One journey, several destinations: an exploratory study of local contextualisation of national assessment policy

Young, Myra Brunton (2011) One journey, several destinations: an exploratory study of local contextualisation of national assessment policy. Ed.D thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In Scotland, as in many countries, the relationship between research, policy and practice has been complicated, not least because of the multiple stakeholders involved in the change process. This interpretive study focuses on Assessment is for Learning (AifL), a centrally-funded development programme (2002-2008) established to address concerns raised in reviews of assessment practice and intended to create a coherent system of assessment for pupils aged 3-14 in Scottish schools. AifL’s central aspiration was to learn from previous experience of curriculum and assessment development and develop evidence-based national policy and practice in assessment which met the needs of all stakeholders. The study explores the policy messages communicated, and considers how policy communities can influence the relationship between national policy and practice in assessment.

The design of the AifL programme was influenced by research on both assessment and transformational change. A crucial feature of the change process was the opportunity it provided for local contextualisation through the engagement of local education authorities, a group perceived as particularly important in ensuring the long term sustainability of the programme. AifL co-ordinators were appointed to take forward this important role in all 32 local authorities in Scotland but, although they shared a title, background experience and the nature of their appointment meant that this was not a homogenous group. Through analysis of interviews with AifL co-ordinators in seven Scottish local authorities, the study sought to explore the process of change and, in particular, what policy imperatives such as 'local contextualisation' actually mean in practice. It considered co-ordinators’ background experience, their perception of their role and the direction of assessment development within their local authority.

The study has been conducted from an insider standpoint and the small-scale nature of the study allowed exploration of contextualization through narratives revealing individual perspectives. It raised several issues for, while the study had intended to explore approaches to building capacity and discern the impact of difference on national policy, the narratives themselves altered its direction. What emerged from this further illustrates the complexity of change for, although national assessment policy reinforced AifL, the study revealed that prevailing concerns with accountability had compromised its realisation. Whilst AifL had recognised that changing assessment practice required reform of the system as a whole, local contextualisation focused on formative assessment in classrooms to the comparative neglect of other functions of assessment. Other policy legislation had led to systems and structures for accountability in local authorities which placed persistent demands on teachers, so that identified tensions in assessment remained largely unresolved. To address conflicts between what are currently two separate streams of activity and improve the validity of the school evaluation process, assessment literacy generally and alignment of support and improvement roles specifically require further development.

The study indicated that national reform initiatives dependent on local contextualisation must not only appreciate the multiple perspectives of stakeholders as AifL attempted to do, but also seek to expose and address competing priorities, underlying hierarchies and the influence of individuals with specific agendas. Policy messages should be clear and unambiguous taking account of relevant research findings and, crucially, must be reinforced in behaviours which reflect discourse and text. These conclusions may have implications for Curriculum for Excellence, a major reform of the Scottish curriculum. Much can be learned from what AifL managed to achieve - and more from what has been learned from the experience.

Item Type: Thesis (Ed.D)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Assessment is for Learning,AifL,assessment,assessment policy,managing change,policy and practice,professional learning,Scotland
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1501 Primary Education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary Education. High schools
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Hayward, Professor E. Louise
Date of Award: 2011
Depositing User: Ms Myra Young
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-2649
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2011
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:58

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