Teachers' Diagnostic Competences and Their Practical Relevance: Special Issue Editorial

By Ohle, Annika; McElvany, Nele | Journal for Educational Research Online, May 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Teachers' Diagnostic Competences and Their Practical Relevance: Special Issue Editorial


Ohle, Annika, McElvany, Nele, Journal for Educational Research Online


Against the backdrop of an increasing heterogeneity of students, teachers' diagnostic competences in assessing students' characteristics and potential are becoming more and more relevant. Already in the 1980's Schrader and Helmke (1987) described teachers' ability to judge students' prerequisites adequately as a vital basis for an instruction, which fits to students' abilities, and up to now diagnostic competences are regarded as a core aspect of teachers' expertise (e.g., Baumert & Kunter, 2006; van Ophuysen, 2010; Weinert, Schrader, & Helmke, 1990). The construct of diagnostic competence has been widely discussed over the last years: At first diagnostic competence - defined as the ability of judging students' performance level correctly - was described by measures of diagnostic accuracy: level, rank, and differentiation. Later on Spinath showed that the accuracy of teachers' judgments is not determined by one single ability and suggested avoiding the term diagnostic competence as a single competence, when referring to judging students' characteristics correctly (Spinath, 2005). Besides diagnosing students' aptitudes, judging the requirements of learning materials is essential for initiating successful learning processes in the classroom and therefore the construct of diagnostic competences also needs to include the correct estimation of difficulty of tasks and materials (McElvany et al., 2012). This indicates the closeness of the concept to pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986). The described diagnostic activities and conclusions are not only relevant for lesson preparation but also for adapting teaching and learning processes during a lesson (Hardy et al., 2011; Helmke, 2009), meaning that teachers should also be able to judge classroom scenarios adequately.

Studies and their results about teachers' diagnostic accuracy are very heterogeneous. While some papers focus on motivational and self-related learning outcomes, most studies investigate the accuracy of teachers judging students' performance. Regarding the three measures rank, level and differentiation, meta-studies have consistently shown that teachers' judgment and the empirically tested student achievement correlate in a medium range for the rank component: .62 < rmed < .69 (Hoge & Colardaci, 1989), rmed = .53 (Südkamp, Kaiser, & Möller, 2012). Teachers' judgment of task difficulty also bears potential for optimization since the rank correlation varies between .33 < rmean < .56 (for an overview: Helmke, Hosenfeld, & Schrader, 2004). Few studies also take level and differentiation measures into account. Results are heterogeneous and are often confounded with students' ability level: Teacher accuracy varies for students with extremely high or low performance (Begeny, Eckert, Montarello, & Storie, 2008; Feinberg & Shapiro, 2009). While some studies show that teachers tend to overestimate their students' achievement (e.g., Feinberg & Shapiro, 2009), other studies provide evidence for the contrary (e.g., Begeny, Eckert, Montarello, & Storie, 2008). Similar findings are reported for estimating the level of task difficulty (for overestimating task difficulty: e.g., McElvany et al., 2009); for underestimating task difficulty: e.g., Anders et al., 2010; for an overview: Hoffmann & Böhme, 2013). Regarding the differentiation measure, teachers tend to underestimate the variance in their students' achievement (Lintorf et al., 2011).

The accuracy of teachers' judgment is relevant for students' learning outcomes, when teachers are able to draw adequate conclusions for their actual teaching (Schrader, 2010) and provide a high quality of instruction (Karing, Pfost, & Artelt, 2011). Since it is widely assumed that teachers' diagnostic competences are essential for student learning and that they are a core aspect of their professional competence, it is necessary for teacher education to think about the development of diagnostic competences and possibilities of its promotion. …

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