09 SES 08 B, Formative and Summative Assessments
Numerous media reports in Ireland state that the Leaving Certificate, on exit of secondary schooling, is “all rote learning and memory recall.” The purpose of this study was to investigate the intellectual skills implied in the written final assessment of 23 subjects from 2005 to 2010. The key research question was:
- What intellectual skills are assessed in the examination papers in the subjects included in the study; and what intellectual skills should be developed by students of the Leaving Certificate, based on the developmental capacities and challenges of students in the 16 – 19 age group?
The study adopted a definition of “intellectual skill” as a construct, in recognition that the words are representations of processes that are internal and not fully understood. The definition is sufficiently broad to include a range of skill in different subject disciplines:
All mental processes, some more complex than others, which develop with maturity and can be enhanced with training/practice, including the acquiring of information, the storing and organising of knowledge, all aspects of use of knowledge such as thinking, reasoning, judgement, problem-solving, creative faculties, affective processes, language, expertise.
Works of authors such as Gavin (1998), Anderson (2000/2005/2010), Schraw (2006/2009), Benjafield (2010), Pelligrino and Hilton (2012), Sternberg and Sternberg (2009/2012) attest to the international use of the abstract concepts of intellectual skill and intellectual development. While the focus of this study is the Leaving Certificate in Ireland, and assessment systems may differ (LeMétais 2003), the issue of the development of intellectual skill of students exiting secondary education is applicable in an international context.
The research was exploratory, investigating a socially constructed abstract, intellectual skill. The study makes the assumption that interpretation for intellectual skill can be discerned within the educational community involved in the Leaving Certificate. The study makes the claim that the findings of this study constitute interpreted, contingent knowledge, bounded by history and culture, rather than certain, absolute, objective knowledge. This stance implies a philosophical framework of constructivism. Although interpretation is at the heart of this study, the study claims credibility, as the methodology is documented, systematic, transparent and reproducible.
The study adopts an approach of investigation of language for intellectual skill. In alignment with the theoretical approach of constructivism, is a “willingness to use data of different types and from different sources and combine into an analysis and interpretation of a situation” (Newby 2010, p.116). The sources of language investigated for intellectual skill were two-fold: a corpus of documents seminal to the assessment of the Leaving Certificate subjects and the spoken language of students who had recently completed the Leaving Certificate.
While many studies use text analysis for the purpose of studying language use per se, a growing number of studies are using document analysis for the purposes of analysing social practices (Santini 2009, p.105). Documents can be considered as living objects and not “inert objects” (Prior 2011, p.106), separate from their creators and their users. Documents are “social facts” (Atkinson and Coffey 2011, p.79).
Complementary to the document analysis was the analysis of interviews of students where students described the intellectual skills they exercised in completing the written examination papers. A research procedure that invites participants to recall their thinking at the time of an event is called “stimulated recall” (Lyle 2003, p.861). While the stimulant for recall used by researchers is often video recording, Burden et al (2015) used assessment documents to stimulate recall. They concluded that using an artefact (document) to stimulate recall can elicit description of thought processes “which may be difficult to obtain in a normal, semi-structured interview” (p.26).
Anderson, John R. (2000/2005/2010): Cognitive Psychology and its Implications. 7th edition. New York. Worth Publishers. Anderson, L. W. and Krathwohl, D.R. (Editors) (2001): A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing. Allyn & Bacon. Boston, Ma. Atkinson, P. and Coffey, A. (2011): “Analysing Documentary Realities” in David Silverman (Editor): Qualitative Research: Issues of Theory, Method and Practice. 3rd edition. Sage. Pp. 77 – 92. Benjafield, J. G.; Smilek, D. and Kingstone, A. (2010): Cognition. 4th edition. Oxford University Press. Burden, S., Topping, A and O’Halloran, C. (2015): “The value of artefacts in stimulated-recall interviews” in Nurse Researcher. Volume 23 (1) Pp. 26 – 33. DOI: 10.7748/nr.23.1.26.e1324 Gavin, Helen (1998): The Essence of Cognitive Psychology. The Essence of Psychology Series. Prentice Hall Europe. LeMétais, J. (2003): International Developments in Upper Secondary Education: Context, Provision and Issues. National Foundation for Educational research. Sponsored by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Lyle, John (2003): “stimulated recall: a report on its use in naturalistic research” in British Educational Research Journal. Wiley. Volume 29, No. 6. December. Pp. 861 – 878. DOI: 10.1080/0141192032000137349 Moseley, D., Elliott, J., Gregson, M. And Higgins, S. (2005): “Thinking Skills Frameworks for Use in Education and Training” in British Educational Research Journal. Routledge. Volume 31, No. 3. Pp. 367 – 390. Newby, Peter (2010): Research Methods for Education. Longman Pearson. Pelligrino, J. W. and Hilton, M. L. (2012): Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. Committee on defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills. National Research Council. Division on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington D.C. National Academies Press. Prior, Lindsay (2011): “Using Documents in Social Research” in David Silverman (Editor): Qualitative Research: Issues of Theory, Method and Practice. 3rd edition. Pp. 93 – 110. Sage. Santini, Marina (2009): Book Review: Discourse on the Move: Using Corpus Analysis to Describe Discourse Structure by D. Biber, U. Connor and T.A. Upton. In Computational Linguistics. MIT Press. Volume 25, No. 1. Pp. 105 – 107. Schraw, Gregory (2006/2009): “Knowledge: Structures and Processes” in P. Alexander and P. Winne (Editors): Handbook of Psychology. 2nd edition. Routledge. Taylor and Francis Group. American Psychological Association. Pp. 245 – 263. Sternberg, R.J. and Sternberg, K. (2009/2012): Cognition. 6th edition. Wadsworth.
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