Teacher perceptions of the National Continuous Assessment Programme in a primary school in the St. George East Education District in Trinidad and Tobago.
The study sought to report the views of primary school teachers as implementers of an innovative National Continuous Assessment Programme, a reform initiated by the Ministry of Education. A qualitative case study was employed to explore the following research question. “What specific concerns do teachers have about the implementation of the National Continuous Assessment Programme?'' Seven teachers were chosen through purposive sampling. The semi-structured interview was the instrument used to collect data. Member checking and peer-debriefing were strategies used to help to assure validity.
Major findings revealed that the success of the innovation depended to a large extent on training, leadership, collegial relationships, administrative support, parental involvement and resources. Recommendations for more effective implementation of the Continuous Assessment Programme included .The need for more administrative policies and structures both at the school and district level.
Continuous training and staff development
The procurement of resources
Effective monitoring and evaluation of CAP by school personnel as well as by Ministry Officials
Sensitizing and educating parents about the CAP.
INTRODUCTIONBackground to the problem
Assessment and particularly the assessment of students' learning achievement has become the object of a great deal of attention an activities all over the world, in industrialized countries and developing countries alike (Kellaghan, 2001).
The World Conference on Education for all in Jomtien, Thailand in (March 1999) stated that the focus of basic education should be on “actual learning acquisition and outcome”. Additionally, The Dakar Framework for Action (2000) stressed the importance of having a clear definition and accurate assessment of learning outcomes.
A plea for formative assessment in classrooms has become a common denominator in academic publications in all sorts of forums across different countries, and so across different educational cultures (Remesal, 2001).Continuous Assessment was implemented in countries such as Malawi and Honduras .It was noted that there was great improvement in student achievement.(USAID, ,Missions 2003 Vol 1 No.1.)
The major changes in the area of assessment of student progress and achievement that have taken place worldwide have also impacted on countries in the Caribbean region as well. The assessment policies and practices of the primary phase of education in Jamaica has responded to these global developments by revising assessment for primary schools in tests and exams .They have shifted their focus from summative instruments to formative and diagnostic tools (Joint Board of Teacher Education , 2003).
Similarly, Barbados has also moved away from relying on a one shot examination and is engaged in a continual incremental system of measuring knowledge, skills and attitudes that students have gained from pursuing the primary school curriculum over a period of time. It has been proposed that the continuous assessment scores should be used in conjunction with the score gained in the Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination to allocate students to secondary schools (Ministry of Education). Other Caribbean islands which have adopted the Continuous Assessment Programme include Belize, Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, Guyanna, Monsteratt, St Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago (Caribbean Exams).
The Educational landscape of Trinidad and Tobago is highly examination oriented .The 1980s and 1990s have seen reforms in education geared towards the improvement of teaching and learning. Notions of the teacher as transmitter of knowledge have given way to the constructivist view of teaching and learning.
Over the years the Common Entrance has been a course of concern for all stakeholders. The Common Entrance examination was considered to be a high risk exam because of the high stakes involved .This examination led to intense stress on the part of some students causing school phobia, demotivation, underachievement and failure. The weaknesses of the low achieving student were compounded as they moved –up through the school system. The Ministry of Education in its response to these concerns embarked on implementing a comprehensive plan, which replaced the much debated and heavily criticized Common Entrance Examination.
A need was established by the National Tasks Force on Education (NTFE), in its Education Policy Paper (1993-2003) for the upgrading of the approach to testing and assessment in the school system. It noted that there was an absence of specified attainment benchmarks(especially in the early years of the primary school) which can guide teaching and learning on one hand and on the other, promote the necessary diagnostic , remedial and preventative interventions critical to the development of an effective and efficient education system. Therefore, the Ministry of Education in Trinidad and Tobago adopted the Continuous Assessment Programme to be implemented in primary schools nationwide.
The Trinidad and Tobago Continuous Assessment Programme (CAP) is a comprehensive system of evaluating and supporting the delivery of the curriculum in schools. It promotes the view that school assessment is an on-going process integral to the goals of teaching, undergirds all good learning and teaching principles and interrelates with curriculum and instruction. It employs a number of strategies and methods for observing, collecting, recording and analyzing and reporting on data about students' attainment, their problems and their progress.
The Continuous Assessment Programme is intended to consider multiple samples of students' performance to ensure that the educational decisions made about students are reliable and implemented from an unrestricted perspective. This approach is informed by a general rule in testing, which states that “no important decision should be made on the basis of one limited sample of behaviour.”
The multiple forms of assessment employed in CAP contributed to the educational process in different ways.
1. The provide opportunities for gauging students' performance across the curriculum in all areas of their strengths and weaknesses.
2. They indicate readiness for transition through the different experiences in the school, and from one level of the school system to the next.
Continuous assessment is an approach which focuses on teachers' teaching and students' learning and on the processes which govern the teaching and learning process .The link between curriculum, instruction and assessment is the key position in the operational framework for CAP. The conceptual positions which support CAP are that:
All children can learn and;
High expectation foster high achievement
The Continuous Assessment Programme was implemented in two phases, a pilot phase (September 1998-July 2000) and full implementation is (September 2000). The implementation of this model will require that new methods, new learning and new trends of thinking replace some traditional and tested ways of operation.
In response to this curriculum reform, the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) has maintained the position that it supports the Continuous Assessment Programme in principle, but does not support its implementation until certain prerequisites are in place. This has led some persons to believe that TTUTA does not want CAP and that the association is resisting the implementation. The prerequisites that must be fulfilled if TTUTA is to fully support the CAP are:
Non-Contact time for teachers in the Primary Schools
Adequate resources and proper funding
Suitable referrals systems and access and specialist
Standardization of procedures
School X is located in the St.George East Education District. The Staff at school X consist of twenty-one teachers, twenty female and one male. Most of the teachers are trained .A few of them have developed themselves professionally and have obtained degrees in education.
In recent years there has been some improvement in our students' academic performance. However, many of our students are still underachieving at the National test and Secondary Entrance Assessment examination. This under achievement by many of our students has triggered great concern among parent and teachers as well. Despite the concerns expressed, the situation in most of our classrooms has not changed significantly. At School X the majority of our teachers continue to follow a curriculum that reflects a transmission ideology-textbook learning, rote memorization and practical drill. Not only do teachers use traditional methods of teaching but they engage in traditional assessment as well. The physical arrangement in many of the classrooms also reflects a transmission mode. Desks are arranged in rows which do not allow for collaborative learning among students.
Additionally, teachers at school X work mainly in isolation. Efforts were made for them to engage in collegial relationships where they could plan, share their ideas, teaching strategies and best practices, but most of them did not welcome the idea. However at the beginning of each term teachers meet at their levels to plan the scheme of work to ensure that the same topics are covered. They also meet towards the end of the term to plan the end of term tests.
The Continuous Assessment Programme was introduced at school X in March, 2005 .Teachers seemed to be resistant to the change. They appeared to be disgruntled because it seems as if they were not ready for this innovation. Recognizing that it was a reform mandated by the Ministry of Education, they had no choice but to get on board. Hence, the researcher's interest in finding out teachers' perceptions as they implement this programme.
Statement of the Problem
As was indicated in the background the Continuous Assessment Programme was to influence the quality and style of teaching and learning to endure that all children learn by utilizing a range of teaching, learning and assessment strategies. The cultures of different schools have caused teachers to be resistant to the programme in spite of what the Ministry of Education is saying.
The international literature has advocated the benefits of Continuous Assessment. However stakeholders and TTUTA have argued for proper policies and structures to be put in place to effect this change. It is against this background therefore, that the study sought to determine the nature and dynamics of teacher perceptions on the implementation of the National Continuous Assessment Programme in the school under study.
Purpose of the Study
This study sought to understand why many stakeholders were against the implementation of the National Continuous Assessment Programme when many countries in the international and regional arena were advocating its use.Moreover, the researcher wanted to find out what in the culture of the school may be contributing to teachers' resistance to CAP. The study is also undertaken to discover what could be done to bring teachers on board to implement this innovation successfully.
Significance of the Study
It was hoped that this study would highlight the experiences (concerns, feelings, perceptions) of the teachers involved in this change process. It would also deepen teachers' understanding of the requirements for successful implementation of CAP. Additionally, it will give meaningful insight into how teachers could be empowered and prepared to conduct the Continuous Assessment Programme. Finally, it will contribute to the local and international body giving insights into the nature and dynamics of Continuous Assessment Programme.
Justification for doing the Study
Continuous assessment is a modern assessment practice observed worldwide. The Literature has revealed that very few people have researched the impact of continuous assessment in schools. In Trinidad and Tobago no such research has been undertaken to determine how teachers feel about the implementation of the innovation. There has been little monitoring of CAP since its inception by Ministry officials. It is expected that it will give administration at School X a deeper understanding of teachers' perceptions as they implement the Continuous Assessment Programme.
The conceptual framework argued that:-
The Continuous Assessment Programme can be successful only if teachers are brought on board and the institutional framework of the education system provide the necessary support
Teacher empowerment is generated through professional development
The institutional framework must be provided through policies established by the Ministry of Education through strong structures, adequate resources and administrative support.
One central question and three sub-questions guided the study. The questions are as follows:
1. What are the perceptions of Primary School teachers in the sample of the study on implementing the National Continuous Assessment Programme?
a) What are the experiences are of teachers as they implement the National Continuous Assessment Programme at School X?
b) What specific concerns do teachers have about the implementation of the National Continuous Assessment Programme?
c) How have the teachers in the school of the study modified their practices to respond to the demands or requirements of the National Continuous Assessment Programme?
d) What are some of the interventions that teachers believe could facilitate the smooth transition to the implementation of CAP at School X?
Limitations of the Study
Limitations are those conditions beyond the control of the researcher, which may restrict the study in any way. In this study time constraints and preparation of the students for the National Test encroached on the opportunity and sequence for holding the interviews.
In the literature assessment practices there are many approaches. The literature speaks of traditional assessment as well as alternative assessment practices. My concern in this study is to deal with how teachers respond to official mandates for new assessment procedures.This study will be confined to one site, school X, seven participants, one from each grade level and to time, one year September 2007-June 2008.Therefore it will be difficult on a researchers platform to generalize the findings.
Definitions of Terms:
Implementation- The process of putting into practice an idea , programme or set of activities and structures new to people attempting or expected to change.(Fullan, 2001, p.69)
Concern – The composite representation of the feeling, preoccupation, thought and consideration given to a particular issue or task (hall and Hord, 2001, p.61).
Stages of Concern – A set of seven specific categories of concerns. (Hall and Hord, 2001, p.63).
1. Awareness :Little concern about or involvement with the innovation is indicated
2. Informational: A general awareness of the innovation and interest in learning more detail about it is indicated .The person seems to be unworried about himself/herself in relation to the innovation. She/he is interested in substantive aspects of the innovation in a selfless manner, such as general characteristics, effects and requirements for use.
3. Personal: Individual is uncertain about the demands of the innovation, his /her inadequacy to meet those demands, and his/her role with the innovation .This includes analysis of his/her role in relation to the reward structure of the organization, decision-making and consideration of potential conflicts with existing structure or personal commitment .Financial or status implication of the program for self and colleagues may also be reflected.
4. Management: Attention is focused on the processes and task of using the innovation and the best use of information and resources. Issues related to efficiency, organizing, managing, scheduling, and time demands are utmost.
5. Consequences: Attention focuses on impact of the innovation on clients in his or her immediate sphere of influence. The focus is on relevance of the innovation for clients, evaluation of outcome including performance and competencies, and changes needed to increase client outcomes.
6. Collaboration: The focus is on coordination and cooperation with others regarding use of innovation.
7. Refocusing: The focus is on the exploration of more universal benefits the innovation, including the possibility of major changes or replacement with a more powerful alternative .Individual has definite ideas about alternative to the proposed or existing form of the innovation.
Perception – Roth and Bruce (1995) cited in Hargie(1996) describe perception as “ how we make sense of all the information we receive from the world via our senses
Diffusion-The process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system (Rogers, 1995).
Innovation – ‘a planned change' and or an idea practice or object perceived as new by individuals or units expected to change (Rogers, 1996)
Continuous Assessment is a student evaluation system that operates at the classroom level and is integrated with the instructional process. (Capper, 1996)
Overview of Methodology
This research used the qualitative approach in the tradition of a case study. It is an ethnographic case study. According to Creswell (1998), the researcher examines the groups observable and learned patterns of behavior. Through participant observation the researcher is immersed in the day to day lives of the people or through one to one interviews with members of the group. Qualitative research is also concerned with examining subjective reality Since I am looking at perceptions I thought it would be appropriate.
Purposive Sampling tends to be popular in educational research. Since I am operating in my own school it is convenient to use this approach. Seven participants were purposively selected from each level of the school. Infants one and two, lower juniors- standards one, two and three, upper juniors standards four and five.
Data would be collected using semi-structured interviews with a focus group. Interviews will be taped as well as writing of field notes. The interview protocol will be the instrument used for data collection. Interviews will be transcribed reduced and categorized using codes .Themes would be identified.
Summary of Chapter One
This study was designed to investigate teacher perceptions of the implementation of the National Continuous Assessment Programme. In trying to address the research problem, it was recognized that attention had to be paid to the forces driving the need for Continuous Assessment internationally, regionally and locally .The nature and dynamics of the National Continuous Assessment Programme was discussed .The conceptual framework emphasized that CAP could be successful only if there is teacher empowerment and the institutional framework of the education system provide the necessary support.
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