Class size has little effect on assessment practices

With the major shift toward using classroom assessments to promote learning rather just to measure it, it’s important to have a better understanding of teachers’ classroom assessment practices and what factors influence these practices.

A recent study in The Alberta Journal of Educational Research looks at how class size, school size and subject area affect teachers’ grading and assessment practices.

Study: “Factors Affecting Teachers’ Grading and Assessment Practices”, by C. Randy Duncan and Brian Noonan, The Alberta Journal of Educational Research, Spring 2007, Volume 33, Number 1, pp. 1-21.

Conclusion: Class size has surprisingly little effect on teachers’ assessment practices, concludes this study from The Alberta Journal of Educational Research. School size was not a significant factor either, according to this research based on a survey of Canadian high school teachers.

A more important factor in grading and assessment practices is the teacher’s subject area. Mathematics teachers were less likely to take into account behaviors such as motivation, effort, paying attention, etc. in their grading. They were less likely to use more subjective assessments (constructed-response assessments such as structured observations and essay-type questions).

Main research questions: How do factors such as class size, school size and subject area affect teachers grading and assessment practices?

Participants: 513 secondary school teachers in one Western Canadian province
Method: Teacher responses to a 34-item questionnaire were analyzed. The questionnaire included a section for demographic information about grade level taught, subject area, number of students in the class and total number of students in the school. Teacher responses were collected with a six-point Likert-scale (not at all=1; completely=6).

• The study did not support the position that teachers actually vary their assessment practices based on class size.
• High school teachers used non-cognitive practices such as effort, improvement and behavior, indicating that many teachers perceived a need to “pull for borderline cases.”
• Understanding why teachers make the assessment decisions that they do will help modify assessment principles, ultimately improving instruction and student learning.


  • Class size and school size were not significant factors in teachers’ grading and assessment practices.
  • Mathematics teachers placed less emphasis on academic enabling behaviors (i.e., ability level, student effort, paying attention, improved performance, work habits and level of disruptive behavior) than teachers in English, social studies and practical arts (industrial arts, home economics) and other subjects.
  • Mathematics teachers preferred using grouped quizzes with objective assessments (performance quizzes, multiple-choice tests, assessments that measure student recall and major exams) rather than more subjective assessments.
  • Science teachers also emphasized grouped quizzes with objective assessments more than teachers in English, practical arts and other fields.

From Assessment for Learning: 12 recent studies on formative assessment and aligning assessments with learning goals, published by Educational Research Newsletter August 2007.

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