Andrew Coombs

Andrew Coombs (Assessment and Evaluation Group, Faculty of Education, Queen’s University)

*2017 David Bateson Award Winner


Title of Project: Changing approaches to classroom assessment: An empirical study across teacher career stages.

Research Questions: The primary purpose of the study is to examine the relationship between teachers’ approaches to assessment across a set of dimensions (including their conceptions of assessment purposes, processes, fairness, and measurement theory) and career stage. This study was specifically guided by the following two research questions:

  1. What are teachers’ approaches to classroom assessment at various career stages?
  2. Are there significant differences in teachers’ approaches to classroom assessment across career stages?

Project Description: This study extends previous research by examining variability in teachers’ approaches to assessment across a broad range of career stages based on a set of underlying dimensions. These dimensions include not only teachers’ conceptions of assessment purposes, but also their approaches to assessment processes, their understandings of assessment fairness, and their orientations toward measurement theory. Using a cohort sampling design, our analysis of data from 727 pre- and in-service teachers who completed the Approaches to Classroom Assessment Inventory (ACAI) aimed to identify patterns in teachers’ approaches to classroom assessment. We purposefully use the term, approaches to assessment, rather than assessment literacy, to signal not only teachers’ assessment practices but also their underpinning theoretical orientations to and philosophies of assessment. Hence, we view a teacher’s approach to assessment as comprising both conceptual understandings and practical knowledge related to student assessment within the situated context of their classroom teaching.

The results of this paper illustrate nuanced impacts of career stage on teachers’ approaches to multiple dimensions of assessment and enable the generation of assessment profiles that provide empirical support for differences in teachers’ approaches to assessment both within and between career stages. Findings from our study suggest that significant differences are evident in teachers’ approaches to assessment across career stage, with particular changes in early career teachers’ prioritization of assessment purposes and assessment fairness. Our study also suggests a high degree of variability in teachers’ overall assessment profiles with areas of strong priority within each theme across career stage. These key findings hold important implications for understanding: (a) variability in teachers’ approaches to assessment, (b) the influence of classroom experience on teachers’ assessment practices, and (c) the influence of preservice education on teachers’ approaches to assessment.

Next Steps for Project: This study is part of a larger project investigating the teaching and learning of assessment in pre-service teacher education, with extension to in-service professional learning. My co-researchers, Dr. Christopher DeLuca (Queen’s University) and Danielle LaPointe-McEwan (Queen’s University), and I aim to determine why preservice and inservice teachers approach assessment in particular ways. Second, we are examining how the ACAI can be used to support instruction and learning in preservice assessment courses. Finally, we are comparing the impact that different educational cultures (e.g., Germany, Canada, US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand) have on pre-service teachers’ approaches to assessment and their learning to assess.

CERA’s impact on Andrew’s work: Although I have only been a member for a little over a year, my research has been profoundly shaped by the conversations I have had with CERA members. Whether it was during the question period after presentations, walking between sessions, at the annual general meeting, or at social events, I have always felt welcome to share my ideas. These conversations were also an opportunity to learn about novel findings and exciting ideas that shaped how I perceived research methodology, graduate school, and academia. A supportive community is critical to the development of graduate students and I recognize how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to share my ideas with the members of CERA