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By Dr Jeanette Berman MAPS
Private practice, ACT

Assessment is an integral part of school psychology practice. During my career as a school psychologist I became increasingly frustrated by the limitations of conventional assessment in terms of providing information directly relevant to classroom learning. Because of my teaching background, I often found myself wanting to teach, so I could see learning happening. I did not want to lose the efficacy of standardised instruments but wanted more systematic information about what supports and hinders children’s learning.

It was professionally affirming to discover the wealth of research on 'dynamic assessment' that, in essence, combines teaching and assessment in order to gather quality information about learning. Dynamic assessment, as opposed to static assessment (e.g., conventional tests), utilises an intervention phase within the assessment procedure to explore the nature of learning. Static assessment requires that focus remains on products of past learning accessed in passive and standardised ways. In contrast, in dynamic assessment psychologists sit beside students while they learn and actively facilitate their understanding. A session involves three phases: pre-test, mediation, and post-test.

Pre-test (static assessment): Administered in a conventional
manner, this provides a measure of actual achievement level
(abilities that can be demonstrated without assistance) 

↓ 

Mediation: The assessor provides teaching or mediation
that supports the learner in the process of learning. The
mediation has cognitive, emotional and social (including
language use) aspects to it. The mediator responds to
perceived learning needs of the learner. 

↓ 

Post-test (static assessment): A measure of potential
developmental level
(maturing abilities that are
demonstrated with assistance) 

 

Dynamic assessment is designed to be complementary to the conventional assessment tool kit of school psychologists. The major advantages of dynamic assessment lie in the closer links it forges between psychology and classroom teaching, and the effective use it encourages of the dual qualifications and skills of many school psychologists. Dynamic assessment is a growing field around the world and two studies in which I have been involved have shown its potential for use in Australian schools.

Australian studies in dynamic assessment

My doctoral study (Berman, 2001; Berman & Graham, 2002) involved the development and implementation of a dynamic assessment procedure with primary school-aged children. The assessment information from dynamic assessment was compared to that gained through a conventional classroom pencil and paper test and an individually administered standardised test.

The study established that the dynamic assessment procedure accessed valuable information about student learning that productively informed teaching. It provided immediate and useful information about students’ knowledge and skills, how much assistance they needed to achieve, as well as other aspects of functioning that affected learning. Such factors included seeking meaning, focusing attention, memory, understanding language, fully engaging in learning relationships, anxiety, confidence, motivation and self-perception as learners.

A subsequent study explored the teachability and utility of dynamic assessment procedures (Berman, 2005). In this study a group of experienced school psychologists was provided with professional learning opportunities and then implemented dynamic assessment within their usual school practice.

The school psychologists found that the combination of their teaching skills and psychological skills was very effective for this model of assessment. The dynamic assessment procedure was seen to be useful for exploring cognitive understandings, taskrelated behaviours, language development, as well as emotional issues that affect learning. To illustrate the benefit of dynamic assessment interactions, one psychologist reported that:

These give you more of an understanding of what the teacher is actually faced with … Some kids aren’t very good at taking help … so this certainly gives you that information.

Another response from an experienced psychologist indicated the impact of incorporating teaching into assessment procedures:

I got to an understanding of students’ cognitive levels and strategies a lot sooner … I thought I understood the students a lot better as a result [compared to standardised test results].

Dynamic assessment, no longer a new assessment model, is well established in educational settings (Haywood & Lidz, 2007). Dynamic assessment is an important complement to the conventional assessments used by school psychologists, and instruments are now becoming commercially available.

The author can be contacted on jberman@grapevine.net.au.

 

Further reading

The Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology is
published on-line (www.iacep-coged.org) and also
provides links to other resources on dynamic assessment. 

 

References

Berman, J. (2005). The development of Dynamic Assessment skills in practising school psychologists. Paper presented to the Tenth International Conference of the International Association for Cognitive Education and Psychology, University of Durham, UK.

Berman, J. (2001). An application of dynamic assessment to school mathematical learning. Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of New England.

Berman, J., & Graham, L. (2002). School Counsellor Use of Curriculum-Based Dynamic Assessment. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 12(1), 21-40.

Haywood, H., & Lidz, C. (2007). Dynamic Assessment in Practice: Clinical and Educational Applications. New York: Cambridge University Press.