The Power of a Basic Assessment Course in Changing Preservice Teachers’ Conceptions of Assessment

December 2018

Source: Studies in Educational Evaluation Volume 59, Pages 84-93

This study explores preservice teachers' conceptions of assessment and examines whether and how they change during an e-learning basic assessment course. This was done by addressing the following questions: What characterizes preservice teachers’ conceptions of assessment? And to what extent do preservice teachers' assessment conceptions change after participation in a basic assessment course?

Data were collected at the beginning and the end of the course from 297 Israeli preservice teachers, using Brown's Teacher’s Conceptions of Assessment Inventory (TCoA). Descriptive results revealed that most dominant were the conceptions of assessment as improving learning and teaching. Surprisingly, improvement and accountability were highly correlated in a positive way. The pre-post analysis of students' conceptions indicated that all improvement and some of the irrelevant conceptions significantly changed following the course. The implications for teacher preparation programs, which strive to create a conceptual change toward assessment, are discussed.

Assessment policy and practice in Israel

The meaning of 'assessment' is complex in the Israeli education context due to the tension between accountability requirements (compliance with national tests) and the need for diversification and renewal of assessment methods. Additionally, the national tests and the abuse of their findings strengthen the teachers and pupils' negative conceptions of 'assessment'. In the last decade, the Ministry of Education has invested significant effort, issued recommendations and advanced reforms aimed at promoting the use of alternative assessment methods. However, the 'test culture' is still dominant in schools and the adoption of alternative assessment methods is usually based on individual initiatives or on services provided by private organizations. This situation is a result of what has been defined as a 'soft' policy that typically characterizes an education ministry that does not enforce their own recommendations and directives.

Teacher education in Israel

Teachers in Israel are trained in teacher education colleges and in university schools of education according to a framework outlined by a committee assigned by the Council for Higher Education. Preservice teachers are required to study subject-matter knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, subject-matter specific pedagogical knowledge, and general educational and behavioral science knowledge. In addition, they observe and practice teaching in the classroom under the supervision of coaching teachers and pedagogical instructors from their teacher preparation institution. In the final phase of their training, preservice teachers are required to participate in an induction program initiated to promote teachers' professional status and to reduce the “reality shock” of entering the teaching profession.

Although there is no mandatory assessment course according to the teacher-training framework, in recent years most institutions for teacher preparation have introduced a compulsory one-semester (28 h.) course on assessment. This requirement, however, falls short of teachers' needs for assessment skills (the authors, 2015) given that a significant proportion of teachers' work is devoted to assessment and to providing feedback to students, parents, and other stakeholders.

Topics pertaining to learning about assessment are often not sufficiently emphasized as part of the pedagogical training (Ariav Committee, 2006). Consequently, a basic course in assessment might be the sole source of formal knowledge about assessment during teacher preparation. Hence, the course is of great importance for consolidating teachers' conceptions of assessment as a whole, and of their future role as teachers.

This study addressed two questions aimed at understanding Israeli teachers' conceptions regarding assessment purposes. The first question focuses on characterizing their conceptions (what are they? and how are they correlated?) and the second is about the power of a basic assessment course in terms of changing prior conceptions.

The main purpose of this study was to examine the impact of preservice teachers' participation in a basic assessment course on their conceptions of assessment. The findings of the current study revealed a salient change in the preservice teachers' perceptions. This change is reflected in the four improvement concepts and in the conception of assessment as 'bad' (in the opposite direction). After the course, preservice teachers tended to believe more that assessment is used for a variety of purposes: improving student learning, improving teaching and providing descriptive information. Additionally, at the end of the course, the participants perceived assessment as more valid, consistent and trustworthy than at the beginning of the course, and as less 'bad', unfair or harmful.

The findings of the current study reveal not only the need to identify the perceptions of preservice teachers, but also the possibility of shaping these perceptions through training, even if it is only a one semester course. These findings are essential for teacher preparation institutions and for planning future courses on assessment, which aimed at promoting assessment literacy among preservice teachers. This is due to the growing body of research indicating that teachers’ conceptions about assessment are related to assessment practices at all educational levels. Our findings indicate that the training program plays a fundamental role in affecting preservice teachers’ emotional and perceptual dimensions, and not only the cognitive components.

It is clear that designing and implementing concepts over time cannot be summarized in one course, and that teacher preparation programs should seek a systemic view. We believe that this can be done in several ways. First, reference to assessment should be provided in other courses during training, while displaying a variety of perspectives (psychological, sociological, pedagogical, political, etc.). Second, reference to assessment should be provided in the practicum, both by identifying and designing conceptions and by actual execution of assessment processes. Third, similar recommendations by other researchers (e.g. Eyers, 2014; Hill et al., 2017), teacher educators ought to be role models for their students by using a variety of assessment tools and by providing reliable and valid assessments.

Updated: May. 23, 2018