Mary Liz Hinton
Teachers use classroom management to mould the learning environment into a safe, productive and effective place. Classroom management entails all the behaviours a teacher does—consciously or unconsciously—to elicit desired behaviours from students. “The teacher possesses a repertoire of procedures to ensure optimal learning for all students” (Levin, Nolan, Kerr and Elliot 2005), including assessment procedures that have implications for student motivation, misbehaviour, and the learning process. In the past, classroom management and assessment procedures have been viewed as separate from one another; however, current trends view both as synergistic partners in achieving effective instruction.
Gronlund (2003) defines assessment as “the various methods used to determine the extent to which students are achieving the intended learning outcomes of instruction” (p. 14). The current education system, however, “assess[es] student learning … much as we did in 1986, 1966, or 1946, without meaningful reference to what students should demonstrably know and be able to do.” (Angelo 1996, 3). Often assessment is not properly designed or appropriately used, often yielding invalid or unreliable results (Gronlund 2003). The effect of poor assessment practices can be devastating to students and can lead to classroom management issues, such as low motivation levels, behavioural problems and frustration.
To curb potential classroom management problems that are directly related to assessment procedures, the teacher ought to ensure that the procedures used report valuable and accurate information about student learning. The assessment procedures that are used should have a high correlation to the instruction that is given throughout the term (Stiggins 2004). The assessments and instruction ought to be directly linked to the intended learner outcomes (Angelo 1996; Gronlund 2003; Rust 2002; Stiggins 2004), and those outcomes should be taken directly from the outcomes provided by Alberta Learning (2000). In addition to being properly linked to instruction and objective and measurable outcomes, the assessment results must be valid and reliable (Gronlund 2003). If the assessment is not testing what it is intended to test, and not providing an accurate reflection of student learning and performance, there is no point in conducting assessments because they don’t show what the student actually knows and can do. Finally, it is imperative that students be provided with a supportive learning environment that makes it possible for them to achieve the intended outcomes. Formative and summative assessments should be balanced in this learning environment (McMillan 1997) to provide the student with initial feedback that is directed at improving student learning, followed by final feedback about the end results of the formative learning process (Gronlund 2003).
The Need for Correlation between Instruction and Assessment
Good teaching systems align teaching method and assessment to the learning activities stated in the objectives so that all aspects of this system support student learning (Biggs 1999, 11).
It is critical when considering the use of assessment as a classroom management tool that instruction and assessment be aligned, because if you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up somewhere else. The potential problem is accentuated if that somewhere else turns out to be undesirable and counterproductive to the effective learning and social development of learners (Martin, Sugarman and McNamara 2000).
To avoid improperly linking instruction and assessment, Biggs (1999) suggests that the course’s design follow a three-stage model:
- Identify clear learning outcomes.
- Design appropriate assessment tasks that directly assess whether each learning outcome has been met.
- Design appropriate learning opportunities to get students to the point where they can successfully undertake the assessment tasks.
I have witnessed both productive and counterproductive linking of instruction and assessment, as well as students’ frustration when they are assessed on criteria that were not explicit. I have also seen the reduced motivation to study for exams or take part in learning activities when students realize they are not tested on half of what they are instructed on. This frustration is often emotionally disruptive to students, and students can react by trying to change the assessment, or if that fails, withdrawing from the learning environment. For example, during my one-week observation for the IPT placement, I saw a student become frustrated when the teacher refused to tell him what the intended outcome was for the class essay assignment. The student asked a specific question about which direction his paper should take, but the teacher supplied only vague instructions. It was clear that he did not actually understand what he was going to be assessed on. In the end, he failed to meet the criteria, and his frustration led to an emotional outburst toward the teacher. The student felt unfairly treated because he had not received specific instruction about which skills he was expected to demonstrate.
Conversely, I have also observed teachers communicate the intended outcomes, methods of assessment, planned instructional techniques and purpose of learning activities directly to students before and during the completion of an assignment or instructional unit. In these cases, students are usually able to make a whole-hearted attempt to achieve the intended outcomes. In one situation that I observed during my IPT observation week, when a student failed to meet the acceptable standard for the outcomes, her reaction was to identify what went wrong and what could be improved; she did not withdraw out of frustration. In this case, the student’s intrinsic motivation to learn from her mistakes was heightened by an appropriate assessment procedure and expected outcomes that were properly linked to instruction and assessment. Instead of causing a classroom management issue, this approach to linking instruction and assessment, and communicating the same to the student, actually fostered positive results that encouraged further learning.
In my approach to assessment, I link outcomes, instruction and assessment—this link is the foundation for a sound assessment system. In addition to building a sound system based on empirical research, I also ensure that students need to receive as much communication about the correlation as possible. By telling students what the outcomes are, how their achievement of the outcomes will be assessed and how they can achieve the outcomes, I believe that students are set up for success, otherwise they will fail. Good assessment promotes learning and decreases classroom management issues.
The Need for Validity and Reliability
“Two of the most important characteristics of a well-designed assessment procedure are validity and reliability” (Gronlund 2003, 23). Validity refers to the degree to which the assessment tool measures what it is supposed to measure, while reliability refers to how consistently the assessment yields the same results.
When results are not valid or reliable, teachers find it difficult to provide students with relevant and appropriate feedback. “If the results are not communicated effectively, they may be misused or not used” (Gronlund 2003, 12). When results are misused or not used because they are inaccurate, student learning may be affected by inappropriate instructional practices, inappropriate learner outcomes or inappropriate student placement. When teachers do not know what students know, they, teachers, find it difficult to practice effective instruction, and may teach skills that are either too easy or too difficult for the student. The teacher may also select intended learner outcomes that have already been attained by the student, or that are unattainable. Doing these will complicate placement and lead to a student being placed in an inappropriate class, which will lead to frustration and decreased motivation.
I have experienced the negative effects of invalid or unreliable test results mostly as a student. I have not observed assessments during my IPT practicum, so I will comment on the use of invalid and unreliable results from a student’s perspective. As a student, I sometimes felt frustrated when test results were invalid. For example, I once took an exam that tested a basic level of understanding of a given topic. Because I had taken a number of courses on the topic and have a deep understanding of the concepts involved, I wrote the exam with a profound level of interpretation of the questions. However, the exam had multiple correct answers. When the test results came back, I ended up scoring lower than some students who had only a vague understanding of the material. After discussing the rationale for my answers with the professor, she suspected that I had in fact demonstrated a much more detailed understanding of the topic. She added that it was unfortunate that the test wasn’t long answer (instead of multiple choice), because I would have been more fairly graded, but since my answers were keyed according to an introductory level of knowledge, I was penalized.
In my teaching practice, I plan to create assessments that yield reliable and valid results. I see no logic in using assessment if it does not provide valid conclusions that will further guide and improve learning. The whole basis for conducting assessment is lost if the results are unreliable.
To ensure that I am creating and properly using valid and reliable assessments, I will first ensure that the assessment is aligned with instruction and outcomes. There is no point in assessing something that has not been taught or is not part of the objectives for the learning activity. Second, I will conduct an R2D2 item analysis (Armstrong 2005) of assessment tools used to establish what levels of relevance, representativeness, difficulty and discrimination are present. This analysis uses mathematical equations to determine the validity and reliability of individual written test questions, entire written tests, as well as the validity and reliability of more abstract assessment procedures such as performance assessments. I believe that by using tools to ensure the validity and reliability of my assessments, I will be better able to measure student learning and encourage learning. Proper measurements and interpretations of assessment will lead to reduced classroom management issues, because students will be exposed to fewer negative impacts related to improper assessment techniques.
Types of Assessment
“The major purposes of assessment are often described as assessment for learning (diagnostic and formative) and assessment of learning (summative). Both kinds of assessment play an important role in a balanced assessment program (Alberta Assessment Consortium 2005).
Formative assessment “monitor[s] student progress during instruction” (Gronlund 2003, 6). It places high emphasis on “measuring all of the intended outcomes of the unit of instruction … using the results to improve learning (rather than to assign grades)” (Gronlund 2003, 6). The purpose of formative assessment is to guide the student through the learning process while constantly checking for understanding and adapting instruction to benefit the learner as much as possible.
Summative assessment is done at “the end of instruction for the purpose of certifying mastery or assigning grades” and is “concerned primarily with the extent to which the students have achieved the intended outcomes of the instruction” (Gronlund 2003, 8). However, summative assessment is not the end of the process.
Although this summative assessment is a final judgment for that particular [segment of the learning process], it is also the beginning of a new cycle of diagnostic and formative assessment; the [student] will self-assess, and with the assistance of his or her [teacher], set new goals for [learning] to improve performance [during] the next [segment of the learning process]. (Alberta Assessment Consortium 2005)
Through my own teaching experience, I have seen the positive effects of formative assessment on learning. When formative assessment is used, student engagement in learning usually increases. The student is able to find supports within the learning environment, and this increases his or her motivation to achieve. Formative assessment provides checks and balances throughout the learning process that help the teacher to adapt instruction, processes and products according to student strengths and needs, and by doing so, the teacher ensures that the student is appropriately challenged. This leads to increased student motivation and positive attitudes about learning. I believe that by increasing motivation and promoting positive attitudes about learning, students will be more likely to engage in productive behaviours and less likely to disengage from the learning environment. By employing a balanced approach to assessment, teachers can teach in a supportive learning environment that enhances overall classroom management while reporting student learning.
A Balanced Assessment System, Classroom Management and Student Learning
“If teachers assess accurately and use the results effectively, then students prosper. If they do it poorly, student learning suffers” (Stiggins 2004). When student learning suffers, there is no question that classroom management practices are affected. Improper assessment techniques, including inconsistent connections between instruction and assessment, invalid or unreliable interpretations of assessment results, or a learning environment that fails to provide appropriate and supportive assessment procedures, undoubtedly lead to decreased student learning (Gronlund 2003; Stiggins 2004). Students become frustrated and unmotivated, and are unable to see the connection between their behaviour and their achievement (Guskey 2004; Rust 2002). The result is a decrease in the student’s intrinsic motivation to take part in the learning process, often leading to off-task and disruptive behaviours and even complete disengagement from the learning activity (Levin, et. al. 2005).
The implications of creating a personal teaching philosophy that encompasses a balanced assessment system goes beyond the contributions it makes toward classroom management. Sound assessment procedures ensure that the underlying goal of classroom management—student learning—is facilitated. Valid and reliable assessment provides a basis for effective teaching, which is further reinforced by the creation of a supportive learning environment through the use of formative and summative assessment practices. In this system, the student becomes the central focus of everything that is done in the classroom; classroom management and assessment are redefined with the student in mind.
In my approach to classroom management, I intend to use a proper assessment system as an integral part of the foundation of classroom management. I believe that empirical research and my personal observations support the idea that setting students up for success from the start will increase student learning and result in fewer off-task behaviours.
I believe teachers can ensure successful assessment procedures through linking assessment to instruction and intended outcomes; ensuring that assessments yield valid and reliable results that further student learning; and creating a supportive learning environment through the use of balanced formative and summative assessments. Each of these aspects of assessment works to ensure that students have information about what is expected, how they can succeed and what their current level of performance is. This prepares students to take part in learning, and allows students to identify goals and to achieve them.
Alberta Assessment Consortium. 2005. About Classroom Assessment. Retrieved October 28, 2005, www.aac.ab.ca
———. 2005. A Framework for Student Assessment. Retrieved October 28, 2005, www.aac.ab.ca
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Mary Liz Hinton holds a bachelor of education and a bachelor of physical education from the University of Alberta. Hinton is interested in working with deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the area of physical education. An emergency medical responder, Hinton currently works in the sports therapy field as an athletic trainer.