Navigating dilemmas in transforming assessment practices: experiences of mathematics teachers in Ontario, Canada

Abstract

Current thinking encourages teachers to incorporate a range of assessment practices that are responsive to student thinking and promote student learning. At the same time, teachers are situated in a landscape of accountability, where they are often seen as technicians who implement prescribed curriculum, policies, and procedures with success measured by externally created assessments. This paper considers how teachers navigate this difficult terrain as they incorporate new assessment practices in their classrooms. We report on a two-year project undertaken with 42 teachers of mathematics (Grades 4–12) in Ontario, Canada. Using an analytic framework adapted from Windschitl (Review of Educational Research, 72(2), 131–175.2002), we explore the dilemmas these teachers identified as they met in communities of practice. Our findings highlight the need for coherence in the assessment messages communicated to teachers and provide evidence of the critical role of ongoing collaboration and dialogue to support the development of teachers’ professional judgement and enable change in their assessment practice.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In Canada, education is a provincial responsibility.

  2. 2.

    Though this distinction is clearly made in the Growing Success document, many Ontario teachers either use assessment and evaluation interchangeably or use the term assessment to encompass both activities.

  3. 3.

    The final version of Growing Success was released toward the end of our 2-year study, but an earlier draft of this document had been released, and many Ontario teachers had become familiar with the contents through the earlier drafts and through other policy documents.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) who provided an infrastructure grant for the research facilities (Pi Lab) used in this project. The second author would also like to acknowledge the financial support she received from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Most importantly, we wish to acknowledge the dedication and commitment of the research project participants, without whom this work would not have been possible.

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Correspondence to Christine Suurtamm.

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Suurtamm, C., Koch, M.J. Navigating dilemmas in transforming assessment practices: experiences of mathematics teachers in Ontario, Canada. Educ Asse Eval Acc 26, 263–287 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11092-014-9195-0

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Keywords

  • Classroom assessment
  • Dilemmas in practice
  • Assessment reform
  • Teacher practice
  • Mathematics education