In mainland China, where there exists a deeply-rooted examination culture, an assessment reform promoting the use of assessment to support teaching and learning has been carried out since 2001. After a decade, however, only a few studies have been done that focus on primary school mathematics teachers’ assessment practice at the classroom level. With this background, the Improving Classroom Assessment in China (ICA-C) project, as a sequel to the ICA project in the Netherlands, was set up, which contains four studies in total.
Classroom assessment, or formative assessment in the hands of teachers, is the assessment that teachers continuously do during teaching with the aim of collecting information about students’ learning and make adequate instructional decisions to meet students' needs. To shed light on the current situation of Chinese primary school mathematics teachers’ perception and practice of classroom assessment, we first did a review study of 266 teacher-written journal papers addressing classroom assessment and published in 2011 and 2012. Apart from revealing Chinese primary school mathematics teachers’ conceptions of classroom assessment, we also investigated how these conceptions are related to the assessment guidelines as included in the latest mathematics curriculum standards released in 2011. Then, a large-scale questionnaire survey was conducted to identify different assessment profiles of teachers. For collecting data, an existing questionnaire developed in the ICA project in the Netherlands was adjusted to fit to the Chinese context. The responses of 1101 Chinese primary school mathematics teachers from 12 provinces and regions were analyzed through exploratory factor analyses and a latent class analysis.
Hereafter, two studies were set up to explore the use of classroom assessment techniques (CATs) in Chinese primary school mathematics classrooms. CATs are short teacher-initiated targeted assessment activities proximate to the textbook, which teachers can use in their daily practice to make informed instructional decisions. In the third study, six female third-grade mathematics teachers from two primary schools in Nanjing were offered a series of CATs that were designed to assess their students’ understanding of division. The aim of this study was to investigate Chinese primary school mathematics teachers’ use of CATs. The fourth study was set up to examine what insights Chinese primary school mathematics teachers gained into their students’ mathematical understanding from using CATs. In total, 25 third-grade mathematics teachers from nine schools in Nanjing were given eight CATs assessing students’ understanding of multiplication.
The most unexpected finding of the ICA-C project is that, although the Chinese primary school mathematics teachers generally endorsed the idea of conducting assessment for improving teaching, adapting further teaching based on the assessment information seems to be a missing piece in their picture and practice of classroom assessment. The teachers involved in our study often considered the CATs as feasible to implement in class but rather as nice teaching activities than assessment activities. Adapting a teaching plan based on assessment information seems quite challenging for them. Our findings suggest that a fundamental shift in teachers’ conception of assessment is necessary before they can use assessment formatively.