University of Sussex
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Influences of external assessment on teaching and learning in Junior High School in Ghana

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:24 authored by Akunu Agbeti
Assessment is integral to teaching and learning and external assessment is a logical sequel to the interaction between teachers and their students because it represents an account of this interaction to the public. External assessments, especially those that have high stakes, such as the end-of-cycle examinations, are known to have an influence on teaching and learning in the years that precede them. The effect of external assessments on teaching and learning has been extensively researched. The test items which transmit the influence have also been thoroughly analysed in terms of the kind of thinking that they demand from students. However, the aspect of external assessment that has not received much attention is the test developers who originate the test items and are therefore ultimately responsible for the type of effect the items have on teaching and learning. External assessment in sub-Saharan African countries especially, demand mainly recall of facts with very little demand on the thinking and problem solving abilities of students. This type of question tends to induce teaching and learning mainly for recall. This research aims to throw light on the intentions of test developers for Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) in Ghana when they write items for this end-of-cycle examination. A broadly qualitative approach was adopted for this research but quantitative data was used in addition. Seven test developers were interviewed extensively on how they perform their test development activities. In order to have a fuller understanding of the external examination, the teachers and students who experience its influence were included in the study. Forty teachers and 120 students completed questionnaires relating to their beliefs about the BECE and eight each of the participating teachers and students were subsequently interviewed. The findings suggest that the test developers were aware that the level of thinking in their questions was low and would prefer questions that demand higher levels of thinking. They were also aware that past questions influence teaching and learning and were of the opinion that the standard of education is low. However, the test developers did not have the intention to change teaching and learning with their tests because they could not see a relation between their test items and the quality of teaching and learning. It was also found that their personal interpretations and concerns about the social impact of the examination are more influential in determining the type of items they write. This is significant because item writing is presumed to be a neutral and objective activity devoid of subjective considerations. The findings further suggest that the examination influences what teachers teach and how they teach it and the teachers' self-worth, prestige and public esteem depend on the performance of their students in the examination. The students believed the BECE prevents them from learning other things and from developing their talents and they saw the examination as the fairest means of competing for selection to senior high school because it is less partial when compared with their teachers' continuous assessment marks. It was also found that past questions serve as an alternative curriculum because they determine the standard of the examination questions and also influence teaching and learning. Through the medium of past questions, the examination is able to influence policy by circumventing it or diverting attention away from it. It was concluded that the influence of social considerations in item writing has created a vicious cycle of low level questions that induce teaching and learning aimed at recall which does not equip students to use knowledge acquired to solve the problems that attract the sympathy of the item writers. It will require awareness creation among stakeholders about the central role of the external assessment in determining the quality of teaching and learning to break the cycle by improving the quality of the test items.


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