WHAT IS BEHIND SCHOOL GRADES? SOME REFLECTIONS ON TEACHERS’ PERCEPTIONS OF AND BELIEFS ABOUT ASSESSMENT
The practice of the evaluation is a fundamental and essential task of the teachers' activity. In the circular perspective of the teaching and learning process, the evaluation is both the starting and final point. It allocates most of the energy of each teacher and it is at the centre of many of the debates that concern the education system.
Teachers find themselves normatively committed to communicate, through the medium of the "grade", with students and families, objectives towards which they aim, but also to motivate and guide the student. Moreover grades are for teachers also a measure for reflecting on their activities.The grade is in fact a tool with many facets that are summarized in a single number or letter. It is unclear, however, what are actually the elements that contribute to the final assessment.
This point is the subject of several studies that may be essentially classified into three types:
1. Studies that deal with understanding what characteristics of the students affect more on their assessment,
2. Studies that aim at understanding the criteria that teachers use to assess their students,
3. Studies about the relationship between assessment practice and learning processes. The characteristics of a student affect the evaluation of teachers only through the mediation of teachers’ perception.
Moreover the evaluation affects the self-esteem, the interest, the commitment, and so on. It is therefore important to integrate the three approaches if we want to understand what are the processes that lead to the assessment. Therefore, we propose in this study an experimental protocol to investigate: 1. what are the perceptions that teachers have of their students and that actually affect the assessment practice, and 2. what are the perceptions that students have of their teachers. We asked 19 teachers of a middle school (age of students 11 to 14 years) for filling in a short questionnaire on the skills and the commitment they have found in each student. In order to focus the attention of the teachers on the perceptions they have of their students, and not directly about their beliefs regarding the assessment, we told them that the purpose of the survey was to understand what problems, in learning, students may have. The items of the questionnaire were formulated on the basis of the evaluation criteria widely used in docimological studies and official documents of the Italian school. In this way, we obtained a snapshot of the perceptions that teachers have of their students in relation to certain significant aspects of academic evaluation. We asked 163 students for filling in another short questionnaire on their perceptions of their teachers. Subsequently, we sought correlations among the information we gathered through the questionnaires. The aim of this work is to provide a contribution to the debate on the evaluation proposing an examination of the main factors that concur to shape the meaning of the grade through a comparative analysis of the grade and perceptions that teachers have of their students.The data we collected cannot be plainly integrated with results of studies on characteristics of the students that have been detected objectively.