In the context of a three-year study into student teachers learning to become assessment capable (Cowie, Gilmore, Hill, & Smith, 2009), early childhood teacher education students' views on and beliefs about assessment were surveyed. Differences in how beginning students on entry to their three-year teacher education programme and exiting students oriented themselves towards assessment were observed. Near-to-graduating students responded to the questionnaire primarily from their position as a person who would soon be responsible for assessing the learning of others. Of note was the range of activities they associated with assessment and the extent to which they reflected in their responses, the full range of contemporary assessment concepts and practices advocated in relevant policy and research. The question arose: what did they learn?
A set of likert-type questions and several open-ended questions were used gather students' understandings and beliefs about, and attitudes towards assessment. The questionnaires were administered to the first year cohorts and the third year cohorts of early childhood teacher education students in 2010 and 2011. Students' responses to the likert-type questions were investigated using factor analytical procedures and the open-ended questions were investigated using content analysis.
Results indicate that students engage more readily with some assessment concepts than others. While students can generally identify desirable assessment practices and policies when presented with them in statements, a somewhat different pattern emerges of their beliefs and understandings when asked to express their views to open-ended questions. Constituting assessment activity as largely teacher-led and adult-oriented, concepts of observation, note taking, and narrative writing were to the fore when students wrote about teacher and child activities during assessment. Other assessment for learning concepts, such as goal setting and revising, self- and peer assessment, negotiating over interpretations, and feedback, were rarely mentioned by students.
Discussion and conclusion
These findings have implications for initial teacher education curriculum because the scope of what student teachers are engaging in with respect to socio-cultural and formative assessment in early childhood education is in question. Do students grasp selective adult-oriented concepts over others because, as student teachers they are grappling with their emerging teacher identities? Do student teachers need to be working with children and families/whanau before the full range of assessment for learning concepts develop meaning for them? What should teacher educators do about such a partial reading of assessment by students in their classes? These and other questions will be discussed.