Table of Contents
Educational achievements in the country are crucial for the overall progress of the nation. Therefore, investigation of the better teaching and assessment methods is always a timely issue to study for the scholars. Assessment of the students’ performance may vary throughout the countries and is mostly divided into traditional and alternative approaches. In Saudi Arabia, the traditional method has been prevalent for a long time. However, since the 20th century, the scholars have provided a number of evidences to prove that the alternative assessment techniques are often more effective (Resnick & Resnick, 1992). Even though it is still used nowadays, performance-based assessment (PBA) attracts scholars’ attention more and more frequently. A number of researchers of different times like Bowers (1989), Shepard, Flexer, Hiebert, Marion, Mayfield, & Weston (1996), Alabdelwahab (2002), Linnenbrink & Pintrich (2002), Century (2002), Clark (2004), Al-Abdulkareem (2004) and Martin, Mullis, Foy, & Stanco (2012) prove ineffectiveness of the traditional method and encourage the school teachers and principals to implement more efficient and progressive ways to teach and evaluate students. The purpose of the current paper is to investigate whether such new performance-based assessment approach is really effective. As the results are to a great extent dependent on the subject, curriculum development and environment, this research is focused on science studies in the sixth grade of Saudi Arabian female schools. With regard to the fact that there are various aspects that influence the outcomes of inquiry, the current work refers to legal, social and geographical peculiarities of the education process in order to make conclusions about the most effective assessment method within some definite conditions. The aims of the study include investigating the links between the science curriculum and assessment practices in the classroom, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the new alternative PBA technique, and the attitudes of the students and teachers towards the new approach. These aspects should become the basis to prove that performance-based assessment improves female students’ achievements in science in primary schools comparing to traditional assessment.
PBA is supported by a number of scholars as an efficient and progressive approach (Clark, 2004). The experiences of many countries including Australia and the US prove that PBA is quite effective in improving the scientific achievements among students and making their critical skills improved (Martin et al., 2012). These results are also consistent with the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS, 2011). Investigation of the PBA advantages is based on several research questions that are aimed to show the impact of this assessment method in several areas. Among such, the study covered the influence of the approach on achievements and understanding of students’ attitude towards subjects. In addition, the advantages and disadvantages of PBA in comparison to the traditional assessment method were analyzed.
In such a way, five separate research questions were outlined. The firsts one was focused on differences between the learning results obtained using traditional testing method and PBA. The second one was aimed to show the impact of PBA on students’ attitudes towards science. The third question focused on the teachers’ perception of PBA. The fourth question defined the links between PBA and Saudi primary schools conditions. The fifth question concerned the attitude of students towards the performance assessment approach implementation.
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In such a way, the above mentioned research questions were answered on the basis of the interviews with teachers and students, who participated in the experimental study. The comparison of PBA and traditional method has to show which type of science learning is better for knowledge and interest of the students.
The alternative assessment was introduced at two schools for females in Saudi Arabia. With regard to the possible influence of different curriculum or age differences, only the 6th grades were chosen. The experiment lasted for two weeks. Specific conditions were designed in order to conduct the study and gather the necessary information during the experiment. The procedure could be conditionally split into four main stages. Firstly, the schools and grades were chosen and divided into two groups. The control and experimental groups provided a possibility to compare the traditional and alternative methods in order to define which one is more appropriate within the existing cultural context. Secondly, the teachers underwent special training and obtained instructions regarding PBA peculiarities, unit redesigning, material preparation for lessons and the overall procedure. Thirdly, the experiment was conducted. Finally, after it had finished, the data was collected through the interviews with the participants and analyzed to provide the conclusion.
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The research can be defined as a mixed one as it provides both qualitative and quantitative data in order to measure the positive impact of performance-based assessment on students and overall national achievements (Khattri, Reeve, & Kane, 2009). The use of quantitative methods was limited mainly to the results of the students. The qualitative approaches included investigation of the attitudes of both teachers and students and were exceptionally important to explain the statistics. These methods made gathering various data and analyzing it simpler and easier (Bryman, 2008). The independent variables were the subject, students’ age and gender, teachers and environment. At the same time, students’ achievements, and attitudes of students and teachers towards the subject and experiment were the dependent variables of the research. The instruments used to gather qualitative and quantitative data included science tests, statistical analysis tools in six sigma (SATSS), activities sheets, and semi-structured interviews. Open-ended questions were quite effective in providing qualitative explanation of the advantages of PBA that were present apart from the marks showing the progress level.
Rationale for the Choice of Design
The rationale for the study design is that practical evidences are needed to ensure the benefits of the alternative assessment method within the chosen cultural context. In fact, the environment of Saudi Arabia is not properly investigated and demands additional inquiries in the area of performance assessment. Evaluation process in Saudi Arabian education primarily relies on the traditional approach. As for the alternative one, little to no practices can be found. Neither assessment practices nor curriculum or teaching methods are studied properly due to lack of the examples of PBA usage at Saudi schools (Carr, McGee, Jones, McKinkey, Bell, Barr, & Simpson., 2000). PBA advantages and disadvantages are mostly supported with the theoretical basis. Therefore, it is necessary to search for the practical evidences of alternative assessment appropriateness in the Saudi Arabian environment. Practical model chosen for the current study is the effective means to see the reaction of the students and teachers and check how the new type of assessment can fit into the existing education system. Careful analysis proves that introduction of such approach in Saudi Arabia cannot be absolutely similar to the models applied in other countries, but needs specific changes that have to be planned (Al-Dossary, 2000). Therefore, implementation of PBA in Saudi female school is a good way to find the practical arguments for and against the method within the existing cultural context and curriculum.
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The ability to evaluate the learning and teaching processes as well as attitudes of the participants is the main reasons why the empirical research based on collection of the first hand data was chosen. It provides the possibility to meet the main objective of the study that is to measure the positive impact of PBA in the Saudi context. Moreover, as the mixed methods research, it provides particular data that is valuable for a specific situation due to applying both qualitative and quantitative approaches (Creswell, 2013). Statistical data and quantitative techniques were particularly valuable as they provided numerical explication of information as reliable evidence for the results that were found (Bryman, 2008). The choice of the experimental and control groups was also crucial for provision of a comparative analysis and making the advantages of PBA more clear on the background of the existing assessment method.
Sampling was done quite quickly and according to several features as it is recommended in case of performance assessment studies (McMillan, 2013). The sampling characteristics included grade, school, subject and age. The school sample for the empirical research was chosen randomly. Due to the fact that the peculiarity of the Saudi cultural context is mostly predetermined with gender segregation, female schools were selected. Being chosen out of a great list of Saudi educational institutions, two schools were considered as the representative or exemplifying ones, which should not be anyhow different from others (Yin, 2009). Instead, these establishments showed a pattern of children’s and teachers’ usual behavior and choices. What is important, the grades comprised the students with different levels of knowledge and interest in science. Hence, they were appropriate for the deeper analysis of the possible positive change PBA could bring to their achievements, perception of the learning process and attitude towards the subject. Grade 6 was the best choice due to the number of students and their willingness to participate. For both schools a control and experimental group were created. The general number of students, who should have participated in the experiment, was 104. However, the actual number was 101 due to absence of some children. The control group comprised 51 students, and the experimental one – 53. The age of the participants varied from 11 to 15 years with the average of 12 years for both groups. Both experimental and control groups were taught by the same teacher in order to decrease the number of variables and the possibility of inaccuracies in the qualitative data.
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The effective analysis of the situation in the classroom can be done only in case of the pre and post testing of the students (Alotabi, 2014). Mainly, the data obtained from students can show the interaction within the grade and let one assess the method’s efficiency (Alotabi, 2014). The quantitative data was collected twice. In the beginning and at the end of the second week, students had to answer specially designed questions that allowed the scholars to estimate the initial and final level of their knowledge. Only such comparison could ensure that the researchers provide credible results about the achievements of the students. In order to collect the information, science tests and SATSS were used for both the experimental and control groups. As for the qualitative data, it was gathered only once. Both teachers and students answered the qualitatively-designed interviews at the end of the second week.
The collected data was analyzed from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives. According to qualitative analysis of the teachers’ answers, performance assessment approach was evaluated as highly effective. Its main advantages included contribution to the students’ activity, interactivity and responsibility to the studies. Hence, the teachers put efforts to implement to the classroom work such practices that would be more efficient and would provide more control over the learning process. Nevertheless, in addition to the above mentioned advantages, such disadvantages as additional time expenditures and efforts as well as difficulties in assessment, which mismatch the current Saudi environment, were mentioned as discouraging. According to the quantitative analysis, performance-based assessment was estimated as effective, too. The scores within the experimental group were considerably higher than those in the control groups. As for the attitude towards science, the better perception of science characterized the experimental group as well instead of the control ones.
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Statistical package for the social sciences (SPSS) rules and principles should be regarded as the primary approach to data analysis. Field (2013) marked out that such technique is the most effective when testing the scientific statements and measuring the dependent variables. In addition, pre- and post-tests analysis would demand usage of the independent sample t-test for two first questions as it is often used when the data should be compared (Freed, Hess, & Ryan, 2002). For instance, the first and the second questions are based on comparison of the means of scores of the control and experimental groups. ANOVA statistical test is the most appropriate to evaluate variability (Faraway, 2002). Hence, to address the second question one-way ANOVA will be used to evaluate the difference between the groups’ attitudes towards science. As for the last three questions, qualitative analysis should be applied in order to provide the most essential information to answer the research questions.
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Both qualitative and quantitative findings are informative for answering the research questions and contribute to the evidences that alternative performance-based assessment has a number of strengths (Huff, 1998). Even though quantitative data may seem more accurate, in fact, it is not always appropriate to choose numerical results (Hammersley, 1996). The best alternative is to rely on the mixed research.
The answers of the students and teachers often coincide with the previous evidences of the scholars. For instance, according to Biondi (2001), PBA is an effective way to provide solid information on the students’ progress. The research results prove that it is really so. Performance-based assessment is a unique and efficient tool to improve the education achievements in various areas. Moreover, the inquiry showed that communication and participation in activities improved children’s skills and interest for studies.
Benefits and Problems of the Design
Research design is quite effective in searching for the answers to research questions. Among the benefits of the current design, one should point proper planning and division of the stages, clear choice of the research questions and usage of the mixed study that provides both qualitative and quantitative information for further analysis (Coolican, 2004). The interviews are the essential tools to get qualitative information for consideration (Siegel & Ranney, 2003). The empirical research creates the real environment for students and leads to the reliable perception of PBA instead of some theoretical guessing. Moreover, conducting the inquiry during a two-week period is a good choice as the students get a possibility to adjust to the new rules and are assessed according to the entire topic, not some separate lessons that were taken out of the context. One more benefit is the choice of the representative case of а the real existing sample instead of creating a new artificial group. Such decision is appropriate to create more detailed and real representation of the students’ and teachers’ behavior.
According to Foster (1996), the participants can sometimes lie to “look good”. Therefore, the questions from the interviews may be risky and may demand additional surveillance to receive trustful information. It is necessary not to let the students respond more than necessary or ignore some questions not to complicate the further investigation. However, the interviews can provide accurate information on the project perception by the participants and show its strengths and limitations (Trochim, 2006).
The chosen design allows providing a thorough analysis of the performance-based assessment approach in science learning in the Saudi context. It puts the new assessment method in contrast to the traditional one to prove the PBA prevalence and higher effectiveness. The qualitative and quantitative analysis of the questionnaires’ and interviews is the efficient technique to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the alternative approach.
Based on the specially designed experiment involving the representatives from two schools, the study defined the efficiency of the alternative method for assessment of the level of knowledge and attitudes towards science among students and the advantages it can provide. The aims of the inquiry were reached, and the research questions were answered. The proper choice of the periods for studies as well as for conducting the interviews, statistical and qualitative analysis has provided accurate results. Consequently, a number of tests and interviews have allowed evaluating PBA as effective technique with minor disadvantages. The main advantages of the method included contribution to the students’ activity, interactivity, responsibility to studies and increased achievements of the students, who could lag behind previously. However, the disadvantages comprised the additional time expenditures and efforts on the teachers’ part, difficulties in assessment, mismatch to the current Saudi environment and even the physical abilities the government can provide to schools. The study has proved that the student-centered methods of teaching are effective enough in the Saudi cultural context.
The implication of the study can be that additional researches will be conducted and performance-based assessment will be adjusted to the educational system of Saudi Arabia to improve learning and teaching processes.