agencies.

A further issue is that of the learners themselves who may resist self-assessment as a valid assessment method (Merrick, 1995:165), or may be incapable of assessing their own learning adequately (Rowntree 1987:165). Within the institutions that do implement self assessment there is also a trend towards using it primarily for purposes of formative assessment rather than summative assessment (Taras 2002:504) and where self assessment is made part of summative assessment it often accounts for as little as 5% of the final mark and is combined with peer assessment (Gregory 1995:180).

Again it is possibly to identify several reasons for this. Gregory (1995:180) points to validation bodies as a determining factor along with resistance from tutors. However it is likely that each of these factors is influenced by a general lack of confidence in students’ ability to accurately assess their own work (Gregory 1995:180, Rowntree 1987:146). Whilst it is easy to understand why it would be assumed that students would over estimate their own performance if their final grade depended upon their own assessment, such a belief appears to fly in the face of the underlying ethos of self assessment.

It is for this reason that Taras (2002:508) and Gregory (1995:179-180) argue that self assessment ought to be an integral part in summative assessment with Taras arguing that by prohibiting students from taking part in the summative assessment process those educators employing student centred teaching strategies are sending contradictory messages to students (2002:503). As such I would argue that as with the previous assessment methods examined the use of self assessment has been ultimately affected by issues of accountability and validity in such a way as to dilute the original motivations and aspirations apparent in it’s development.

In conclusion, it is apparent that assessment is very much governed by issues of power and politics, and that these issues, along with the increasing pressure on institutions to provide greater levels of accountability, have as much influence in shaping models of assessment as do the underlying values of the methods. The unfortunate outcome of this is that institutions, through their assessment strategies, often appear more concerned with grades than with learning (Taras 2002:508), which begs the question ‘is assessment really at the heart of learning and if so what definition of learning are we using? ‘

Tagged In :

Get help with your homework

Haven't found the Essay You Want? Get your custom essay sample For Only $13.90/page

Sarah from CollectifbdpHi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out