Portfolio assessment in primary school mathematics: a study of pedagogical implications
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This thesis records a study of major change. The study was designed to reveal and address the implications for teachers of primary mathematics, of moving from test-based assessment to a base built upon a balanced blend of norm-referenced and criteria-based assessments. In developing embedded authentic assessment through a process portfolio model, the teachers looked to change from the assessment of learning to assessment for learning. Consequently, through the efforts of the teachers involved, their students and those students’ parents, the study traced a substantial pedagogical restructure. Based on an interpretative methodology, this study of significant assessment restructure used mainly qualitative approaches to data collection and analysis, supplemented by limited quantitative data. Interviews, participant observer interactions, surveys and joint teacher discussion and planning sessions were effective in mapping the change. Through frequent interaction, participating teachers shared their emerging understandings, along with difficulties and successes in the evolution and implementation of an effective, flexible process portfolio. From the beginning of the evolution, teachers working together to bring about improvements that would lead to students perceiving mathematics as meaningful, engendered a strong feeling of excitement, curiosity and ‘team’. As the change progressed the team identified and met a range of challenges, not the least of which was gaining an understanding of the nature and function of a process portfolio strategy as against the product portfolio which was in use at that time in the study school. The resultant change was not implemented without barriers.Of prime concern across the group of teachers involved was the perennial problem of finding development time in what were already busy teaching days. However, for the change to be meaningful and lasting, it was imperative that the teachers invested considerable time in assuming ownership through genuine engagement in the evolution of the new concept. The engagement saw teachers experience first-hand the application of constructivist learning theory. It was an approach to learning that was largely unfamiliar to them and one they needed to understand in developing a successful process portfolio model. The study of that learning and the resultant change illustrated that a well-designed process portfolio structure offers widely diverse opportunities for teachers and students to work meaningfully with authentic mathematics. The enthusiastic prolonged engagement on the part of the students, with notable parental support, was deemed by the participant teachers to be suitable reward for the time and effort that they invested over the two years of the study. Following the teachers’ prolonged commitment, the emergent portfolio was shared through an in-house booklet written to encourage other teachers to adopt authentic assessment, Process Portfolios in Primary Mathematics: A Guide. Within the booklet, explanation and illustration of the rationale, form and function of the unique process portfolio model offers starting points for others, should they embark on a similar course of assessment change in search of real student engagement in understanding mathematics. Subsequent sharing of the results of the study with the wider profession through journal articles and conference workshops is to be based on the contents of the guide booklet.
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