Assessment Practices in an Independent School: The Spirit Versus the Letter

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King's College London, 2011 - Grading and marking (Students) - 502 pages
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In this thesis I explore assessment practices in a preparatory school and examine to what extent the teachers engage with formative assessment. -- In chapter 1, I begin with reflecting on my own childhood experience of assessment as a pupil and later as a teacher, and explore the context of independent education. I also consider the concept of assessment for learning within a preparatory school setting. -- Then in chapter 2, I review the literature on the key themes of assessment and self-regulation in learning and school culture, and discuss the concept of managing change. -- The choices behind the methods of my data collection which include interviews, questionnaires, documents and lesson observations are explained in chapter 3, where I also explain how I analysed the data. I make references to data coding and categorizing, and to ethical considerations. In the following chapter, I present my data analysis and discuss the methods used to make sense of the different data sets. -- In chapter 5, I discuss the findings and respond to the research questions. In my discussion, I find that the data suggest a predominantly summative assessment culture which was examination driven and focused on criterion referencing. Within this environment, I also discuss issues regarding leadership and the ability to manage change. -- In the final chapter 6, I reflect critically about my research. I consider the impact of the school culture on assessment practices in place and how within this culture, assessment shapes pupils' attitudes to learning. I also reflect on personal learning and acknowledge the limitations of my study. -- Regarding assessment, where the 'letter' is observed, the learning outcomes are constrained and encourage reliance and passivity based on ritualised processes, where the "spirit" is observed, it contributes to learning autonomy and active pupil involvement.

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A very insightful research into assessment practices in an English independent school, where the school culture and the aspects of independent education are explored and interesting tensions are highlighted. The study draws on the findings of Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam into promoting pupils’ learning through effective use of assessment for learning as part of everyday classroom practice. Dr J. Goodman examines the principled meaning of AfL in the light of self-regulation theories. 

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