Assessment in a composite class: The need for a new approach for differentiation

Year: 2018


Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Differentiating assessment in the classroom is a complex process requiring a purposeful planning to address the learning needs of diverse learners (Kaur, Norman & Awang-Hashim, 2018). Differentiation becomes more challenging if apart from using different formats and working conditions, teachers need to differentiate according to year levels and student ability (Tomlinson, 2000). Whilst there has been an extensive conceptualisations and theorisation of differentiation in assessment, its design and implementation in composite classrooms remains poorly understood. Consequently, the assessment practices of teachers in the composite classes are misaligned to the complex demands of assessing different focus skills in a range of years of schooling with students with varying ability levels. This study explores how teachers in the composite classes in the Philippines are using assessment to effectively support students’ learning. The focus of this study is to understand the complex assessment demands in the composite classes and to develop a theoretical framework for defining and describing teacher assessment practices in composite classes. We recruited 24 teachers of composite classes, and we used a narrative phrase to gather data related to their assessment practices. An interpretivist approach was used to analyse the responses. Findings show that the assessment practices of teachers in composite classes take a lateral approach to differentiation where the levels of schooling are the primary consideration for the assessment design. Teachers acknowledged their lack of preparation to design and implement differentiated assessment in composite classes, which consequently contributes to their low confidence and to their feeling of most likely implementing inappropriate assessment strategies. There is a consensus amongst teachers that there is a high tendency that student learning is not accurately measured. Hence, compromising the trustworthiness of the assessment decisions made at different levels. Furthermore, it was revealed that a combination of linear and lateral approaches to differentiation is needed to address the unique context of composite classes. This requires a higher demand for teacher assessment literacy. The success of differentiated assessment approaches in composite classes requires active participation of students. Hence, not only teachers need to acquire assessment literacy but equally important, students need to have a certain level of assessment knowledge and skills to effectively engage in assessment. Our study offers a new direction for addressing the lack of conceptualisations and theorisation of assessment in composite classes.