Complexities of assessment : striving to get it 'right'.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Education
This qualitative research study aimed to take a closer look at assessment understandings and practice within one early childhood setting. Narrative assessment is a relative newcomer to early childhood education and teachers have been working with narrative assessments in the form of learning stories for just over a decade now. However, in Aotearoa New Zealand there is increasing discussion about the benefits of narrative forms of assessment, in particular the learning story framework as the main way to assess children’s learning (Ministry of Education, 2015c; Mitchell, et al., 2015a). The research was undertaken at a time when there is increasing interest in the effectiveness of the early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa (Ministry of Education, 1996) and related assessment practices .This study aimed to take a closer look at teachers’ understanding and enactment of assessment guided by the following research questions: How are teachers assessing children’s learning in early childhood settings? How do teachers make sense of learning assessments? What are early childhood teachers’ understandings of learning assessments? Key findings within this study suggest teachers were continuing to come to terms with the complexities of assessment and how to make it work within their context. Teachers were using a range of differing strategies to try and make sense of assessment and consulted key early childhood literature to support their understanding and use of assessment. These qualified, experienced teachers were striving to get it ‘right’ and shift assessment practices. Individually and collectively teachers were working towards developing a shared understanding of assessment priorities. Working in a team environment and valuing the perspectives of the learning community added another level of complexity as teachers worked toward increasingly meaningful ways to document children’s learning using the learning story framework. Teachers found it challenging to place children’s perceived ‘deficits’ in a credit based assessment model. Although teachers regularly discussed children’s ‘needs’ together and with parents, ‘needs’ were often not documented within assessments. Balancing contrasting views of assessment and negotiating what should be documented was hard and at times teachers questioned the authenticity of documented assessment. Teachers wanted more time to talk with each other and the learning community as they continued to make sense of assessment. Making assessment work was however a priority for this group of teachers as they worked toward getting assessment ‘right’. Informal and formal assessments of children’s learning are often used to guide teachers’ curriculum decision making processes. Well-developed assessment practices can have a profound effect on children’s experiences and perceptions of themselves as capable learners. The responsibility for ensuring that teachers are up to the task of confidently using assessment lies not only with teachers themselves but also with: advice and guidance agencies, professional development and policy support, initial teacher education providers and induction and mentoring programmes. Strong support is required in order for assessment to reach its full potential as a powerful tool for decision making and implementation of the early childhood curriculum.