Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

The Challenge of Differing Perspectives Surrounding Grades in the Assessment Education of Pre-Service Teachers

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

The Challenge of Differing Perspectives Surrounding Grades in the Assessment Education of Pre-Service Teachers

Article excerpt

As he looked into my eyes, he stated quite assertively, "Come on, Deb, the grade does matter." He went on to tell me that he had aspirations for further study and that achieving an 85 percent average was paramount to his success.

-Moment 1, October 1, 2012

In this paper, we discuss our experiences teaching assessment courses to pre-service teachers as part of their program of studies for a bachelor of education degree. The above excerpt illustrates one student's view of grades as a means of advancement. We explain how this preoccupation with getting good grades over learning course content exemplifies an ongoing tension informing our teaching and student learning. We identify the issues that arise as we explicitly model a philosophy of success for all in a higher education context shaped by a traditional understanding of sort and rank (Stiggins, 2005).

Stiggins (2005) argues that assessment may be used to help students achieve learning success and describes the notion of sort and rank as representing a traditional understanding of assessment fostered by fixed grades, where students are spread along an "achievement continuum" (p. 324) representing their rank upon graduation. Stiggins suggests this systematic condition feeds into "the implicit mission of schools: the greater the spread of achievement among students, the more it reinforced the rank order" (p. 325). Today's standards-based education, Stiggins further suggests, has changed the context of schools, in that it is expected that all students will achieve a certain minimum level of achievement in their learning, an expectation that has profound implications for the role of assessment: it "must now be revised to permit the possibility that all students could succeed at some appropriate level" (p. 326). As part of this new mission for schools, formative assessment practices are encouraged, with an emphasis upon "assessment for learning," where ongoing assessment methods provide students, teachers, and parents with a "stream of evidence" (p. 327) as students progress to learning knowledge and skills that inform established standards. As teacher educators preparing pre-service teachers for the contexts of schools, we are mindful of how the students we teach must be pedagogically competent in their understanding and application of assessment as a philosophy and approach that fosters and documents ongoing student learning.

Our two-year bachelor of education (BEd) program is located in rural eastern Canada. Our pre-service teachers have already completed at least one degree before entering the program. In each year of the program, there are approximately 115 pre-service teachers. In the fall semester of their second year they are required to take a three-credit, 36-hour course in classroom assessment and evaluation. There are three sections of the course, for elementary, middle school, and high school pre-service teachers, and approximately 40 pre-service teachers are enrolled in each section. The majority of our students are between the ages of 23 and 28 and are from the Atlantic Canadian region as well as other provinces in Canada, particularly Ontario and Alberta.

Despite the 20 years of educational reform across Canada and the world to advance student-centred learning and supportive assessment practices (Alberta Assessment Consortium, 2012; Black & Wiliam, 1998; Wiliam, 2011), the majority of our students arrive with traditional understandings of assessment: most view assessment as a summative event that occurs at the end of the learning cycle as opposed to a process of formatively informing student learning and teacher instructional practices throughout. Many of our pre-service teachers acknowledge their high school and undergraduate education as having a significant impact upon their understanding of assessment in terms of traditional summative methods.

In our work with pre-service teachers, we explicitly model a variety of supportive assessment strategies (Chappuis, 2009; Roscoe, 2013) that have been linked to student success (Black and Wiliam, 1998). …

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