*Assessment challenges for teachers as researchers

Associate Professor David Wescombe-Down
Professor Tania Aspland
At some stage in their careers, the very best educators
were active participants in designing & conducting
their own classroom-based research to improve what
they were doing.
Each one took an idea, an untested theory, and
applied it as practical teaching.
Along the way they acquired a new skill-set & one that
would last them a career lifetime: Research skills.
In Australia we seek standards-based teaching reform
that depends upon setting high standards of learning
outcome achievements by all our students.
We therefore build on our existing reflective practice
platform & embrace evidence-based teaching.
Evidence-based learning & teaching contain
collections of educational practices that predicate
student success.
“Educational effectiveness for all students is crucially
dependent on the provision of quality teaching by
competent teachers who are equipped with effective,
evidence-based teaching strategies that work, and the
maintenance of high teaching standards via strategic
professional development at all levels of schooling”. (p. 2)
One element of quality teaching provision is assessment
for, and of learning, noting that Groundwater-Smith,
Ewing & Le Cornu (2006) suggested:
“...assessment innovation lags far behind that of curriculum innovation
precisely because teachers have felt confident rethinking the latter but
they have been uncertain about how to proceed with the former. The
interaction between the two has broken down. The assessment practices
are still rooted in a transmission model of teaching in spite of that model
having less currency...
(p. 273)
What an opportune setting to revisit assessment for
learning (by students) in tandem with assessment
as teaching (by teacher-researchers).
The scene is set to contemplate a classroom-based
exploration of assessment while preparing for
assessment of that process by peers & others: an
assessment challenge for teachers as researchers!
 Assessment for learning takes place when inferences
from student progress are used to inform classroom
 Assessment as learning takes place when teachers
reflect on, adjust & monitor their delivery &
assessment for learning strategies to inform their
future teaching practices.
 What do I want the students to learn?
 Why does that learning matter?
 What am I assessing?
 Why am I assessing?
 What assessment criteria am I using?
 How well do I expect them to do it?
 How can I help students learn to self assess?
 How can I improve my teaching?
 What am I going to get the students to do or to produce?
 Am I expecting similar achievement for all learners in all
All or any of these questions could be emergent
research questions for the teacher-researcher.
Whatever the choice, a dual consideration remains:
How will I assess for learning while my Teacher as
Researcher classroom-based inquiry is being assessed by
others from the “assessment as learning” perspective?
 Portfolio – resource folder or e-portfolio compilation
including evaluative, working, showcase & archival
types. May include “how I learned” & “what I learned”.
It may be a collection of evidence supporting a
student’s learning progress by subject, topic, theme or
over a particular time period.
Portfolios also allow demonstration of learning &
Why not have a fully transportable e-Portfolio that
moves with each student, each year from K through 12?
e-Portfolios could be set up as Learning Journey
experience records from K-12, thus supporting the
notion of education being a continuum rather than a
string of 13 apparently non-connected year levels.
There are research questions ‘begging’ in here!!!
 Project – may be self-directed, thematic, reflective,
expansive or 3-D, including video & audio disc
production, booklet design, scripts, charts, collages,
song or poetry or short story collection, PowerPoint
presentation & CD-ROM production options.
Why do we collect all these artefacts & mark them
away from the classroom environment in which they
were produced?
Why do we fill our teaching preparation spaces &
offices with stacks of bulky items?
Why do we stagger to the car with a pile of large folders
to mark at home?
Would it be more educative to create a local
arrangement for assessing portfolios and projects in
the presence of each student, thus enabling them to
explain, justify & if necessary, defend their assessment
task responses?
There are research questions going ‘begging’ in here
Already we have identified some potential research
questions for teachers as researchers to pursue, and
when embarking on any such inquiries, the following
questions could be asked:
 What do I want the students to learn?
 What is the significance of that learning?
 Why am I assessing?
 How can I assess “Creativity” & “Effort” in learning?
 Will I use student self assessment or peer assessment?
 How well do I expect them to perform?
 How will the research outcomes inform my teaching?
 How will I differentiate & negotiate assessment tasks?
All or any of these questions not only have potential to
be classroom-based inquiry questions in their own
right, but they also provide a checklist to underpin
assessment as learning when reviewing work of a
teacher as researcher.
Reflective practice is a precursor to progression into
evidence-based teaching, including its assessment &
evaluation components.
The first step along the path of evidence-based
teaching is to have a research question for investigation,
and the field of Assessment is an ideal place in which to
find one...
Knowing that assessment has not received the same
treatment dynamic as curricula, teacher-researchers
may wish to consider that assessment innovations &
refinements may be conceived very effectively in one of the
learning crucibles itself: the classroom.
Peers & colleagues may then be approached to assess
and evaluate your classroom-based inquiry work that
is itself exploring the field of assessment for learning.
Thus the assessment challenge (duality of assessment)
for the teacher as a researcher may be addressed quite
This dual process may be quite exciting for some, yet
daunting for others to contemplate.
“Researchers’ Block” may present as a barrier to
becoming involved as a teacher-researcher: what do I
research? How? When? What do I look for? What
information do I collect? How do I use that data? etc
Research familiarity & classroom experience will probably
determine how much of a “block” exists.
Of particular interest then, is the recent pre-service teacher
graduate, being both a Beginning Teacher & a beginning
If you are a Beginning Teacher, or perhaps are mentoring
one, they may be internalising many questions about this
process at best, self-doubt & apprehension at worst.
When entering the activity of a teacher-researcher,
allow time for collaborative discussion and related
classroom interaction in the duality of assessment of
self, and of self by others.
You are a “knowledge worker” passing elements and
processes of knowledge acquisition backwards &
forwards between self, students & an external audience
(peers, cluster schools, journal article etc).
The suggested skill-set required by teachers as they
shift their focus from transmission & measurement to
critique & reconstruction or transformation will enable
them to:
1. Critique & transform the taken-for-granted nature of
assessment of self & others
2. Facilitate the examining of social & cultural
constructs of classroom study in relation to
3. Enable transformative action & learning
4. Improve professional practices to better understand
assessment of self & others
5. Recognise the uniqueness of the interplay between
context, teacher & student
6. Generate assessment data at three levels: subject,
teacher & student
 Identify the research question or statement: keep it
‘narrow’ or ‘simple’ as it will be easier to manage.
 Draft a mind-map, concept map or flowchart to help
differentiate between major & minor concepts, suggest the
likely explorations required, evaluate potential concept
interest levels, generate keyword/glossary development &
assist students select Personal Inquiry questions.
 Collect evidence from resources that might be useful to the
classroom-based research project.
 Do not forget to immediately record the full reference
details of any evidence so gathered.
 Sort evidentiary references into on-line (2006+) & print-
based (2002+) with a balance of both media seen as
appropriate at this time. Once the academic rigour of more
on-line information sources is achieved, this ‘balance’ is
likely to shift.
 Find a mentor within your school; a colleague to proof-read
& evaluate; some peers to assess your investigation; another
colleague to act as a research assistant if required.
 Reflect, reflect & reflect! Continuously explore the
project approach & progress, pedagogy, student
participation levels, the classroom climate, the whole
school learning environment & Learning Triad
(student-family-teacher) connections.
 Make frequent observations & notes during the
process. Avoid relying on memory.
 Communicate effectively with all parties involved,
especially your participating students.
 Discuss the evidence-based inquiries with your
students & their families as opportunities arise, since
transparency can be a powerful ally. The more
involvement, the more ownership & the more likely
that healthy participation rates will be achieved.
 Keep it simple! In the beginning, identify a focus that
provides a challenge & is manageable at that time.
Build from one small positive outcome to tackle
others: as teacher confidence grows, so too will
competence in research skills.
The concept of dual assessment (or evaluation) in
classroom-based research need not be daunting.
Each forms part of any inquiry learning journey, and
their direct connection to learning & research
outcomes actually helps provide ongoing project
Anderson, G.L., & Nilhen, A.S. (2007). Studying your own school, 2nd edition.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Elton-Chalcraft, S., Hansen, A., & Twiselton, S. (2008). Doing classroom
research: A step-by-step guide for student teachers. Maidenhead, UK:
Open University Press.
Koshy, V. (2010). Action research for improving educational practice, 2nd
edition. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
McIntosh, P. (2010). Action research and reflective practice. Oxford, UK:
ACER(2006). Evidence-based assessment.
http://homepage.mac.com/planclos/portfolio.html Retrieved 08 Jul 11
Groundwater-Smith, S., Ewing, R., and Le Cornu, R. (2006). Teaching
challenges and dilemmas, 3rd edition. Melbourne: Thomson.
McLeod, J.H. And Reynolds, R. (2007). Quality teaching for quality learning.
Melbourne: Thomson Social Science Press.

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