Contemporary learning requires that students “develop their capacity to learn and play an active role in their own learning” (ACARA, 2011; MCEETYA, 2008). In order for students to do so, it is vital that teachers reflect on their practice and engage students in the assessment process.
Research has established widespread support for formative assessment (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Wiliam, Lee, Harrison, & Black, 2004). However, in the current educational climate in which assessment such as the National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is used to monitor macro-educational standards, many teachers experience difficulties with implementing formative assessment into their classroom practice.
Consequently, this mixed-methods study into using Student-Directed Assessment (SDA) as a learning process was conducted at an independent primary school in the Northern Territory. The study draws on Assessment for Learning principles (Wiliam, et al., 2004), Constructivist learning approaches (Richardson, 1997; Zane, 2009a, 2009b), Student Approaches to Learning (Biggs, 1987)and Self-Regulated learning (Perry, 1998; Pintrich, 2004; Stoeger & Ziegler, 2008; Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons, 1990).
A simultaneous design was employed in which qualitative and quantitative data was given equal priority. The study explored how students engage in learning when they were able to identify their own learning goals, determine their assessment criteria and how they would demonstrate their mastery of learning outcomes.
Open-ended questionnaires and semi-structured interviews with teachers and students from Years Two, Four and Six were used to explore teachers' and students' perceptions of assessment. A quasi-experimental phase then followed, in which the SDA experiment was conducted by class teachers in pre-existing classes. Pre-tests confirmed that no significant differences in writing ability existed between the groups before the SDA project began. Students in the experimental groups used a planning template to identify and address the learning outcomes as expressed in the curriculum framework. Teachers prompted students to analyse the curriculum goals before determining the type of text they would write to best show their ability to meet the learning goals.
A total of 126 planning templates with writing samples were collected from the experimental group and compared to 130 writing samples from the teacher-directed control group.
The writing samples were double-marked according to the 10-category criterion-referenced NAPLAN marking rubric. Chi-Square and ANOVA tests indicated that students in the SDA group demonstrated a significantly higher capacity in eight of the ten marking criteria with p-values lower than 0.01 in most cases.
Key words: formative classroom-assessment, writing project, primary years