Liz Eley and Robyn Caygill

Teachers acknowledge that the extensive information they gather on student achievement and progress is useful, but they often report that this activity limits teaching time. There is therefore a need to determine the most appropriate and effective formats for gathering comprehensive information on individual student progress, along with an understanding of when and how these should be applied. NEMP uses a variety of task formats to gather rich information on what students know and can do. This probe study endeavoured to determine the appropriateness and effectiveness of different task formats.

Twenty-seven NEMP mathematics and science tasks at the Year 8 level were selected for this study. Parallel versions of these tasks were then constructed in four different formats: multiple-choice, short answer, stations (working independently on tasks set up at stations around the room), and one-to-one interviews. Students were given equipment to use for the interview and stations tasks, but not for the short answer and multiple-choice formats.
For interview tasks, the teachers read the questions and student responses were video-

  recorded. For stations tasks and the multiple-choice format, students read the questions and wrote their answers.

A total of 258 students took part in the study; each version of each task was completed by a minimum of 62 students. Tasks were grouped into four sets, with each set having a selection of assessment types. Students were assigned to four groups of equivalent ability (as rated by their classroom teacher).
• Students with lower reading abilities did not do as well in task formats requiring them to read and write. These students struggled to understand task requirements or to read task scripts. Reading load became a bigger issue when tasks were set in an everyday context.

• Conversely, there were times when needing to read the question assisted students. Complex questions, questions requiring involved or extended answers, and responses requiring a synthesis of information were answered better when presented in written form. The written format was more appropriate than the oral format because students could control the time they needed to re-read and process the information being presented.

  • Oral answers were generally more extended than written answers. In many cases, minimal amounts of information were presented in written answers while spoken answers were extended (i.e., contained examples and comprehensive explanations). The use of technical terms was also greater, suggesting that students were reluctant to write down terms that they were unsure how to spell.

• In most cases, students performed better when equipment was available. Equipment seemed to help with understanding questions, support the thinking process and assist when demonstrating solutions.

By using a variety of assessment task formats, and achieving a closer match between the format used and the type of information required, teachers can improve the quality of information gathered. In some cases, an adequate picture of student progress can be obtained through checklists. In other cases, particularly when measuring the attainment of objectives reflecting higher order thinking skills, more complex assessment methods provide a more informative picture.  
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The full report of this probe study will be available on this website by Jan 2004 or can be obtained from USEE.