To measure or not to measure

7 September 2018

Don Klinger web
Professor Don Klinger

You’ll have heard the arguments for and against nationwide testing in the education sector, and Professor Don Klinger knows the pros and cons better than most.

He’s made a career out of studying issues around measurement, assessment and evaluation and will talk about his work at his inaugural professorial lecture this month at the University of Waikato.

Professor Klinger is the recently appointed Dean of Te Kura Toi Tangata Faculty of Education at Waikato. His academic career began in Canada, first with a degree in ecology, some odd jobs, a move to teaching, followed by his doctorate in educational psychology and 17 years as a university researcher, teacher and leader.

“When I began my teacher education programme, British Columbia had recently introduced large-scale testing and I was against it,” he says. “But a professor suggested I look more deeply into the subject before making the call.” That was the start of a unique and varied journey exploring the science of measurement and the ways in which we assess learning.

Professor Klinger began to investigate the potential for large-scale testing to support or interfere with student learning, and how we evaluate students and the subsequent decisions, practices and policies that arise from these practices.

“With large-scale testing, rather than individual classroom or school-wide testing, you can obtain a better understanding about trends in the system, and identify challenges and potential directions for improvement. While classroom assessment has its place, there are so many social factors that influence outcomes in individual schools. Large-scale testing presents a better system overview.”

Through such testing programmes, Professor Klinger has been able to identify school and teacher factors associated with higher performance, with one of the key school-level factors being a positive discipline climate in which “students are set rules that are fair and reasonable and where they feel safe”. Professor Klinger also warns of the pitfalls of these testing programmes, in which schools are ranked, or uninformed policy decisions are made in response to test results.

Alongside his work on large-scale, external testing, Professor Klinger has remained connected with what is happening in terms of assessment across learning environments. He co-chaired the taskforce that set the USA Classroom Assessment Standards, and his expertise has been called upon to examine the methods used to evaluate medical students and other professionals. He’s even assessed the measures we use to evaluate the teaching performance of professors. Most recently he has been working In Tanzania, where it’s not uncommon for schools to have up to 200 children in a single class.  Professor Klinger worked with educators there to help teachers develop and align their formative assessment and teaching. The result was a set of Assessment Guidelines, 100,000 copies printed for distribution across East Africa.

In Canada, Professor Klinger was Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University, Kingston. He served as the president of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE/SCEE) and the Consortium for Research on Educational Assessment and Teaching Effectiveness(CREATE).

Professor Don Klinger's public lecture takes place on Tuesday 18 September at 5.15pm at the University of Waikato in the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts.

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