09 SES 06 B, Student Perception of Assessment Practices
The use of internal assessment within national qualifications is often the subject of controversy. This is primarily because of concern that teachers might not mark their students impartially, either by inflating their students’ grades or favouring particular students (Lindahl, 2016). There are also questions about the authenticity of student work, particularly when elements of a task are completed outside of school (Colwill, 2007). However, internal assessment is sometimes still used within national assessment systems in European countries, largely because of limits on the range of skills that can be tested on examination (Black and Wiliam, 2007; McMahon and Jones, 2015).
This paper will contribute to the debate on the use of internal assessment in national assessments by focus on its use in the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), the main qualification sat by 16 year olds in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Over the last decade, the regulation around internal assessment in GCSEs has been continually tightening, with policy-makers appearing to be engaged in a perennial search for a form of assessment which brings the perceived learning benefits of internal assessment alongside the rigour of examinations. Introduced in 2009, controlled assessment is the latest step in this series of reforms, as a form of internal assessment which shares many features with examinations. While the rules vary for different subjects, for the majority of written tasks, students are allowed to see the assessment task in advance and prepare; however, they must undertake the assessment in silence under teacher supervision.
Even in this form, internal assessment remains controversial: while concerns about parental assistance have largely subsided, the potential for classroom teachers to provide an inappropriate amount of support means that there are still concerns that some students may be unfairly advantaged within this assessment system (Ipsos Mori, 2011). As a result, the government in England has substantially reduced the number of subjects using controlled assessment (Ofqual, 2013). While Northern Ireland and Wales have reduced the use of controlled assessment, they continue to use it for more subjects than in England.
This paper presents data on young people’s views and experiences of controlled assessment in Northern Ireland and Wales in order to evaluate the fairness of the assessments. Without research data on young people’s views and experiences of the qualifications, we have a limited picture of how these assessments are enacted in practice, which makes it difficult to determine how fair they are (Barrance and Elwood, 2018). As well as providing valuable information which enables us to understand how reliably these assessments can be authenticated, they also enable us to better comprehend the extent to which these types of assessments enable students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
The data will be discussed within a theoretical framework which sees fairness in assessment as being intertwined with validity (Messick, 1989; Willingham and Cole, 1997; Kane, 2010) and will consider whether factors unrelated to the targeted constructs are influencing individual students’ performance. It will also draw upon theories which challenge the notion that standardised examinations are a requirement of fair testing, and will argue that for assessment to be fair, students need to be provided with multiple opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills (Gipps and Murphy, 1994).
Main question: Is the use of internal assessment within the GCSE fair for candidates?
(1) Can we be confident that the work students submit are their own?
(2) What affects students’ capacity to deliver their ‘best performance’?
(3) What skills do students deploy when preparing for and undertaking controlled assessments?
The paper draws on data from two research projects. The first was a study at Queen’s University Belfast which surveyed 1600 GCSE students and held focus groups with 128 others in Northern Ireland and Wales. The second is WISERDEducation multi-cohort study, a longitudinal survey project which annually surveys secondary school students across Wales. The survey and focus group questions for the first study were developed in collaboration with young persons’ advisory groups which were established in each country, as a key element of the children's rights approach of the research project. This holds that children have a right to have their views taken into account in decisions that affect them under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (Lundy and McEvoy, 2012) and GCSEs have a major impact on their future life trajectories. Thus it is important that they have an input into the research project, to help ensure that the questions are addressing issues that are of concern to young people. Infographics on GCSE assessments were integrated into surveys and given to students during the focus groups to ensure that students were able to give informed answers. The data was collected by the researcher, who conducted 20 focus groups across Wales and NI. The surveys were offered to schools online and on paper. The quantitative data was analysed using SPSS to identify any significant differences between groups of students. The focus group recordings were transcribed and coded by the researcher. Following this, the advisory groups were given training in data analysis and assisted the researcher in the analysis of the qualitative data Following the completion of the first project, questions were included in the WISERDEducation study in order to elicit further quantitative data on some of the issues that emerged from the focus groups from the main study. The study, which has been running since 2012, annually surveys three cohorts of secondary school pupils within 12 school in Wales. The schools were selected using random stratified sampling: the sampling frames were stratified according to FSM and urban/rural area. Data is gathered using online surveys and completed on tablets. This paper draws on data from the 2017 sweep, which asked 330 year 10 (fourth year) GCSE students about the ways they prepared for controlled assessment.
The results of this research suggest that controlled assessment has important role in enabling students to perform to their best on GCSEs. However, it has also found that there is a considerable amount of variation in the ways that students prepared for and completed the assessments, and the amount and type of support they received from teachers and parents. These raise serious issues about the validity and thus the fairness of the qualifications. In terms of enabling students to deliver their best performance, the assessment environment was a key factor identified by participants. Many students evaluated assessments according to the mindsets they engendered, with a more stressful experience in an examination hall making it more difficult to demonstrate their knowledge and skills compared to the relaxed environment of the classroom. However, it was found that the behaviour of other pupils could be distracting within the classroom context, so that some students in disruptive classrooms faced additional challenges to delivering their best performance. While the assessment environment is a recognised element of test fairness (Crooks, 1996; Camilli, 2013), the emphasis on it in students’ accounts suggests it may have a stronger impact on performance than may have been previously recognised. As internal assessments are, by definition, less highly regulated than examinations, they bring with them greater potential for variation in practices between contexts. The paper finds that students’ perspectives on the assessment preparation and taking processes for internal assessment can help us understand what kinds of skills they deploy and what affects their ability to perform to their best ability, all of which have the potential to inform discussions of test validity and fairness.
P. Black & D. Wiliam (2007) Large-scale assessment systems: Design principles drawn from international comparisons , Measurement, 5:1, 1-53, DOI: 10.1080/15366360701293386 Camilli, G. (2013) 'Ongoing issues in test fairness', Educational Research and Evaluation, 19(2-3), pp. 104-120. Crooks, T., Kane, M. and Cohen, A. (1996) ‘Threats to the valid use of assessment’, Assessment in Education, 3(3), pp. 265-286. Colwill, I. (2007) Improving GCSE: internal and controlled assessment recommendations on the nature of controls needed for internal and controlled assessment in future GCSE specifications [online]. Available at: http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/7168/1/qca-07-3207_Improving_GCSE_internal_and_controlled_assessment.pdf (Accessed: 9th June 2016). Elwood, J. (2012) ‘Qualifications, examinations and assessment: views and perspectives of students in the 14–19 phase on policy and practice’, Cambridge Journal of Education, 42(4), pp. 497-512. Gipps, C. and Murphy, P. (1994) A fair test? Assessment, achievement and equity. Buckingham: Open University Press. Ipsos MORI (2011) Evaluation of the introduction of controlled assessment: Report on qualitative and quantitative research [online]. Available at: http://learning.gov.wales/docs/learningwales/publications/130429-controlled-assessment-en.pdf (Accessed: 12th February 2015). Kane, M.T. (2010) ‘Validity and fairness’, Language Testing, 27(2), pp. 177-182. Lindahl, E. (2016) Are teacher assessments biased? – evidence from Sweden, Education Economics, 24:2, 224-238, DOI: 10.1080/09645292.2015.1014882 Lundy, L. and McEvoy, L. (2012a) ‘Childhood, the United Nations Convention on the Rights Of The Child and research: What constitutes a ‘rights-based’ approach? ’, in Freeman, M. (ed.) Law and childhood. Oxford University Press: Oxford, pp. 75-91. Lundy, L. and McEvoy, L. (2012b) ‘Children’s rights and research processes: assisting children to (in)formed views’, Childhood, 19(1), pp. 129-144. Messick, S. (1989) ‘Validity’, in Linn, R.L. (ed.) Educational measurement. London: Macmillan, pp. 13-104. Michaelides, M. P. (2014) ‘Validity considerations ensuing from examinees’ perceptions about high-stakes national examinations in Cyprus’, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 21(4), pp. 427-441. McMahon, S. & Jones, I. (2015) A comparative judgement approach to teacher assessment, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 22:3, 368-389, DOI: 10.1080/0969594X.2014.978839 Ofqual (2013c) Summary of changes to GCSEs from 2015 [online]. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gcse-changes-a-summary/summary-of-changes-to-gcses-from-2015 (Accessed: 8th June 2016). Willingham, W. and Cole, N. (1997) Gender and fair assessment. Mahwah, N.J.; London: Lawrence Erlbaum.
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