Covid-19: Contingency Plans for Assessments
As third level institutions worldwide have decided to cancel end of term exams for the majority of students as a result of the covid-19 pandemic, many of us may be required to design new assignments and tasks to assess our students. The resources here should help you plan for these changes.
All resources from our annual lectures, including the 2019 CARPE Annual Lecture, are available here.
2019 CARPE Lecture: Dr. Mathias von Davier, 'What you always wanted to know about Process Data but were too afraid to ask'.
CARPE welcomes all requests for research design/data analysis support from IOE staff and students. A formal request for support should be made to the Director using this pro-forma, and the following protocols should be followed:
1. Postgraduate students must have clearance from their supervisor(s) to seek support from CARPE.
2. Any support provided should be acknowledged subsequently, e.g. the support of (name of person), Centre for Assessment Research, Policy & Practice in Education at the Institute of Education, Dublin City University is gratefully acknowledged.
3. CARPE staff can spend up to a maximum of two consultation hours per project during the normal working day (9-5).
4. Consultations that take place outside of normal working hours (9-5) do not need the permission of the Director, and are conducted at the discretion of the individual CARPE researcher. A consultation fee (€50-60 per hour) will apply.
CARPE have compiled an annotated list of research and commentaries on assessment conducted in Ireland from 2000-present, which may be a helpful resource for those interested in or pursuing research on the topic of assessment. Peer-reviewed articles, reports and doctoral theses are included in this repository, with the most recent published work cited first. This list will be updated continually, and we invite suggestions for any additional research to be included.
Darmody, M., Lysaght, Z. & O'Leary, M. (2020). Irish post-primary teachers’ conceptions of assessment at a time of curriculum and assessment reform. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice.
The study at the heart of this paper was conducted in 2017 to gather data on Irish post-primary teachers’ conceptions of assessment at the time immediately following the introduction of a revised policy for assessment by the Department of Education and Skills (DES). Central to the reform policy was an increased emphasis on formative assessment and a requirement that teachers engage in summative assessment for certification purposes – something that had never applied previously. The paper provides an overview of the literature on teachers’ beliefs, including Brown’s (2004, 2006) Teachers’ Conceptions of Assessment Inventory. Data from an implementation of the inventory with 489 Irish teachers are used to consider how they conceive of assessment, how these conceptions compare and contrast with those held by teachers in other jurisdictions where the instrument has been used and how the data might be used to inform policy change and implementation in Ireland.
In this paper, the authors use a critical policy historiography approach to explore the impact of globalisation forces on tw relatively recent curriculum reforms - the Australian Curriculum and Ireland’s Framework for Junior Cycle. Both reforms employ triadic models of curriculum design involving subjects/learning areas, key skills/general capabilities, statements of learning/cross-curriculum priorities. Globalization influences are clearly evident in the shared emphases in both jurisdictions on skills, learning and school/teacher agency. However, these reforms have inevitably been shaped by their respective local political and social contexts and the respective curriculum debates have been dominated by technical implementation issues such as curriculum overload in Australia and school-based versus external assessment in Ireland. The paper offers a good overview of both education systems.
This discussion paper provides an outline of how stakeholders across the Irish higher education sector were supported to develop a national understanding of assessment and feedback through local and national conversations. Within the context of a national enhancement initiative and utilising a conversational approach, a collective effort was made to provide clarity around concepts related to assessment and feedback in Irish higher education. The approach taken and the perspectives that emerged from these conversations, along with the resulting national understanding, are presented and discussed with reference to related literature.
O’Leary, M., Lysaght, Z., Nic Craith, D., & Scully, D. (2019). Standardised Testing in English Reading and Mathematics in the Irish Primary School: A Survey of Irish Primary Teachers. Dublin: Dublin City University, Centre for Assessment Research Policy and Practice in Education and Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.
This in-depth study on the use of standardised tests in Mathematics and English Reading in Irish primary schools was led by the Centre for Assessment Research, Policy and Practice in Education (CARPE) at DCU and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO). It was the first large scale investigation of Irish primary teachers’ use of, beliefs about and attitudes to the tests, with the views of 1564 respondents recorded. The research suggests that while standardised tests bring value over and above other assessments and ultimately provide information which is essential in broadening the focus of decision-making about teaching and learning within classrooms and across schools, unintended negative consequences can also result from their use.
This case study investigates factors influencing efforts to introduce school-based assessments (SBAs) in lower secondary education in the Republic of Ireland and reactions from the main stakeholders. Policymakers’ perspectives were informed by national consultations, results of international assessments, trends towards skills-based curricula and practices in relation to SBA as part of high-stakes assessment internationally. Despite broad enthusiasm for the reforms from most stakeholders, teachers remained opposed. A series of compromise proposals shifted the reforms far from their intended nature, leaving in place a dual system of assessment that incorporates continued centralised examining by the state along with some non-certified SBA by teachers. The efficacy of this solution in relation to the original aims of the reform remains to be seen. The analysis explores relevant substantive and methodological issues. The complex interplay between international, national and very local influences on policy implementation is highlighted, suggesting the need for due diligence in anticipating and managing stakeholder responses to reform initiatives. Readers’ attention is also drawn to the intricacy of undertaking qualitative case study inquiry and the need for awareness in relation to possible alternative interpretations of data.
Burns, D., Devitt, A., McNamara, G., O'Hara, J & Borwn, M. (2018). Is it all memory recall? An empirical investigation of intellectual skill requirements in Leaving Certificate examination papers in Ireland. Irish Educational Studies, 37(3), 351-372.
The terminal examination of post-primary education in Ireland, the Leaving Certificate, is often criticised for the reliance on memory recall over higher order thinking skills in the assessment process. In order to examine the evidence base for these critiques, this article presents an empirical investigation of the intellectual skills and knowledge domains implicit in the tasks in the written examination papers of 23 subjects in the Leaving Certificate in Ireland from 2005 to 2010. Data were collected from two sources: examination papers and student interviews. In an in-depth document analysis of the examination papers, 14,910 occurrences of command verbs were coded for the intellectual skill and knowledge domains required by the assessment task. As the same verb can require different intellectual skills in different subjects and in different tasks, each occurrence of every verb was assigned a specific value depending on its context. The article presents the frequencies and distributions of intellectual skills and knowledge domains within and across subjects. In light of key points in the literature search, the findings indicate concern regarding the level of challenge and stimulation for the development of students of the Leaving Certificate.
Scanlon, D., McPhail, A. & Caldéron, A. (2018). Original intentions and unintended consequences: the ‘contentious’ role of assessment in the development of Leaving Certificate Physical Education in Ireland. Curriculum Studies in Health and Physical Education. 10(1), 71-90.
This paper explores the Leaving Certificate Physical Education curriculum development process. Ten interviews with members of the Physical Education Development Group were interviewed. The results revolved around curriculum content knowledge, assessment weightings, and debating the responsibility for assessing students’ work.
Keane, L. & Griffin, C. (2018). Assessing self-assessment: can age and prior literacy attainment predict the accuracy of children's self-assessments in literacy? Irish Educational Studies, 37 (1), 127-147
Self-assessment practices have been advocated in recent Irish educational documents due to their potential to enhance school children’s learning and self-regulatory skills. However, the literature has highlighted how some children struggle to make accurate self-assessments of their academic work, which diminishes such positive effects (Keane and Griffin 2015; Nicol 2009). Using Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development (1970) as a theoretical framework, the present study sought to investigate whether children’s academic self-assessments became more accurate in line with increased age and higher prior literacy attainment. Following training in the use of self-assessment writing rubrics, 85 school children from second class, fifth class and Transition Year wrote an English essay and later self-assessed their work using rubrics devised by Andrade, Du, and Wang (2008). Results indicated that overall, children’s self-assessment scores held a weak relationship with their actual performance scores (r = .24). However, findings illustrated that children’s self-assessments became significantly more accurate in line with increased developmental stages. Strong correlations also emerged between higher prior literacy attainment and children’s accuracy in self-assessments, amongst second class (r = −.45) and fifth class (r = −.73) children only. The findings suggest that Irish school children, in particular, primary school children with low literacy attainment, display difficulty making accurate self-assessments of their academic work in literacy. Stemming from the research, implications for practice and future research directions are outlined.
The more recent discussion in Ireland around post-primary teachers being responsible for assessing their own students’ work continues. The new junior cycle reform (covering the first three years of post-primary education) is concerned with making fundamental changes in approaches to learning, teaching, curriculum and assessment, with school-based assessment as an important element of the reform. This paper sets out to map assessment policy in a changing and contested assessment environment in the Republic of Ireland. The paper tells the story of assessment in junior cycle from the first progress report in 1999 on a review of the curriculum that had been introduced for students in the junior cycle of post-primary schools in 1989 to the 2015 Framework for Junior Cycle. We document the intention to move away from assessment as solely a means of making summative judgements towards assessment as a support of learning and teaching.
The purpose of this research was to elicit baseline data about Irish post-primary teachers’ conceptions of assessment. Post-primary education in the Republic of Ireland is currently in the midst of significant curriculum and assessment reform at Junior Cycle, the first three years of the secondary school system. Central to this change is the positioning of the teacher at the heart of the assessment process. The successful implementation of the new assessment practices will not only require a high level of teacher assessment literacy, but will also depend upon the extent to which teachers’ conceptions of assessment align with the philosophical underpinnings of the reform. Research has indicated that teachers’ beliefs serve to filter information entering the cognitive domain, to frame particular educational situations or problems and to guide teachers’ intentions and actions (Fives & Buehl, 2012). In light of this evidence, the introduction of new assessment initiatives should take account of how teachers conceive of the nature and purpose of assessment. Adopting a non-experimental cross-sectional design, this study surveyed a large sample (n=489) of post-primary teachers using the abridged version of Brown’s (2006) Teachers’ Conceptions of Assessment Inventory (TCoA-IIIA). This 27-item self-report instrument is designed to elicit teachers’ level of agreement with four intercorrelated assessment factors (i.e., school accountability, student accountability, improvement and irrelevance). Quantitative data derived from the survey were analysed using a mixture of descriptive statistics, exploratory factor analysis, independent samples t-tests and one-way analysis of variance. Maximum likelihood exploratory factor analysis resulted in a 5-factor solution for the Irish data which differed somewhat from Brown’s (2006) original model. Implications of the results for the conceptualisation of assessment in the Irish post-primary context are considered.
Over the course of one academic year, this practitioner research study investigated the impact of AfL practices on the teaching and learning of mathematics at fourth-class level in one primary school. Specifically, it explored how the use of AfL principles, strategies and techniques affected students’ attainment on standardised mathematics tests and their dispositions towards mathematics. Additionally, the research investigated the potential of lesson study (LS) as a vehicle of collaborative professional learning in AfL and considered the impact engaging in LS had on teachers’ skills, knowledge, and use of AfL, and their beliefs towards AfL as a form of assessment. This study also provided unique insights into learners’ perspectives of using AfL in mathematics, both teachers and students. Findings revealed significant effect size gains in children’s confidence, motivation and attitudes regarding mathematics, although there was no appreciable difference in students standardised mathematics scores when compared to the comparison group. Additionally, indications are that teachers found LS to be a very effective model of CPD in AfL.
This paper sets out to outline current discussions in Ireland around teachers being responsible for assessing their own students’ work, and the subsequent impact such a perspective is having (or not) on the delivery and assessment of physical education in Ireland. This discussion is particularly timely given the very recent endorsement for the introduction of the new Leaving Certificate Physical Education as a full optional subject. The authors begin by discussing more specifically assessment in Irish primary and post-primary schools, drawing attention to the limited Irish assessment-related research being conducted in both contexts. They then explore assessment developments related to Irish primary physical education and post-primary physical education and compare the extent to which such developments are limited in comparison to international assessment interests and practices in physical education. The paper concludes with suggestions related to studying (pre-service) teachers’ and students’ exposure to assessment in order to understand how to alter the balance of assessment purposes and uses in Irish schools.
Giving students a choice of assessment methods is one approach to developing an inclusive curriculum. However, both staff and students raise concerns about its fairness, often described as its equity. This study investigates their perceptions of the fairness of the procedures and outcomes of this approach to assessment, in nine modules in a University setting. Using a tool validated as part of the study, students’ views on procedural fairness were gathered (n = 370 students). In addition, seven module co-ordinators were interviewed. A seven-step approach to the design of the approach was used. The results demonstrated that students were satisfied that their assessment choices were fair in levels of support, feedback, information and, to a lesser extent, student workload and examples of assessment methods. In exploring fairness of the outcomes, the students’ grades were not significantly different between the two sets of choices. However, based on staff interviews, the overall grades were higher than previous cohorts and higher than average for current student cohorts in the institution. The discussion highlights some of the complex issues surrounding fairness (equity) using assessment choice and, in addition, the paper refers to some practical tools for its implementation.
Lysaght, Z., & O’Leary M. (2017). Scaling up, writ small: using an assessment for learning audit instrument to stimulate site-based professional development, one school at a time. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, (24)2, 271-289.
Exploiting the potential that Assessment for Learning (AfL) offers to optimise student learning is contingent on both teachers’ knowledge and use of AfL and the fidelity with which this translates into their daily classroom practices. Quantitative data derived from the use of an Assessment for Learning Audit Instrument (AfLAI) with a large sample (n = 594) across 42 primary schools in the Republic of Ireland serve to deprivatise teachers’ knowledge and use of AfL and the extent to which AfL is embedded in their work. The data confirm that there is urgent need for high-quality teacher professional development to build teacher assessment literacy. However, fiscal constraints coupled with the fractured nature of current provision renders it impossible to offer sustained support on a national scale in the immediate term. In response, this paper proposes the adoption of a design-based implementation research approach to site-based collaborations between researchers, teachers and other constituent groups, such as that engaged in by the authors over recent years, as a mechanism for addressing teachers’ needs in a manner that also supports other participants’ professional interests.
Looney, A., Cumming, J., van Der Kleij, F. & Harris, K. (2017) Reconceptualising the role of teachers as assessors: teacher assessment identity. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, DOI: 10.1080/0969594X.2016.1268090
Teachers’ capabilities to conduct classroom assessment and use assessment evidence are central to quality assessment practice, traditionally conceptualised as assessment literacy. In this paper we present, firstly, an expanded conceptualisation of teachers’ assessment work. Drawing on research on teacher identity, we posit that teachers’ identity as professionals, beliefs about assessment, disposition towards enacting assessment, and perceptions of their role as assessors are all significant for their assessment work. We term this reconceptualisation Teacher Assessment Identity (TAI). Secondly, in support of this conceptual work, we present findings from a systematic review of self-report scales on teacher assessment literacy and teacher identity related to assessment. The findings demonstrate that such scales and previous research exploring teacher assessment practices have paid limited attention to what we identify as essential and broader dimensions of TAI. We share our reconceptualisation and analyses to encourage others to consider teacher assessment work more broadly in their research.
This report profiles the documented assessment practices across a sample of 30 undergraduate degree programmes. The study also explores whether and how assessment practices differ between fields of study and also shares insights regarding students’ experiences of assessment across Irish higher education.
Douglas, G., McLinden, M., Robertson, C., Travers, J., & Smith, E. (2016). Including Pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disability in National Assessment: Comparison of Three Country Case Studies through an Inclusive Assessment Framework. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 63(1), 98-121.
The assessment of educational progress and outcomes of pupils is important to all concerned with education. This includes testing which is undertaken for accountability and award bearing purposes. This article examines how students with special educational needs and disability (SEND) are included in assessment. An “inclusive assessment” framework is outlined based around three core features: (1) all students are included and benefit from assessment; (2) assessments are accessible and appropriate for the diverse range of children in the education system; and (3) the full breadth of the curriculum is assessed (including curriculum areas of particular relevance to students with SEND). Assessment policies and practice in three countries (England, Ireland and the US) are drawn upon to demonstrate how the framework usefully enables between-country comparisons and within-country analysis. This analysis shows that in comparison to Ireland, the US and England have highly developed system-based approaches to assessment which seek to “include all” (feature 1) and be “accessible and appropriate” (feature 2). However, the analysis highlights that a consequence of such assessment approaches is the narrowing of the curriculum around topics that are assessed (most notably literacy and mathematics). Such approaches therefore may be at the expense of wider curriculum areas that have value for all students, but often of particular value for those with SEND (feature 3). It is argued that within such systems there may be a danger of neglecting the third feature of the inclusive assessment framework, i.e. ensuring that the full breadth of the curriculum is assessed. A consequence of such an omission could be a failure to assess and celebrate progress in relation to educational outcomes that are relevant to a diverse range of students.
In this paper, Harrison, O’Hara & McNamara criticize the assessment system in Irish education, which they believe continues to rely solely on traditional ‘teacher-centred’ methods. Arguing that this fosters a sense of dependency in learners and undermines their potential to become self-reliant individuals, they advocate for the introduction of self- and peer-assessment (S&PA) strategies, beginning as early as possible in the education system. Following this, they document their investigation of S&PA applied to student group work, which included 11 teachers and 523 students across a range of contexts, from primary and post-primary classrooms to further education settings with early school leavers and senior learners. In each setting, students selected criteria they believed to be important in the process of group work, and marked both themselves and their peers according to these criteria. This was then combined with the teacher’s mark for the overall product. Following analysis of interviews with the teachers in question, observations, and a research journal, Harrison et al suggest that S&PA can be as valid and rigorous as traditional assessment, and that it helps students to become self-directed and independent learners. They acknowledge the need for longitudinal studies to determine its true value and benefits, but nonetheless encourage its use.
Douglas, G., McLinden, M., Robertson, C. Travers, J. & Smith, E. (2015). Including Pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disability in National Assessment: Comparison of Three Country Case Studies through an Inclusive Assessment Framework. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 63, 1, 98-121.
This article explores the “inclusive assessment” framework, outlining how the concept of inclusivity can refer not only to who is assessed, but also to how pupils are assessed and what is assessed. The assessment policies and practices of Ireland, England and the U.S. are then examined and compared in terms of the extent to which they exhibit these features of inclusivity. Findings reveal that Ireland falls behind both the US in England on the first two of these three criteria, in that national assessments of literacy and numeracy at primary level in Ireland do not include all children with SEN, and do not offer accommodated or alternative versions to ensure that pupils with SEN can be assessed appropriately. On the other hand, the more deeply ingrained culture of national testing in both the US and England may have the unintended consequence of narrowing the range of curriculum outcomes assessed, thus detracting from inclusivity, as some of the neglected areas may include those that are of particular concern to certain SEND groups. This may be less of an issue in Ireland, where mandatory testing at primary level had only recently been introduced, and is conducted less frequently. Continued analysis of assessment practices in these three countries is advised to track the development of these issues.
The PISA 2009 results for Ireland indicated a large decline in reading literacy scores since PISA 2000 (the largest of 38 countries). The decline in mathematics scores since PISA 2003 was the second largest of 39 countries. In contrast, there was no change in science achievement since PISA 2006. These results prompted detailed investigations into possible reasons for the declines, particularly in reading. This paper considers the changes in achievement observed for Ireland in PISA 2009 under two themes: implementation of PISA in Ireland and changes in the cohort of students participating in PISA, and response patterns on the PISA test (as measures of student engagement). It is argued that the case of Ireland represents the 'perfect storm’, since a range of factors appear to have been in operation to produce the results. The discussion attempts to show how the case of Ireland can be relevant to other countries which may have experienced changes in PISA test scores over time. Some of the findings have relevance to international practice in large-scale surveys of educational achievement more generally.
This paper reports on the experiences of five primary school teachers as they implemented formative assessment strategies in the context of physical education. Each teacher planned and delivered a series of 6-8 lessons based on the Primary Schools’ Sports Initiative lesson plans, and selected a variety of written and verbal assessment strategies to examine their pupils’ learning within these lessons. Their experiences of the process were recorded using a combination of focus groups and reflective journals. Qualitative analysis of these data suggested that the process enhanced teachers’ knowledge, pupils’ learning experiences, and the ‘status’ of physical education from the perspective of the learner. Lessons became more structured and learning more explicit. Some challenges were noted, such as guiding pupils in how to engage in peer assessment, and adapting the assessment strategies to suit the context of infant classes. Ni Chroinin & Cosgrave conclude that the use of formative assessment strategies has a positive effect on teaching and learning in the context of physical education, but that the current lack of guidance surrounding the design of these strategies during initial teacher education presents an obstacle to their future use.
This paper describes the design, development and trialling of the Assessment for Learning Audit Instrument (AfLAi), an instrument designed to support teachers in reviewing their knowledge, skills and practices in formative assessment. Lysaght and O’Leary revisit Lysaght’s (2013) concerns regarding the mismatch between teachers’ mental models and basic AfL strategies, and suggest that this may explain why AfL has failed to take hold to the extent that might have been expected, given the wealth of literature attesting its value. The AfLAi is then offered as a practical first step in addressing this issue. Findings arising from a trial of the instrument support its psychometric structure and provide a snapshot of current formative assessment practices in Irish primary schools.
Lysaght, Z. (2013). The professional gold standard: Adaptive expertise through assessment for learning. In F. Waldron, J. Smith, M. Fitzpatrick & T. Dooley (eds.), Re-imagining initial teacher education: Perspectives on transformation (pp.155-176). Dublin: The Liffey Press.
In this chapter, Lysaght calls for the foregrounding of Assessment for Learning in pre-service teacher education. She outlines how the value of the AfL pedagogy extends beyond its well-documented positive effects on learning, through its ability to promote the development of ‘adaptive expertise’, and considers evidence which suggests that these expertise are not yet pervasive in Irish schools. With this in mind, she urges consideration of how pre-service learning environments may be redesigned, such that they model practices compatible with the AfL philosophy, and, in doing so, challenge the outdated mental models of assessment, teaching and learning to which teachers were exposed during their own schooling.
Lysaght, Z. (2012). Towards inclusive assessment. In T. Day & J. Travers (Eds.) Special and inclusive education: A research perspective (pp.245-260). Oxford: Peter Lang.
This chapter presents findings from an evaluation of a site-based teacher learning community (TLC) designed to increase teachers’ understanding and use of AfL, employed in a disadvantaged junior school over a ten month period. Comparisons of pre- and post-intervention reading scores of the experimental and control groups suggest that the intervention did not have an effect on pupils’ reading achievement overall, but further analysis focusing on pupils with SEN show that it may have helped these children maintain their reading level. Of particular note; however, is that additional outcomes revealed substantial changes in children’s use of AfL approaches during reading as a result of the intervention. Lysaght notes that these findings highlight the bluntness of standardised assessments, and argues that a truly inclusive education system is contingent on the development of more sensitive assessment tools that can capture subtle changes in children’s learning.
Using an action research approach, this research explores the impact of an AfL programme on third class pupils’ writing and self-assessment skills. Following a series of lessons on writing, pupils selected pieces of their work for inclusion in a portfolio, accompanied by reflections on their choices. These portfolios were then used during pupil-involved parent-teacher meetings. Darcy notes that although the programme was associated with increases in preparation and lesson time, it yielded an increased sense of teacher-pupil collaboration, and positive reactions from pupils and parents alike.
Connolly, S. (2011). An exploration into the process and impact of introducing the Assessment for Learning strategies of sharing learning intentions and success criteria with Junior Infants. M.Ed. Thesis, St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra
This research investigates the implementation of an AfL programme consisting of eight science lessons in a junior infant classroom, using an action research approach. Data collected from interviews, observation notes and researcher’s reflective journal suggest that AfL strategies were successfully introduced, with pupils reportedly achieving gains in learning and associated language development. The challenge of developing AfL materials appropriate for this age group and the need for on-going professional development in this area are noted.
Macken, S., & O’Leary, M. (2010). Assessment for learning in Irish primary school physical education. In E. Enright, & D. Tindall (Eds.) Proceedings of the Fifth Physical Education, Physical Activity and Youth Support Forum: A shared vision for physical education, physical activity and youth sport (pp. 62-67). Limerick: University of Limerick.
This research investigates the use of AfL strategies in physical education. Macken and O’Leary report how sharing learning intentions and success criteria at the start of a series of PE lessons yielded a range of positive outcomes for pupils, including heightened awareness of learning, more positive attitudes towards PE, and more effective use of time during lessons. There are many parallels between these findings and those of Collins & O’Leary (2010), with both studies demonstrating the potential benefits of AfL in areas of the primary school curriculum not traditionally associated with the concept of assessment.
This research investigates attitudes towards standardised assessment in Ireland, comprising a survey of 30 primary school teachers and an interview with a DES Inspector. McNamara considers themes such as accountability, and the phenomenon of 'teaching to the test', that have recurred in both Irish and international literature on standardised assessment, and seeks to explore the extent to which these themes are reflected in classroom practice, in light of the increasing emphasis placed on this assessment format in Irish primary schools. The findings reveal an appreciation of the benefits of standardised assessment amongst the teachers surveyed, coupled with a keen awareness of their limitations and appropriate uses, which McNamara deems 'commendable'. Also evident from this research; however, is that the majority of teachers experience the pressure of 'accountability' associated with standardised assessments from a range of sources, and that approximately one third of teachers in engage in activities to prepare their students for the tests during class time, some of which are deemed unethical and detrimental to more meaningful forms of learning. Based on these findings, McNamara offers a number of recommendations for future research and practice.
Hanafin, J. O’Donoghue, T., Flynn, M. & Shevlin, M. (2010). The primary school’s invasion of the privacy of the child: unmasking the potential of some current practices. Educational Studies, 36, 2, 143 -152
This paper posits that the increasingly ‘child-centred’ nature of the primary school curriculum, although commendable, may inadvertently facilitate an unacceptable breech of children’s privacy, with ‘patterns of disclosure’ of information pertaining to personal and family life now a fundamental element of pupils’ schooling experience. With regard to assessment, Hanafin et al. draw attention to classroom questioning, observation, peer assessment, and the provision of feedback in group situations. Their argument is not that these practices should be abolished, rather that they should be accompanied by an awareness of the potential negative consequences, and means of alleviating these identified.
In this theoretical paper, Dunphy argues that increasing understanding of assessment and curriculum as inter-related constructs necessitates greater consideration of how children’s learning from birth to six years may be formatively assessed. Theoretical constructs related to early learning are discussed, and, on the basis of these, a variety of methods and approaches that may be used for the formative assessment of early learning are presented. These include the observation of children’s behaviour and actions, the skilful use of questioning and of multiple modes of communication (e.g. gaze, facial expression, gestures) during conversation with young children, and the compilation of portfolios that serve as a record of learning, amongst others. Challenges and additional requirements associated with these methods are also noted, including their time-consuming nature, and the importance of a close personal relationship between the educator and the child.
In this paper, Collins & O’Leary note that, despite the recommendations outlined in the Revised Primary School Curriculum of 1999 that assessment should be an integral part of teaching and learning within all areas of the curriculum, there remains a tendency to perceive it as inappropriate in the context of the visual arts. In response to this issue, they compared two types of lessons on the Fabric and Fibre strand of the art curriculum with fifth class pupils: one with the use of ‘success criteria’ as a method of peer- and self-assessment and one without. Teachers’ and pupils’ experiences of each lesson type were recorded by means of a reflective journal and a questionnaire, respectively, and thematically analysed. The findings suggest that incorporating the use of success criteria yielded a range of positive outcomes, including greater focus on the task during lessons, reduced frustration and increased willingness to engage amongst certain pupils, more constructive feedback from the teacher, and greater variation in the artwork produced. Collins & O’Leary argue that these findings contradict concerns that success criteria may encourage routine compliance and thus reduce the learner’s independence. They conclude that the integration of assessment with teaching and learning in the visual arts is possible.
Lysaght, Z. (2009). From Balkanisation to Boundary Crossing: Using a Teacher-Learning Community to Explore the Impact of Assessment On Teaching and Learning in a Disadvantaged School. Doctor of Education Thesis, Dublin City University.
This study examined the potential of a teacher learning community, as a vehicle of professional development, to bring about changes in teachers’ understanding and use of Assessment for Learning (AfL), in order to improve the reading competency of a cohort of children attending a designated disadvantaged, junior school, in the Republic of Ireland. Employing a partially mixed, concurrent equal status design (Onwuegbuzie, 2007) and an interpretive framework, the study tested three research hypotheses. Although no statistically significant changes in effect sizes were found between the control and experimental groups from standard reading attainment data, significant findings were reported both in relation to teachers’ knowledge, skills and attitudes to AfL and the approaches to reading adopted by the children in the experimental group. These findings, in turn, highlight the potential of a TLC, reconceived as a boundary zone (Star, 1989), to challenge the traditional Balkanisation of teachers’ working lives (Hargreaves, 1994).
This thesis investigates three forms of assessment in chemistry – the Leaving Certificate Examination (summative) and two distinct continuous assessment methods used during undergraduate chemistry modules in Dublin City University (formative). Referring to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Domains, McCrudden reports that most questions in the Leaving Cert. exam are written at the lower levels, and that some topics are not frequently assessed, while others are over-assessed. Analyses of the third-level assessments reveal that these formative methods can encourage students to take a more active role in their learning, and increase their engagement with the material.
In this paper, MacRuairc argues that the possibility of an inherent bias in standardised assessments has not received sufficient consideration when attempting to explain the lower levels of attainment typically observed in disadvantaged schools. He reports on a series of focus groups in which children from both middle- and working-class backgrounds were asked to describe the strategies they employed when responding to items on standardised tests. Children from both backgrounds described similar strategies, such as seeking a context for target words from the test in their own experiences. This revealed a marked discontinuity between the linguistic register of the test instrument and the linguistic repertoire of the working class children. MacRuairc argues that the use of the dominant linguistic code in standardised tests ‘negates a whole way of being’ and erodes the self-efficacy of working-class pupils. He thus cautions that continued used of standardised assessments that fail to acknowledge the language variety used by specific groups may exacerbate stratified patterns of achievement.
This is a reflective and exploratory piece of action research investigating how Assessment for Learning (AfL) practices may be implemented in the Irish language classroom through
the use of e-portfolios. Clerkin documents how her second class pupils developed self- and peer-assessment skills and gradually became more autonomous in their learning, through the process of compiling a selection of their work over time using ICT. She simultaneously reflects on her own experiences, citing the challenge of maintaining a balance between supporting her students and allowing them freedom to explore. The need to move towards more formative approaches to the assessment of Irish is expressed, and it is suggested that e-portfolios may be an effective tool to this end.
O’Leary, M. (2008). Towards an agenda for professional development in assessment. Journal of In-Service Education, 34 (1), 109-114.
In the wake of repeated calls for a programme of teacher professional development in assessment in Ireland, this paper provides a suggested menu of topics for inclusion in such a programme. Informed by both international literature and national documents relevant to the Irish context, the proposed programme encompasses numerous aspects of assessment, including assessment terminology, the use of performance assessment tasks to improve learning processes, interpreting standardized test results, facilitating pupil self-assessment, understanding how assessment can cater for a range of pupil abilities, issues associated with grading, and the challenge of communicating assessment information, among many others. O’Leary notes that any such programme should also take into account the research indicating that teacher professional development is more effective when it is school embedded, co-operative and sustained over time.
This research examines the use of Assessment for Learning techniques, including self- and peer-assessment, in the context of English writing with a group of third class students. O’Callaghan reports that these strategies developed students’ competence in identifying strengths and weaknesses in various genres of writing, and promoted skills of reflection, self-correction and independence in writing.
Looney , A. & Klenowski, V. (2008). Curriculum and assessment for the knowledge society: interrogating experiences in the Republic of Ireland and Queensland, Australia. The Curriculum Journal, 19 (3), 177-192
In this paper, Looney & Klenowski consider how the concept of the ‘knowledge society’ has fuelled not just educational ‘reform’, but a thorough reconceptualization of many key components of education. They then demonstrate how this has been reflected in practice, via case studies of recent changes in curriculum and assessment in Ireland and Queensland, Australia. In Ireland, the NCCA’s review of senior cycle education and the associated consultation process have culminated in the identification of a number of ‘key skills’ (e.g. personal effectiveness, critical thinking, working with others) as the core of a proposed new curriculum. There is no accompanying explanation of how these skills will be assessed, however. In Queensland, the development of the “Queensland Assessment Task” is described as offering a promising opportunity to capture rich information about student achievement in a range of processing skills. Looney & Klenowski compare the two cases, drawing parallels between their emphases on concepts such as ‘skills’ and ‘learning power’, as opposed to ‘content’ and ‘information’. They argue that both policy initiatives illustrate a true transformation in education, but that precisely how assessment practices, in particular high-stakes testing, will be informed by this transformation remains unclear.
Lee, A. (2008). Introducing assessment for learning to children in an Irish special class: An exploration of the challenges involved. (Unpublished MSEN thesis). St. Patrick’s College, Dublin
This study explores the AfL strategies of sharing learning intentions and identifying success criteria in a phonics lesson for children with mild general learning difficulties, and the introduction of a Teacher Learning Community (TLC), a professional tool designed to support the implementation of AfL strategies in the classroom. Data were collected through the process of observation, documentation from the TLC meetings and Lesson Reviews, children’s lesson sheets and a researcher’s log. The findings reveal a number of challenges associated with the use of AfL strategies in the special classroom.
This action research investigates the implementation of self- and peer-assessment strategies in the context of process writing with fourth class pupils. Pupils received a series of lessons on writing, during which specific learning targets and success criteria were introduced. Data were collected through observations of the lessons, pupils’ writing samples, focus groups with pupils and interviews with teachers. Feedback to and from peers, self-reflection, feedback from the teacher, and engagement emerged as significant themes facilitating the process of self- and peer-assessment. Elements of writing that improved throughout the course of the ten week study included word usage, lead sentences, character descriptions and titles. On the basis of these findings, Lambert identifies areas for further research.
INTO (2008). Assessment in the Primary School. Discussion Document and Proceedings of the Consultative Conference on Education 2008. Irish National Teachers Organisation.
This is a comprehensive document considering the role of assessment in primary education. It opens with an overview of the developments pertaining to assessment that took place during the period 1997-2008 as a result of the Education Act (1998), the Revised Primary School Curriculum (1999), and the introduction of mandatory standardised testing at two stages during primary schooling. In Chapter 2, three major purposes of assessment are identified and explored, namely: (i) to support the process of teaching and learning, (ii) to report on pupils’ progress and (iii) accountability. It is acknowledged that all three are valid, and that the purpose of an assessment should determine the type of assessments to be used. Chapter 3 outlines the general assessment policies and practices in Ireland, whilst Chapter 4 reports on the findings arising from a questionnaire administered to teachers relating to specific assessment practices in schools. Chapter 5 considers international assessment practices, whilst Chapter 6 offers a series of recommendations regarding assessment policy and practice for the future, including the allocation of time for planning for assessment, the provision of professional development in relation to assessment, and the development of standardised assessments of Irish, amongst others. The second half of the document presents the proceedings of the Consultative Conference on Education (2008).
In this paper, O’Leary puts forward a model of what he considers to be a balanced assessment system for Irish schools. He opens by considering the increasing prominence of assessment in the Irish education discourse, and provides a comprehensive definition of the term, drawing attention to its expansion in recent years to include the notion of assessment for learning as well as assessment of learning. He contends that good assessment should inform decision-making, acknowledging the challenges arising from the fact that various stakeholders in education have different decisions to make. These diverse needs, he argues, are what necessitate a balanced assessment system, and he laments the situation in many countries, whereby bureaucratic requirements are prioritised at the expense of teaching and learning. His principle argument is that assessment should serve the needs of learners first and foremost, and he makes a series of recommendations as to how this might be achieved. These include prioritising classroom assessment and resisting the introduction of mandated national testing.
Six years on from Hall’s criticisms of assessment policy and practice in primary schools, this paper provides an overview of the developments that have taken place since then, whilst simultaneously considering the situation at post-primary level. Looney notes that certain cultural and economic factors in Ireland have fostered widespread faith in its education system, with the result that the response to any issues arising is typically to demand additional resources, as opposed to seeking fundamental change. She sees this as the major reason behind the fact that ‘assessment-led reform’, which has heavily featured in educational policy internationally, has not yet occurred in Ireland. Looney echoes many of Hall’s initial concerns regarding primary school assessment, but notes some progress, namely an emerging dialogue surrounding good practice, in which teachers are included, and increasing recognition of the need for professional development in the area of assessment for learning. In response to the recent government proposal to introduce mandated standardized testing in literacy and numeracy, she warns against the ‘assessment hierarchy’ that this may create, and reiterates the many different purposes of assessment. Finally, Looney argues that post-primary assessment is also in urgent need of reform, (specifically, a move away from the focus on high-stakes state examinations) but that little to no progress has been made in this domain in comparison to the emerging changes evident at primary level.
In this paper, Kilfeather, O’Leary and Varley document their development of a set of performance-based tasks to facilitate science assessment in primary schools. This project was conducted over a four-year period in response to both the introduction of science as a subject area at primary level, and the emphasis on assessment as an integral part of teaching and learning under the revised primary curriculum of 1999. Five distinct stages of the project are described. Phase One involved locating extant performance tasks used in five English-speaking countries with science curricula at primary level, whilst Phase Two involved adapting these tasks to match the aims and objectives of the Irish curriculum. In Phase Three, a selection of the tasks were sent to a representative sample of primary teachers for evaluation, and in Phase Four, 11 of the tasks were evaluated ‘in action’ in different classroom settings. Evaluations of the tasks revealed a predominantly positive response, with teachers reporting active involvement of teachers and pupils in the tasks, pupil enjoyment of the tasks, and the potential to use the assessment information gleaned from the tasks in different ways. Finally, in Phase Five, amendments were made to the tasks on the basis of these evaluations. Kilfeather et al note that, as a result of this project, 124 tasks are now well aligned with the Irish primary science curriculum, and may be used for teaching, learning and assessment in science in Irish primary schools.
This research investigates the use of learning stories as a form of assessment over a ten-week period with a junior infant class. Ennis reports how this approach successfully highlighted learning in subjects such as language, mathematics, science, visual arts and music, and was associated with a high level of parental participation and engagement. The time required to implement the approach is noted as a significant challenge.
Little, D. (2005). The Common European Framework and the European Language Portfolio: involving learners and their judgements in the assessment process. Language Testing, 22 (3), 321-336
In this paper, Little considers the learner-centred approach and the integration of self-assessment with other forms of assessment in the context of second language learning. He reports on a project that has drawn on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and the European Language Portfolio (ERP) to define an English as a Second Language (ESL) curriculum for newcomer pupils in Irish primary schools, and outlines plans to develop assessment and reporting procedures for the ESL curriculum, in which learner self-assessment plays a central role.
In light of the paradigm shift from summative to formative assessment, and the associated need to develop a range of alternative modes of assessment, this research explores the portfolio approach to assessing pupils’ writing at primary level. The Educational Research Centre’s Drumcondra Writing Project, which saw the collation of portfolios of children’s written work in natural settings over the course of the 1995-1996 school year, provided a springboard for this research. A selection of these portfolios was identified as being of especially high quality, and the teachers and pupils in question were invited to participate in this further study. Over the course of two years, portfolios of these pupils’ work were examined, and both pupils’ and teachers’ experiences of the processes were sought through written reflections and semi-structured interviews respectively, with a view to thoroughly exploring the use of portfolios as assessment tools in these exemplar cases. Murphy concludes that portfolios allow for and generate the use of formative assessment techniques, and the incorporation of feedback that is relevant for individual children. She invites further study on the use of portfolios for assessment purposes in other subject areas of the primary school curriculum, especially those for which assessment procedures are not currently evident, such as music, physical education, and visual arts.
Hall, K. & Kavanagh, V. (2002). Primary Assessment in the Republic of Ireland: Conflict and Consensus. Educational Management & Administration, 30: 3, 261- 274
Following on from Hall’s (2000) criticisms of assessment policy under the Revised Primary School Curriculum of 1999, Hall & Kavanagh report the findings from a series of interviews conducted with various interest groups in Irish primary education. They contend that, due to the lack of clarity in many aspects of the policy, the manner in which these groups understand the purposes and forms of assessment will determine how it will eventually be implemented. Stakeholders interviewed included teachers, parents, the then ‘shadow’ Minister of Education, the Chief Executive of the National Parents Council, a senior inspector at the DES and a senior official at the NCCA. Hall & Kavanagh conclude that these groups hold markedly different views about assessment, with each group tending to interpret the purposes of assessment primarily in relation to its own needs, rather than the needs of the learner. They also note a somewhat unanimous confidence in formal, standardized tests. On the basis of these findings, they emphasize the need for greater discussion and informed debate amongst these interest groups, and draw attention once more to the wealth of literature supporting the use of assessment to inform and guide pupils’ learning (as opposed to solely for purposes such as accountability).
Hall, K. (2000). A Conceptual Evaluation of Primary Assessment Policy and the Education Policy Process in the Republic of Ireland. Journal of Comparative and International Education, 30: 1, 85-101.
In this paper, Hall provides a comprehensive evaluation of the Irish policy position on primary school assessment. She first chronicles key events that influenced the development of the policy, including the 1990 Review on the Primary Curriculum, the 1992 Green Paper on Education, the NCCA’S Programme for Reform (1993), the National Education Convention (1994), and the 1995 White Paper on Education, culminating in the recommendations for assessment set out in the draft document of the Revised Primary School Curriculum (1997). She documents a move towards and subsequently away from the marketization of education throughout this process, and associated discontinuities in the discourse surrounding assessment, most notably summative vs. formative understandings of assessment, and whether or not assessment should be used as a mechanism for teacher and school accountability. She then describes the policy in detail, outlining what she sees as its major strengths and weaknesses. Recognition of the importance of formative assessment practices is lauded as a key strength of the policy, due the alignment of this stance with contemporary research literature. Hall argues; however, that this is not accompanied by concrete guidelines on how to implement these practices. Furthermore, she believes that the policy’s assertion that all forms of assessment should have parity of esteem is heavily contradicted by the disproportionate attention afforded to standardised tests and their functions. She considers the factors that may have led to these undesirable features, and concludes with a number of recommendations. These include, among others, the redeployment of funds set aside for the development of standardised tests towards the provision of teacher training in formative assessment, and the need to ensure that all those involved in policy development are suitably informed by contemporary research.