Assessment education in England: Partnership responsibilities and conceptualisations

Year: 2019

Author: Harrison, Christine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores and raises questions about the appropriate focus of assessment education in pre-service education and how universities and schools in England might more productively share the responsibility for supporting pre-service teachers in developing their beliefs and practices. A sample of six university program documents were surveyed to identify the assessment concepts that were being prioritized by teacher educators and the opportunities within the course for assessment capabilities to develop. Data was also gathered through semi-structured interview with five school-based mentors and through a focus discussion group with their five pre-service mentees towards the end of the training year.

Within English pre-service courses, formative assessment is understood as teachers making frequent, interactive assessments of student understanding, which enables them to adjust their teaching to meet individual student needs. In comparing PGCE teaching programs, there were mostly similar patterns across the six universities. Assessment was not taught as a standalone course but was embedded within the main program as part of preparation for developing classroom skills and learning about policy, curriculum, and teaching practice. What was less clear were the purposes and practices associated with these tools and how inexperienced teachers were trained and encultured into using these effectively as part of their assessment practices.

Analysis of mentor interview transcripts revealed a different picture to that of the analysis of the program handbooks. Comparison of the two datasets highlights the different interpretations that the mentors assign to their roles in supporting preservice teachers as they develop their assessment capabilities. Digging into the interview data revealed three specific areas mentors target when supporting student teachers in assessment: (a) assessment for learning, (b) marking, and (c) tests. In all three of these areas, mentors suggested that these aspects were introduced in the university course and then developed through practice in the school. They conceptualised their role as evaluating the development of these assessment practices rather than enculturing new teachers into understanding and building relevant assessment practices or in coaching how they might do these assessment tasks well.

This separation of theory and practice is heavily influenced by policy implementation and nationally enforced changes in practice and has a strong influence on how preservice teachers learn to assess. The multiple pressures from vertical knowledge systems like government policies, and horizontal knowledge expectations introduced by practicum mentors, lead to the notion that preparatory programs do not enable preservice teachers to fully engage in and understand the requisite assessment knowledge and skills.