Using Case Studies to Assess Candidates' Knowledge and Skills in a Graduate Reading Program

Article excerpt

Introduction

In this age of heightened accountability, academia is increasingly being asked to link assessment to candidate performance outcomes in multiple ways. Research demonstrates the importance of aligning assessment with content standards but cautions that it is critical that assessments match the content, cover a wide range of knowledge, are cognitively demanding, and avoid irrelevant materials (AERA, 2003). Case-based pedagogy is one way to link program content to classroom practice. Much of the research on case methods calls for the use of cases to "create bridges across the great chasm that divides policy from practice" (Shulman, 2000, p. 2) in order to help teachers understand how practice is constructed in the classroom. Within case-based pedagogy, the cases become teaching tools that serve as a context for making meaning of concepts presented during instruction in a variety of instructional settings, and thus make understanding transparent.

In this article we examine the use of candidate-authored case studies as a culminating assessment activity in one Reading and Language Arts Specialist Credential Program (RRLA) in a large, urban public university with a diverse student population in southern California. Candidates in the program earn an M.A. in Education, Option in Reading, along with the state-issued specialist credential. We ask the following research questions in order to examine the use of case-based assessment in the

RRLA program:

1. Are case studies an effective way for graduate candidates to demonstrate knowledge and skills learned in the program?

2. Can candidates use case studies to demonstrate what they know about serving culturally and linguistically diverse urban students?

Theoretical Framework

Much has been written about how assessment practices have and have not changed in the past 100 years (Brown, 1996; Shepard, 2004). While experts argue that there is reciprocity between assessment and instruction, the construction of school practice is often informed by outdated theories that do not consider new understandings from the field (Brown, 1996), frequently creating a disconnect between assessment and instruction. Shepard (2004) argues that "the content of assessments should match challenging subject matter standards and serve to instantiate what it means to know and learn in each of the disciplines" (p.1621) and she proposes a social-constructivist concept of assessment where dynamic, ongoing assessment offers candidates explicit evaluation criteria, in addition to support and assistance as feedback as they progress through the program. Thus the instructional program leads candidates towards the desired competencies that the assessment seeks to measure.

The use of case-based methodology to measure teacher competence is one way to link assessment to practice (Shulman, 2002) and to shift from traditional modes of evaluation into a more dynamic and authentic review of learning. While the professional fields of business and law have used cases and case methods for years, the idea of using them in education has emerged over the last 15 years as a promising idea. Merseth (1991) argues that the current move toward a case-based pedagogy is due to a growing interest in teacher knowledge and cognition as well as an acknowledgement of the complexities of teaching.

With this growing awareness, the efforts to define case studies have gained prominence. According to Merseth (1994) a case is "a descriptive narrative document that is based on a real life situation or event" (p. 2). The author further describes the case as having three essential elements: a firm base in reality, a reliance on research, and the development of multiple perspectives by those who use them. Complicating these efforts are the various uses of case studies. For example, cases can be used as stimulants for reflection, techniques to enrich field experiences, and tools for professional evaluation. …