Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

English Teachers' Perceptions of Literacy Assessment in the First Year of Secondary School

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

English Teachers' Perceptions of Literacy Assessment in the First Year of Secondary School

Article excerpt

This study set out to investigate teachers' perceptions of the school-based literacy assessment systems used in Queensland state schools since the introduction of an English syllabus in 1994 which focusses on teaching and assessing literacy developmentally from years 1-10. The study found that when Year 7 and Year 8 teachers explicitly teach principles of assessment derived from the syllabus to their students, involve students in the assessment process, share their assessment practices, and liaise closely with each other, clarity and consistency of literacy assessment programs in primary and secondary schools are enhanced. Furthermore, the authors propose that achieving these goals is crucial to ensuring that literacy assessment in secondary school is a positive experience for incoming students.

Introduction

The move to secondary school is a period of great educational change for many children in Australia, where the majority attend state schools. The change involves moving from primary schools where they are well known to their classroom teacher and peers to larger, subject-oriented and more anonymous secondary schools. While the step takes place at the end of Year 6 in most states, in Queensland it occurs at the end of Year 7.

Changes the children experience at this time include differences in school organisation, classroom climate, instructional practices, and peer and teacher relations. While these factors may combine to make the transition potentially traumatic and detrimental to motivation and educational achievement (Anderman & Maehr, 1994; Blyth, Simmons & Carlton-Ford, 1983; Felner, Primavera & Cauce, 1981), many students do, in fact, enjoy the transition and do not experience a decline in academic performance (Cairney, Lowe & Sproats, 1994; Power & Cotterell, 1981).

Research has suggested that the differences in assessment practices between primary and secondary schools may be major influences on the academic performance of students (Crockett, Petersen, Graber, Schulenberg & Ebata, 1989). Changes in grades and levels of achievement in literacy, specifically downward trends, have been the major factors researchers have considered in arguing that transferring to secondary schools presents academic challenges to students (Felner, Primavera & Cauce, 1981). In their review of transition studies, Hargreaves and Earl (1990) suggested that:

because inconsistency in assessment practice can lead to confusion and disappointment in the Transition Years as students transfer between schools, establishing clarity and consistency in the point of reference for assessment is an important priority. (p. 142)

In order to achieve clarity and consistency, more information needs to be made available in the educational community about teachers' perceptions of their literacy assessment programs in the first year of secondary school. The need for greater dissemination of information across the sectors of schooling has been a catch-cry of researchers who have for many years been advocating increased and focussed contact between primary and secondary schoolteachers (Cairney, Lowe & Sproats, 1994; Eltis, Low, Adams & Cooney, 1987; Power & Cotterell, 1981; Stewart-Dore, 1996). At a time of great public debate about the decline or otherwise of literacy standards (Green, Hodgens & Luke, 1997), understanding more about literacy and literacy assessment in different sectors of schooling enables teachers not only to teach and assess literacy consistently and coherently, but also to be confident and competent advocates of their practices (Stewart-Dore, 1996).

Further, the dissemination of information needs to be on-going and responsive to changes in literacy curriculum and assessment practices. The research reported in this article is the first study to investigate teachers' perceptions of literacy assessment on a large scale since the introduction in 1994 of an English syllabus in Queensland which focussed on teaching and assessing literacy developmentally from years 1-10. …

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