Every September, newly certified teachers enter their own classrooms for the first time. We, as experienced educators, watch them, both excited and a bit wary about the knowledge, techniques, and potential they bring to our community. While some beginning teachers appear to seamlessly integrate into their new roles, others struggle to adapt; when this happens, it is their fellow teachers and administrators who can offer the most support.
One area that many early career teachers find challenging is classroom assessment. While assessment is a foundational pillar of teaching practice, it is often relegated to the sidelines in pre-service teacher education programs. If lucky, Canadian teacher candidates receive a dedicated course in assessment; however, many of these are short (i.e., under 12 hours) in duration (Poth, 2012). Due to limited pre-service assessment education and diverse previous schooling and assessment experiences, early career teachers may approach classroom assessment in considerably different ways and require different supports from their colleagues.
We have likely all met early career teachers who are hesitant to integrate assessment throughout their teaching, even when the benefits of high-quality assessment on students’ learning and achievement are well known. On the other hand, we have also seen teachers who are so eager to employ a range of assessment practices that they often try to assess, evaluate, and quantify every aspect of student learning. And perhaps not as easily noticed by fellow educators are those early career teachers who choose to employ a variety of student-centred assessment strategies to align with contemporary classroom assessment policy and theory. Our research into early career teachers labels these three approaches to assessment as hesitant assessors, eager assessors, and contemporary assessors (Coombs, DeLuca, & MacGregor, 2020). Understanding why early career teachers approach assessment in these ways provides an opportunity to more effectively support them in implementing sound classroom assessment practices.
SUPPORTING EARLY CAREER TEACHERS IN ASSESSMENT
Encouraging candid discussion about assessment benefits the entire school community, not just new teachers. However, one of the most effective ways to change assessment practice and build confidence in early career teachers is by first identifying each teacher’s unique approach to assessment and then tailoring conversations and learning opportunities to their approach. Three beneficial strategies to help identify early-career teachers’ approach to assessment are:
1. Discuss and compare specific assessment techniques and strategies used to assess content expectations as well as learning skills.
2. Engage early career teachers in designing and grading assessments cooperatively with more established teachers (a technique known as moderated marking).
3. Use professional development diagnostic tools such as the Approaches to Classroom Assessment Inventory to receive a personalized profile of your assessment approach.
Each of these strategies will prompt reflection and discussion on how early career teachers view and implement assessment in their classrooms. Based on this information, more established teachers and administrators can better identify areas of support for early-career teachers.
Supporting Hesitant Assessors
Hesitant assessors are those who minimally integrate assessment into their teaching practice, largely due to lacking confidence in assessment or because they believe that assessment limits learning.
For these teachers, explicitly showing them how assessment productively supports learning is a key strategy. Encourage hesitant assessors to observe other teachers who use assessment effectively (i.e., engage in a process known as instructional rounds/lesson study) and discuss with students in these exemplary teachers’ classes how assessment has enabled them to learn better. Assigning these teachers to a mentor teacher is an effective strategy, one that will facilitate perspective-building conversations and learning through observation and peer coaching.
If these teachers are hesitant to use assessment because they are not confident in their abilities, they will benefit from a structured approach to assessment education through formal professional development opportunities. Focusing on why these teachers feel that classroom assessment is not an important addition to their classroom will help hesitant assessors adapt their beliefs to align with contemporary classroom responsibilities.
Supporting Eager Assessors
When considering the best way to help eager assessors, it is important to note that while these teachers like to use assessment, they tend to overuse it detrimentally. To help eager assessors, professional development should focus on the key differences between assessments of, for, and as learning. Emphasizing when and how each form of assessment could be used to effectively support learning will help these teachers better facilitate their students’ learning. Engaging these teachers in co-planning for assessment in their classrooms is a useful professional learning approach.
Supporting Contemporary Assessors
While contemporary assessors may have a strong grasp of how and when to appropriately use assessment in their classroom, there is still ample opportunity to improve their assessment practice. For these teachers, targeted learning about specific areas of assessment are beneficial (e.g., how to leverage assessment to enhance student engagement in learning or how to differentiate assessments for learning of diverse abilities). A core strategy in supporting these early career teachers is having them identify an inquiry about an assessment practice and engaging with other teachers in a collaborative inquiry process. Through collaborative inquiry, these teachers will deepen their skills, build confidence, and develop a collaborative network of support.
BUILDING A CULTURE OF ASSESSMENT
Every teacher has a unique approach to assessment that will change over their career depending on their classroom experiences and professional learning opportunities. Teachers’ approaches to assessment are shaped by their own schooling experiences, their school culture towards assessment, the diversity of their students, and their own personal dispositions. Regardless of the assessment approach a new teacher uses, there are opportunities for more experienced teachers to support these teachers in developing a balanced and contemporary perspective on assessment.
As the strategies shared in this paper are largely collaborative, they work not only to support individual teachers’ professional growth in assessment but also to create a culture of assessment within your school community. Whether through direct in-service professional learning opportunities, mentor teachers, or collaborative inquiry, a primary goal of supporting new teachers is cultivating a school culture that values and actively engages in assessment discussions to promote learning. The result of this approach will be a more consistent learning experience for students in your school as they transition from one teacher to another. This approach has been shown empirically to promote student learning, enable more productive conversations and expectations with parents, and better support teachers’ developing approaches to assessment.
Coombs, A., DeLuca, C., & MacGregor, S. (2020). A person-centered analysis of teacher candidates’ approaches to assessment. Teaching and Teacher Education, 87, online.
Poth, C. A. (2012). What assessment knowledge and skills do initial teacher education programs address? A Western Canadian perspective. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 58(4), 634- 656.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Lia Piekarski is a recent graduate from the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University, specializing in Outdoor and Experiential Education. She is currently teaching Outdoor Education to Grade 9 students outside of Peterborough, ON.
Andrew Coombs is a doctoral candidate with the Assessment & Evaluation Group and member of the Classroom Assessment Research Team. His research examines how early career experiences shape teachers’ classroom assessment practices. If you would like to learn more about this research, please visit ACoombs.ca.
Dr. Christopher DeLuca
Led by Dr. Christopher DeLuca, the Classroom Assessment Research Team (cdeluca.com) works to rethink classroom assessment theory and practice through leading empirical scholarship. The Classroom Assessment Research Team explores the complexities of educational assessment in schools across several nationally funded projects and in partnership with colleagues from around the world. To learn more about your own approach to assessment, take the Approaches to Classroom Assessment Inventory: interceptum.com/si/en/4800045
This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Spring 2021 issue.