Research into the summative assessment experiences of teachers in Zimbabwean primary schools resulted in Ms Lucia Musekiwa being awarded a PhD in Curriculum Studies.
The aim of her research was to provide more insight for education authorities, the schools examination board, school administrators, teachers, learners, parents and all stakeholders about assessment practices in primary schools.
Musekiwa, who says her research calls for formative, continuous assessment, discovered that most rural and farm schools were under-resourced and, as a result, are mostly disadvantaged in final summative examinations.
The study was prompted by the universal shift in perspective about assessment which promotes formative and continuous assessment modes in teaching and learning. The research presents assessment as being for learning rather than as a one-time final score that judges and determines the whole of the learner’s life from primary level upwards.
‘The efforts and attempts to change the assessment system in Zimbabwe have been acknowledged, though they have largely remained on paper, disadvantaging capable learners,’ said Musekiwa.
The findings revealed that teachers’ experiences of a summative assessment at Grade 7 level, which is still the sole final assessment at this level in Zimbabwe, has had more negative impacts than positive ones, particularly for the majority of the less privileged learners and under-resourced schools.
Study participants identified the following as influences and impacts associated with summative assessment: pressure, anxiety, stress in both learners and teachers emanating from preparation for the one final examination, and negative judgements of learners and teachers in response to the results, thereby impacting the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom.
Musekiwa argues that ‘If the results are to be true reflections of the learners and schools, socio-economic factors surrounding the learners and schools need to be considered in assessment practices.’
A high teacher-pupil ratio emerged as a significant negative factor in the area of sole summative examinations at Grade 7 level, and one which led to unprofessional instructional practices to cope with the demands of these terminal examinations. Inadequate resources were another challenging factor in a situation of one sole final examination.
The use of English for teaching, learning, and examination purposes was revealed as a challenge to most disadvantaged learners and under-resourced schools, in particular, those with no facilities and supportive resources to aid mastering the language and in improving pass rates, especially through summative assessment. Therefore, different categories of schools mattered in whether summative assessment enabled equitable, neutral, and fair assessment.
Emerging from the findings was consensus on merging formative, continuous, and summative forms of assessment. A holistic approach to assessment was called for, taking into cognisance the diverse backgrounds of learners and schools.
The publication and comparison of results emerged as a demotivating factor for low-income schools and disadvantaged learners.
Musekiwa suggests ‘a more balanced and holistic assessment structure at the Grade 7 level that caters for diverse populations and environments in Zimbabwe.’
‘My wish is to contribute more information and shed more light on embracing the fusion of formative assessment into continuous and summative assessment for final evaluation and decisions for Grade 7 learners in Zimbabwe in a bid to accommodate all categories and socio-economic statuses of schools and learners,’ she said.
Musekiwa thanks family, friends and her supervisor Dr Lokesh Maharajh for his ‘outstanding and unwavering assistance, advice, guidance, and helpful direction throughout this study.’
Musekiwa hopes to become a lecturer and to research and write more on related issues in the education system.