THE ROLE OF ASSESSMENT
IN EDUCATING THE REFLECTIVE PRACTITIONER
Robin Burgess-Limerick (email@example.com)
Doune Macdonald (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Teresa Carlson (email@example.com)
Trish Gorely (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Stephanie Hanrahan (email@example.com)
Department of Human Movement Studies, The
University of Queensland, 4072. AUSTRALIA
Practitioners in the field of Human Movement Studies are employed in
a range of professional activities including exercise programming, school
teaching, physical activity management, and research and development.
Despite the diversity of activities, a common theme evident from a survey
of employers was that they valued in graduates the skills of reflective
practitioners such as leadership, decision-making, communication, and
counselling; and "a professional attitude" (Macdonald &
Abernethy, 1994). As suggested by Schön (1987), curriculum reform
is necessary to educate such reflective professional practitioners.
Assessment is integral to curriculum reform. We start from an assumption
(after Australian Curriculum Studies Association, 1994) that assessment
- relate to the goals of the curriculum
- be relevant to the learner
- be formative and educative, and
- be criteria rather than norm based.
During 1997 we were involved in an action research project concerned
with improving our assessment practices. Specifically, we were concerned
with how our assessment practices could encourage reflection-in-action.
Whereas rule governed behaviour ("knowing-in-action") is relatively
easy to assess using structured evaluation tools, we were concerned with
how reflective skills (e.g. original thinking, evaluation) and processes
(e.g. negotiation, self-/peer assessment) could be recognised and encouraged
within assessment schemes.
The Department of Human Movement Studies comprises a wide range of subjects
and disciplines (science, arts, humanities and education), and has theoretical,
applied, clinical, and field based subjects, with numbers that range from
directed studies of one to classes of over 400 students. Consequently,
the assessment practises developed during the action learning project
were diverse. (Examples can be found at http://www.uq.edu.au/hms/alp97appa/alp97appa.htm).
The action learning project incorporated interviews with individual staff
members and groups of students, and a whole day workshop with departmental
staff. An independent consultant with expertise in assessment was also
involved in providing comment on the assessment methods developed.
CHOICE OF ASSESSMENT TASKS
The choice of assessment tasks is fundamental. To encourage reflection-in-action
the assessment tasks must reflect practitioners' problems. Students of
pedagogy, for example, are assessed while planning and teaching a unit
of work which reflects the principles of contemporary curriculum design
and expectations for teacher practice. Assessment tasks should also require
appraisal and evaluation of practice and the provision of alternative
practices. For example, students of health promotion appraise health-related
practices in a work site and create an alternative program.
DEVELOPING A SHARED UNDERSTANDING OF ASSESSMENT CRITERIA
Students' responses to the changes in assessment were overwhelmingly
positive. Students spoke passionately about the perceived unfairness of
norm-referenced assessment and believed that the use of criteria and the
accompanying standards gave their efforts a sense of focus and direction.
They spoke repeatedly of being "guided" in the preparation of
their responses and being able to take some responsibility for the attainment
of desired grades. A small number of students, however, admitted to not
using the stated criteria at all in the preparation of their responses
to tasks. These students spoke of the "vague" language in use.
They felt that due to the ambiguity of the terminology there was no benefit
to be gained by closely reading, or being guided by, the criteria and
standards. For example:
"I find I don't even look at criteria because they're just so vague...
words like "evaluate", "identify" and "analyse".
What do they mean really? I just usually write the assignment I think
they (staff) want written and hand it in. I don't bother trying to meet
This attitude emphasised the importance of developing a clear and shared
understanding of the criteria and standards by which the performance is
to be judged. This is the single greatest hurdle to assessment reform.
Staff agonised over the terminology chosen, trying to ensure both clarity
and conciseness while also capturing the range of meanings intended. The
issue magnified in concern when there were stakeholders outside The University
(such as practicum sites) using the criteria and standards to judge student
This problem of how to develop a shared understanding was constantly
addressed by staff and they realised the need for methods other than relying
solely on the standard descriptor statements to help clarify the meaning
of the criteria and standards. The provision of responses models is one
means of communicating expectations. Students predominantly supported
this process especially when the models were annotated. Some students,
however, identified a problem with modeling assessment responses. Trying
to move away from a "good" exemplar proved very difficult for
some students who found it almost impossible to resist the urge to copy
the model. They felt at times that models became a hindrance to "original"
thought. One student explained, "I found it difficult to deviate
from the sample. It was so good and I found myself writing the same sentences."
Consequently, if models are to be provided it is likely that multiple
models describing a range of response styles/formats and a range of response
standards should be provided.
One staff member proposed that the key to developing a shared understanding
of the criteria lay in providing discussion and feedback while students
were engaged with the assessment task.
"Clarification (of criteria and standards) can only be done through
interaction.... I could do more in terms of discussing them with the group,
(and) could do more in terms of examples and modeling, but... it's not
until the students start to do the task that they realise it doesn't make
sense to them - the criteria, the expectations. That's when you need to
Increasing the weighting of assessment items ie., early items contributing
less to a final grade, was viewed as a useful way of encouraging utilisation
of feedback by students. This is most useful when common criteria are
utilised across assessment tasks. Allowing resubmission of assessment
tasks also allows increased utilisation of feedback.
Reflective skills may be explicitly promoted by including self- and peer-
evaluation evaluation as a criteria. Writing partnerships are another
way of developing these skills.
Negotiating aspects of the assessment with students such as weighting,
nature, and criteria is a way of promoting ownership.
An unresolved question which arose is how to encourage risk taking in
the form of original thought.
THE PROCESS OF CURRICULUM REFORM
Sparkes (1990) outlined how curriculum change, such as that associated
with criterion based assessment, can be manifested at three levels: level
one where new and revised materials and activities are introduced (surface
change); level two at which changes in teaching practices are observed;
and level three where changes are apparent in "beliefs, values and
understanding with regard to pedagogical assumptions and themes"
(real change). Movement toward real change in the way the staff were thinking
about and implementing assessment occurred during the action learning
project. While depth of change within individual staff members varied,
all members of the project had moved beyond criterion based assessment
being merely a new way of presenting assessment tasks. Changes in teaching
practices included: an increase in the modelling of assessment tasks;
encouragement of peer-assessed feedback; and the bringing of learning
and assessment closer together. There was, however, some reticence among
the project team, along with other departmental staff, to think differently
about the role of assessment in the learning process. For example, while
some staff were comfortable looking at assessment as a means to maximise
the achievement of all, others were still committed to assessment serving
to sift and sort student achievement.
Six interlinking factors contributed to the change process. These factors
were: the creation of a supportive environment in which staff could experiment
with criterion based assessment; the sharing of ideas, experiences and
problems; peer accountability; the encouragement for all participating
staff to reflect on their practice through semi-structured interviews;
responding to student feedback; and the creation of time for both the
design of criterion based assessment and the reflection that followed.
Australian Curriculum Studies Association (1994). Principles of student
assessment: Policy Statment. Canberra: ACSA.
Macdonald, D. & Abernethy, P. (1994). Bringing professional development
into focus: A case study of human movement studies. Education Research
and Perspectives, 21(2), 69-79.
Schön, D.A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. San Francisco:
Sparkes, A. (1990). Curriculum Change and Physical Education. Geelong:
Deakin University Press.
ph: +61 7 3365 4718
Department of Human Movement Studies,
fax: +61 7 3365 6877
The University of Queensland,
Personal pages - http://www.uq.edu.au/~hmrburge/
HMS Department pages - http://www.uq.edu.au/hms/
Ergonomics Australia On-Line - http://www.uq.edu.au/eaol/
the list of Conference papers]