Setting Standards and Primary School Teachers' Experiences of the Process

By Scherman, Vanessa; Zimmerman, Lisa et al. | Perspectives in Education, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Setting Standards and Primary School Teachers' Experiences of the Process


Scherman, Vanessa, Zimmerman, Lisa, Howie, Sarah J., Bosker, Roel, Perspectives in Education


Introduction

Standards in education and the process of generating such standards fulfil critical functions within the education system and are essential in the discussion on what constitutes quality education. At the heart of the educational quality debate is the question of what is being monitored. If levels of achievement are to be monitored, they have to be measured against something, and a standard is the mode of such a measurement. Standards can be described as the degree to which excellence is required for a particular purpose or, more specifically, standards refer to the measure of what is seen as adequate specifically in relation to performance levels (Livingstone, 1988). Put succinctly, standards represent 'how much is good enough' (Bandaranayake, 2008). Performance levels or competence is measured along a continuum, and a standard represents the point which separates competence and incompetence (Bandaranayake, 2008). For monitoring purposes, especially if academic growth of learners is to be tracked, adequate standards and levels of achievement are needed to provide fair and valid information that can be used in schools (Scherman, Howie & Bosker, 2011).

With this in mind, a project was initiated to explore the best manner to identify standards to be used in a school-based monitoring system adapted for South African primary schools, namely the South African Monitoring and Feedback System for Primary Schools (SAMP). The adapted SAMP instruments for Grade 1 were explored in terms of their validity and reliability as well as how the results generated could be used in the classroom. This innovative monitoring system, targeting a variety of school contexts, includes instruments in English, Afrikaans and Sepedi. A baseline and follow-up assessment forms part of the suite of instruments so that academic growth over the year can be tracked.

The main aim of using SAMP as a monitoring system was to inform schools and their own process of self-evaluation. Thus, it was necessary to engage school role players to understand the level descriptors of performance so that the use of the information provided by the monitoring system could be utilised effectively at classroom level (Bandaranayake, 2008). Different standard-setting methods were explored for this purpose (Scherman et al., 2011). The main aim of this article is to gain some insight into and describe the experiences of teachers participating in a standard-setting exercise as part of the SAMP. The main research question explored in this paper is: How was the South African Monitoring Project standard-setting exercise experienced by teachers?

The standard-setting process and experiences thereof

Standard setting is the process of establishing cut scores (Cizek & Bunch, 2007), while cut scores are thought of as points on a continuum (Thomas & Peng, 2004). Moreover, it is possible to identify more than one cut score on the ability continuum to provide a range of different performance levels so that within each performance level the knowledge and skills that learners are able to accomplish can be described. If the knowledge and skills can be identified, teachers are better able to target teaching and learning interventions according to the needs of learners at the identified levels.

Setting standards is a complex undertaking (Yorke, 1999) and traditionally can take place using a variety of methods, either in isolation or in conjunction with other methods. Methods such as the Angoffand Nedelsky borderline groups and contrasting groups methods are referred to in the literature (Bandaranayake, 2008; Cizek & Bunch, 2007; Ben-David, 2000; Berk, 1986; Hambleton, 1994). With advances in modern test theory, additional methods are being explored. Item mapping is one such example which utilises Rasch modelling to explore item performance (Wang, 2003). The item difficulties can be presented graphically with all items being ordered from easy to difficult. …

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