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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Plausibility? Accuracy? Summative Grades and Teachers' Professional Judgement

This study reported by Linda Allal, a delegate to the Assessment for Learning International Symposium in April 2014 is based on interviews with 10 sixth-grade teachers. The main findings highlight the layers involved in teachers' professional judgement and the implications for ongoing professional learning.

This paper begins by describing the range of professional judgements teachers make day-by-day and then focuses on the way teachers determine summative grades. After a brief historical review Linda Allal shares some of the research relating to social moderation - that is, "...meetings where teachers discuss, confront, and negotiate grades assigned to student work...."

I appreciated the author's comments that summative assessment may be more about "sense-making" and "plausibility" than "accuracy." "Plausibility," Allal (2012) writes, "implies that a judgement or decision is socially constructed in a manner that is persuasive for all concerned parties." She goes on, "... the message conveyed by a grade may be more significant than the accuracy of the grade."

Allal (2012) is well worth reading by anyone interested in supporting teachers in making informed professional judgement. In the research paper, Linda Allal describes the context for the study, methodology used, data collection, data analysis and major findings. I found myself highlighting these sections:

" The data we collected showed that teachers’ judgements about end-of-term grades involved two main operations: (a) gathering information from a variety of sources; and (b) combining information in an interpretative synthesis that sometimes included but was not limited to an arithmetic algorithm."

"When a student’s results on these formal assessments fluctuated and/or when teachers were not convinced that they provided a complete and valid picture of a student’s understanding of the subject matter, all teachers examined other, more qualitative sources of information."

"This process of combining quantitative and qualitative information entailed an interpretative synthesis in which the teacher decided how much importance would be given to various types of information and which pieces of information appeared to be most relevant in the case of a given student."

"Given the long tradition, in Geneva as in other school systems, of basing report card grades on averages of several test grades, it is not always easy to convince parents that a focus on learning progression is more important than calculating averages, but the teachers believe that the chances of doing so are increased when they adopt shared collegial responsibility for their assessment policy."

"The grading procedures developed by each teacher reflected personal choices about sources of information, about how to combine information and arrive at a judgement, and about ways of adapting their assessment procedures to take into account student specificities."

"From the teacher’s viewpoint, you have to use all the information you have about a student to formulate the judgement that is the most appropriate for that individual. Although you may lack equivalent information about other students, it does not diminish your responsibility to use judiciously the information you have."

Here is the reference for the complete report: Linda Allal (2012): Teachers’ professional judgement in assessment: a cognitive act and a socially situated practice, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, DOI:10.1080/0969594X.2012.736364. To link to this article, go here.

Linda Allal reports much of her research and work in French. You can find a listing of her French publications on her CV here. There is a powerpoint presentation about Assessment for Learning by Linda Allal available here.

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