Collaborative research for assessment for learning

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    It is now widely recognised that Assessment for Learning (AfL),has an important role to play in enhancing student learning andachievement (Black & Wiliam, 1998). Formative assessment is theprocess used by teachers and students to recognise and respond to

    such as: wait time; clarifying and sharing learning intentions and

    Moorby (2005) working in the United States point to the role ofteacher personal beliefs and background as an inuence on how, oreven if, teachers explore how AfL practices might be incorporatedinto their wider responsibilities. Black and colleagues provideevidence that different teachers adopt and adapt different practicesconsistent with their understandings of effective teaching (Black,Harrison, Lee, Marshall, & Wiliam, 2003). They argue that teacherbeliefs about their own learning and student learning and agencyunderpins the way AfL becomes embedded in classroom practice.

    * Corresponding author at: Tel.: 64 7 8384382; fax: 64 7 8384977.E-mail addresses: (B. Cooper),

    Contents lists availab

    Teaching and Tea


    Teaching and Teacher Education 26 (2010) 979e986(B. Cowie).than the researchers. The ndings highlight the contribution ofexternal support, shared teacher knowledge and beliefs, systematicprofessional experimentation, and shared reection on studentresponses to classroom innovations if changes to teacher's thinkingand practice are to be sustained.

    1.1. Dening AfL

    1.2. Teacher assessment for learning practice: a personal challenge

    Teacher implementation of AfL is not without its challenges andhas been the focus of numerous research and professional devel-opment initiatives internationally. One line of research focuses onexploring teacher personal knowledge and beliefs. Sato, Coffey, andTeachers are being encouragedevidence and to participate in reseclassroom practice with the aim toFollowing the review by Black and Wa worldwide focus on the teacher upractices to improve student achievcollaborative research between a grouniversity researchers, initiated by tand impacts of assessment for learninhistory classes. It provides insights inuniversity researchers might worka research and practice agenda that i0742-051X/$ e see front matter 2009 Elsevier Ltd.doi:10.1016/j.tate.2009.10.040tudies related to theirstudent achievement.(1998), there has beenssessment for learning. This paper reports onsecondary teachers andchers, into the practiceemistry, geography andway that teachers andboratively to developn by the teachers rather

    criteria for success; comment-only marking; orchestrating class-roomdiscussions using questioning andother learning tasks to elicitevidence of student understanding; providing timely feedback andpeer and self-assessment (Black&Wiliam,1998, 2009). Teachers canplan to elicit and act on information about class and individualprogress (Cowie & Bell, 1999) but the quality of interactive feedbackis a critical feature in determining the quality of learning activity,and is therefore a central feature of assessment for learning peda-gogy. Effective feedback is non evaluative, supportive, timely andspecic in providing information about howa learner might modifytheir thinking or behaviour to improve their learning (Shute, 2008).learning (Cowie & Bell, 1999). Typically it revolves around strategies

    1. Introduction student learning in order to enhance that learning, during theCollaborative research for assessment fo

    Beverley Cooper*, Bronwen CowieSchool of Education, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, New Zealand

    a r t i c l e i n f o

    Article history:Received 18 July 2008Received in revised form6 August 2009Accepted 28 October 2009

    Keywords:Assessment for learningCollaborative researchSecondary schoolPolicy

    a b s t r a c t

    This paper reports on auniversity researchers, initin science, geography anresearchers can collaboratea dynamic interconnectionlevel factors. The ndingsbeliefs, professional expeinnovations.

    journal homepage: wwwAll rights reserved.laborative research study between three secondary teachers and twod by the teachers, into the practice and impacts of assessment for learningistory classes. The research provides insights into how teachers anddevelop a research and practice agenda. The study illustrates the need fortween the personal, micro or school-related level and the macro or policylight the importance of external support, shared teacher knowledge andentation, and shared reection on student responses to classroom

    2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.learning

    le at ScienceDirect

    cher Education

    lsevier .com/locate/ tate

  • TeacThe promotion of learner autonomy lies at the heart of AfL and ifteachers don't appreciate this it appears that AfL can be imple-mented as a series of ritualised teaching strategies and hence losesmuch of its efcacy (Lee & Wiliam, 2005; Marshall & Drummond,2006; Sadler, 1989). Changing teacher assessment practice is notsimply a matter of increasing teachers' assessment literacy throughprofessional development about activities such as wait time itrequires conceptual shifts for all stakeholders (Tierny, 2006, p. 259).

    1.3. Teacher assessment for learning practice: shaped by the context

    A second line of research, typically informed by socioculturalviews of learning, has provided a more contextual explanation ofhow and why teachers might implement assessment for learning intheir classrooms (see for example Black & Wiliam, 2006, 2009;Gipps, 1999; Pryor & Crossouard, 2007). School case studies of theimplementation of assessment for learning across schools in Jersey(Jones & Webb, 2006) highlight the impact of variations in-schoolpriorities and cultures for change, along with the role and impor-tance of leadership and trust when school communities areresponding to changes, whether imposed externally or developedinternally. This said, when teachers reected on and analysedexamples of formative assessment that worked, and exampleswhen it had not, they were able rene and develop their practice.Teachers involved in the Assessment Is for Learning programme inScotland were also inuenced by contextual factors (Hayward,Priestley, & Young, 2004). They appreciated taking research ideasinto the classroom and were generally comfortable with the ideasand learner-centred classroom strategies that underpinned theformative assessment project. Nevertheless, they found the adop-tion of such approaches to be problematic because of the need toprepare children for national tests and the time involved. The studyalso highlighted the importance of credible leadership and regulardialogue with other professionals in scaffolding innovation. Whenthe principal had a real and demonstrable commitment to theinnovation they were powerful contextual catalysts for theteachers. Most commonly the teachers valued support fromcolleagues and the opportunity to talk with teachers from otherschools. Local context clearly impacts on teacher AfL understandingand implementation.

    Carless (2005) explicates the inuence of the broader context, inconjunction with more local factors, on teacher and school change.He proposed that teacher practice is shaped by a nested set offactors at the personal, school and political level. Carless describedhow the personal level encompasses teacher understandings ofprinciples and practices of assessment for learning and thecongruence of these with their existing beliefs. The next microlevel of the change environment is that of school support, schoolculture and school resourcing. This is nested within a macro levelof external factors such as policy, infrastructure and externalagencies. In this study we highlight the interactive inuence ofpersonal, school and political factors on teacher assessmentpractice.

    1.4. Collaborating to investigate and enhance teacher assessmentfor learning

    Teachers prefer information that is immediately and contextu-ally relevant. Much of the research on assessment for learninginvolves collaboration through university school partnerships(Black & Wiliam, 1998, 2009; Sato et al., 2005; Tierny, 2006). Thework of Torrance and Pryor (2001) is a rich example of this. Theyworked collaboratively with teachers within an action researchframe to investigate and develop formative classroom assessment

    B. Cooper, B. Cowie / Teaching and980in primary schools by building on their own research. It wasimportant that the teachers wanted to change their practice(Priestly, 2005) and so the study beganwith the teachers examiningtheir own practice, particularly the way they questioned and gavefeedback to students. This was followed by classroom experimen-tation and careful reection on practice. The collaborative studythat is the focus of this paper differs from the initiatives previouslydescribed as it was initiated by a teacher rather than us asresearchers.

    1.5. The research goal and question

    At the beginning of the study the overarching research questionwas negotiated between the teachers and university researchers. Thequestion was: What do teachers see as the impact of their use ofassessment for learning on student learning and student motivationand willingness to take more responsibility for their learning?

    2. Research design

    This study occurred in a large city high school of approximately1500 students aged 13e18 years old, situated in a high socioeco-nomic area. The school is coeducational and classes are organisedinto 25e30 students of mixed ability. Colin an experienced head ofdepartment became interested in AfL work carried out by theScottish Executive Education Department designed to empower thelearner and help encourage independent learning methods duringa staff sabbatical. He was particularly interested in self-evaluationby students of their own learning needs and their participation innegotiating personal learning targets to improve their achieve-ment. At around the same time Colin's school management carriedout a strategic planning exercise that identied that studentperformance in the recent national examinations did notadequately reect the calibre of the student body when comparednationally and set raising achievement in external qualications asa school wide strategic goal. Colin considered assessment forlearning had the potential to support this goal and with the supportof his principal approached the authors of this paper.

    2.1. The participants

    Colin convinced some colleagues, also Heads of Department,that developing AfL practices would contribute to their obligationsin relation to the strategic plan by raising student achievement. Heinvited the authors of this paper to present an overview of AfLprinciples to interested staff. After the presentation, the groupstrategised how the teachers and researchers could work together.Six teachers expressed interest in being involved in a research anddevelopment project that investigated the impact of AfL on theirclassroom practice and student learning in years 11e13 (15e18 yearolds), these being external examination classes. Three teacherschose to participate in the full study; the other teachers withdrewdue to other commitments. Each teacher selected a class to workwith that they felt would benet from using AfL strategies tosupport learning. Colin selected a year 12 Chemistry class (16/17year olds), Simon a year 11 History class (15/16 year olds) andCampbell a year 11 Geography class.

    2.2. The context for teacher assessment practice

    Assessment for Learning has been of interest in New Zealandsince the late 1980s (Department of Education, 1989) but to date,there has been no research that documents teacher use of AfLstrategies across a range of curriculum subjects in New Zealandsecondary classrooms. AfL was mentioned explicitly in the New

    her Education 26 (2010) 979e986Zealand Curriculum Framework policy document (Ministry of

  • TeacEducation, 1993) and implied within the supporting nationalcurriculum statements. It is emphasised in the revised nationalcurriculum statement released in 2007 (Ministry of Education,2007) and in recent policy documents (Absolum, Flockton, Hattie,Hipkins, & Reid, 2009; Ministry of Education, 2009). The NewZealand Teachers Council Graduating Teachers Standards (2007)implemented in 2009 also emphasise the role of assessment andstipulate that graduating teachers should be able to: use evidenceto promote learning; systematically and critically engage withevidence to reect on and rene their practice; and gather, analyseand use assessment information to improve learning and informplanning.

    Currently the New Zealand Ministry of Education employs Assessto Learn facilitators who provide in-school professional developmentand support for assessment for learning practices. Many New Zea-land teachers, particularly in the primary sector, are now familiarwith the key aspects of AfL. The development of new standards basedhigh stakes assessment for the senior secondary school (NationalCerticate in Educational Achievement, [NCEA]) has encouragedsecondary teachers to review their assessment practices. Studentscan gain each standard at different levels of achievement: achieved,achieved with merit or achieved with excellence. To achieve atexcellence level students need to be able answer questions thatinvolve more complex higher order thinking, such as synthesiseinformation and/or apply information to new contexts. There isa focus on teaching for understanding rather than recall to enablestudents to achieve at this level. National teacher professionaldevelopment for the implementation of the NCEA, focussed on thepurposes of different types of assessment and this included theeffectiveness of assessment for learning. New Zealand teachers havebeen encouraged to engage with research through the publication ofa series of syntheses of international research (see for example Alton-Lee, 2003). Research projects funded within the New ZealandMinistry of Education's Teaching and Learning Research Initiative(Ministry of Education, 2003) are expected to include teachers asactive participants in the research process. This has not beenwithoutchallenge for both teachers and researchers (Haigh & Dixon, 2007).

    At a school level the recognition from the partnership schoolthat exemplary teachers should be rewarded with scholarships tosupport professional development opportunities was a factor inthis study. Colin's visit to Scotland conrmed that AfL principlesaligned with his beliefs about students needing to take responsi-bility for their own learning and that this would t with the schoolstrategic goal of raising achievement in the senior school. Inci-dentally, the institutions he visited were drawing on AfL work fromthe University of Waikato. He knew the Waikato researchers anddecided to approach them to further his understanding. Hispresentation to school staff describing his sabbatical experienceand his enthusiasm and vision were pivotal in recruiting hiscolleagues t...


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