Why Did My Mentor Teacher Only Give Me a Credit?
TEACH Journal of Christian Education
W hy Did My Mentor Teacher Only Give Me a Credit?
Avondale College ResearchOnline@Avondale
Follow this and additional works at: https://research.avondale.edu.au/teach Part of the Education Commons Recommended Citation
Why did my mentor teacher only give
me a credit?
The lonely task of grading your pre-service teacher
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education and Science, Avondale College of Higher
Education, Cooranbong, NSW
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education and Science, Avondale College of Higher
Education, Cooranbong, NSW
Associate Lecturer, Work Integrated Learning, Faculty of Health Sciences, The
University of Sydney, Lidcombe, NSW
The placement of pre-service teachers in
schools to integrate theoretical learning with
practical experience is an integral component
of many tertiary education courses. Issues with
both the reliability and validity of assessment
grades in a workplace environment suggest
a call to strengthen the level of academic
rigour of these placements. In this study,
professional development lecturers in one
education program [Avondale College of Higher
Education, NSW] constructed a
standardsbased grading rubric designed to assist mentor
teachers assess the performance of pre-service
teachers. After implementation of the rubric
for two Professional Experience sessions,
mentor teachers were surveyed to assess the
effectiveness and usefulness of the grading
rubric. Results from quantitative and qualitative
data found the grading rubric to be a vital tool in
the assessment process. Benefits of the grading
rubric included accuracy and consistency of
”asserts that the assessment grading rubric was
grading, ability to identify specific areas of
desired development and facilitation of mentor
to pre-service teacher feedback. This research
a useful tool for all three parties concerned: the
course supervisor, the mentor teacher and the
While the assessment of students in the tertiary
setting is complicated enough to plan, administer,
mark and justify, the assessment of tertiary students
in the workplace while on practical placement
creates a whole new set of issues.
made the insightful observation that
“people grow best when they continuously experience
an ingenious blend of support and challenge; the
rest is commentary” (p. 42). These are the types of
experiences tertiary institutions desire their students
to have while on placement. The question then arises
as to the best way to facilitate this.
This paper reports on a study conducted into
the attitudes and beliefs of onsite mentor teachers
who were responsible for implementing a trial rubric
to assess the practical performance of pre-service
teachers while on placement.
Also reported in this paper is a theoretical
platform for the practical assessment process,
common thought on practical assessment found in
the literature, and the history of how this research
became an area of interest.
Issues identified by the authors in the practical
assessment area mostly revolve around the lack
of control tertiary staff have over the way mentor
teachers administer the assessment regimes the
faculties ask them to implement. Specific issues
related to this concern include:
• The mentor teacher may understand little
about assessment of pre-service teachers.
• The mentor teacher may care little about the
assessment of the pre-service teachers on
• The mentor teacher may shortcut the
evaluative part of the placement for various
reasons including time pressures, priority
allocations or feelings of inadequacy.
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• The mentor teacher may both feel intimidated
by the student and give a higher grade than
deserved, or they may discourage the student
with an undeserved poor grade for their stage
• Tertiary institutions generally have no authority
over the mentor teachers on location but rely
on their support and cooperation to train the
next generations in the profession
• Some tertiary institutions have not historically
provided the mentor teachers with the tools to
carry out an objective assessment.
The depth of this issue became apparent during
debriefing sessions with a group of pre-service
teachers after a professional experience placement.
Many of these pre-service teachers were either
elated at their grade because it was significantly
better than last time, or really discouraged at their
low grade, given their excellent previous grades.
Pre-service teachers reported some mentor
teachers quickly and randomly ticking boxes on the
last day of placement.
It is for these reasons that it could be argued
that workplace assessment supervisors should
only be required to grade the pre-service teachers’
performances ‘satisfactory’ or ‘not satisfactory’.
Foundational assertions for this research were:
• That excellence can only be aspired to when
levels of performance are identified in the
• That mentor teachers have been expected to
provide a grade with no real guidance or scale
• That if the validity and reliability of the
assessment process were to be improved, a
scale needed to be provided.
A rubric for assessment of pre-service teachers
was consequently developed. This paper reports on
responses to a survey designed to measure attitudes
mentor teachers have towards the use of the rubric.
What research is saying
Equipping pre-service teachers with the skills and
confidence they need to function in a classroom
requires collaboration between the training institution
and mentor teachers. The worth of workplace
experience as a complement to more theoretical
coursework is well documented
Billett, 2009; Gowing, Taylor & McGregor, 1997)
While Professional Experience placements offer a
balanced practical component to teacher education
courses, the associated assessment process
is somewhat challenging. Assessment may be
impacted by variables including the diversity of
school demographics and localities, and schools
adapting to different assessment criteria and
expectations from different tertiary institutions
. A further significant variable is
the status of mentor teachers. This can range from
two to forty years of experience (See Figure 1) and
extend from classroom teachers to department
coordinators, assistant principals, and in the case
of smaller schools, teaching principals. The position
and experience of the mentor teacher also impacts
on both understanding the mentoring / assessment
process, and the time available to administer it. To
complicate the process further, the assessment
process is sometimes shared between two mentor
teachers. This occurs either because of job sharing
or in the case of high school teachers, mentors in
two teaching fields.
Considering potential variables,
claims that the consistency of individual
assessors cannot be relied on in practice. This
view is supported by
, who found
considerable variation in how mentor teachers
carried out assessment of pre-service teachers,
both in relation to the perceived purpose of
assessment and the criteria used. Yet, if assessment
of pre-service teachers is to be useful, both
interconsistency and intra-consistency are essential
To grade or not to grade?
The assessment practices of universities vary
in regard to pre-service teachers on school
placements. Anecdotal evidence pointing to the
challenges of attaining consistency across a range of
external assessors has resulted in some institutions
adopting a pass / fail paradigm. Supporters of this
assessment model claim that this is the fairest form
of assessment given the complexity of different
locations and assessors.
Not all research supports this paradigm,
asked three categories of
participants in a Professional Experience program
(university supervisors, mentors teachers and
preservice teachers) to prioritise perceived problems
in the assessment of pre-service teachers. Out of
13 identified problems, the “Lack of guidelines and
grading rules for assessors” ranked at number one
for top priority, level of agreement and congruence
with a 95% certainty that this result did not occur by
chance (p. 161). This clearly indicates that all three
groups (university supervisors, mentors teachers
and pre-service teachers) experienced a measure
of frustration when there were no clear assessment
guidelines. From this and other research
Sindelar & Correa, 2006)
it becomes evident that
grading criteria are important because “they have
with a clear
48 | TEACH | v6 n2
a substantial affective impact on learners and
their learning, influencing both students’ sense
of achievement, and their motivation and level of
engagement in future courses”
. It appears that the literature in this area gives
measured support to assessment procedures that
establish standards against which performance is
(Cochrane-Smith & Fries, 2002; Weisz &
Rubrics as an assessment tool
Having established the importance of a grading
system for professional experience placements,
this review focuses on the assessment tool. A
variety of assessment methods have been used to
assess practical components of higher education
courses. These include observation and note
taking, checklists, continuums, journals and rubrics.
The last of these is the assessment tool under
Reddy (2011, p. 84) defines a rubric as an
“assessment tool that is used to describe and score
observable qualitative differences in performances.”
, p. 18) additionally states that
”professional experience placements.
“the rubric is a format for expressing criteria
and standards.” It is these characteristics that
make rubrics suitable for the purpose of grading
The use of evaluation criteria emerges in
the literature as an important point in teacher
education as a study on assessment by Pindiprolu,
Lignugaris / Kraft, Rule, Peterson, & Slocum
(2005) points out. This study concluded that the
increasing demands on pre-service teachers to meet
performance based criteria highlighted a need to
develop effective scoring rubrics. Also supporting
the need for criteria are the supervisors, mentors
and pre-service teachers in Tillema’s (2009) study,
who ranked ‘Not having clear criteria in appraisal’
in fourth place out of 13 identified problems in
assessment of a practice teaching lesson (p. 161).
There were several other problems identified in
Tillema’s (2009) study that could be addressed by
the use of a common grading rubric. These were
‘Using different appraisal sources / information’,
‘Conducting a supervision conversation’,
‘Maintaining supervision standards’, ‘Giving
directions for future learning’, ‘Giving feedback to
students’ and ‘Alignment in ratings among assessors’
(p. 161). In each of these instances a grading rubric
could provide both a common language and rating
scale that would not only provide criteria standards
but also offer a starting point for professional
conversations between the mentor teacher and the
introduces a note of caution to the
use of rubrics in a higher education setting. This
relates to the nature of the rubric, its construction
and implementation. Problems occur when
performance descriptors lack clarity, inconsistency
exists in descriptors across levels and rating
scales are mismatched to descriptors. Also noted
is the preference to train assessors by offering
opportunities for debate and discussion about the
rubric, providing practice opportunities, and giving
assessors pre-marked samples as a reference
. While this may work in a faculty or
department, it is not traditionally feasible when the
mentor teachers who will be assessing pre-service
teachers are widespread geographically. A further
challenge is to create an assessment tool that is
detailed enough to accurately measure performance
yet does not discourage mentor teachers from using
it because it is time intensive.
Rubrics do more than provide clear criteria and
descriptions of desired performance for summative
assessment. Rubrics can provide formative
assessment by providing pre-service teachers with
a clear picture of their interim skill set and as
, points out, this assists mentor teachers in
giving helpful and specific feedback. This has a
positive effect on student professional experience
Using rubrics for the assessment of practical
tasks is beneficial for all participants. Pre-service
teachers benefit from the detailed descriptors’
support of increased understanding of assessments
and are able to build on their performance and
improve. Mentor teachers find it easier to assess
their own effectiveness and give helpful feedback,
and university supervisors are informed about the
effectiveness and quality of their course
Aligning assessment with course objectives
The importance of assessment which informs
course structure and content should not be
overlooked. With the move towards Graduate
Teaching Standards, there is a need to combine
assessment with course outcomes. Several authors
on this topic speak in favour of the alignment of
assessment with course objectives.
Niederjohn and Bosack (2011
) present a case for
embedded assessment which allows “faculty to
take an active and intentional role in specifying
student learning and determining whether students
meet specified criteria” (p. 81).
the argument one step further, stating that desired
learning and understandings will occur when all
course components are aligned. Consequently,
mentor teachers should be assessing pre-service
teachers according to course objectives, rather
than according to their own personal opinions. The
grading rubric referred to in this article is an attempt
to bring school-based assessment into alignment
with evidence-based assessment practices, thus
validating the assessment process.
The use of valid, standardised assessment
criteria generally supports a consistent and fair
assessment system. What remains unanswered is to
what extent the use of a standardised assessment
tool can assure uniformity of assessment across all
mentor teachers who participate in the professional
experience program and also their affective
response to implementing it.
A cross-sectional survey instrument was constructed
to determine how workplace supervisors used the
rubric provided. It also collected their opinions on
its ease of use, its accuracy and its effectiveness.
Demographic data sought included length of
teaching experience in years and qualifications of
placement mentors / supervisors.
The survey featured both closed- and open-items
exploring assessor value of the grading rubric. The
closed items used a five point Likert scale ranging
from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’. The
survey face-validity was ascertained by iterative
consultation with teacher education academics. Any
comments on review of the surveys were absorbed
into the survey content.
Qualitative data from the survey was aligned with
informal or unsolicited comments received by the
Analysis of results
Responses from mentor teachers to the survey
numbered 112. This represented a response rate
of 30%. From the survey, key information was
collected, collated, and is outlined graphically below
along with qualitative data for each item.
The mentor teachers’ years of experience are
illustrated in Figure 1. It is clear from the chart that
there is a wide distribution of years of experience,
and all age groups are represented.
Figure 2 shows the perceived ease of use of
the rubric and Figure 3 indicates the percentage of
respondents who believed that the rubric provided
an accurate assessment of pre-service teacher
While the survey data showed that mentor
teachers found the rubric easy to use and accurate
(Figure 3), the qualitative comments collected in
the course of the research implied it improved
assessment accuracy, and that these two
outcomes were very closely linked.
Each of the following comments by mentor
teachers shows how the elements of ‘ease’ and
‘accuracy’ are placed in the same category.
I found the rubric essential for my final assessment
of [pre-service teacher] and it made it incredibly
easy to identify her exact level of achievement—
in fact I felt that it was almost too quick and easy to
use so I was able to spend more time and effort on
my written comments for [pre-service teacher].
Makes assessing students a lot simpler and clearly
defines to them areas that they are achieving well
in and areas that need improvement.
rys0ea–61 rys01–21ea rys0ea21–3
Years of experience
on which to
I have found using the grading scale / rubric easy
to follow it allows you to make / give a grading
instead of relying on your own judgment.
I love the grading / rubric as I was able to clearly
identify what marks that the students I was
working on should receive. I found it also very
beneficial in being able to use the right words in
being able to properly articulate my observations.
I have kept a copy for personal reference.
The data indicates a strong agreement that the
rubric does in fact simplify the task of assessing
the practical performance of pre-service teachers.
ltrysong ragee reega irsaedeg ltrysngo irsgeead /na
Using the rubric has had a positive effect
on student learning
There were a small number of mentor teachers who
disagreed that this is the case. It appears that this
was based on the length of time it takes to do the
assessment thoroughly using the rubric compared to
the less structured way they had completed it in the
Further comments from mentor teachers added
depth to the idea that the process of using the rubric
increased their confidence in the overall process of
assessment and it justified for them the grade they
allocated. Two such comments follow:
It gave me confidence to give the grade I did
because I knew my PT (pre-service teacher) had
covered the requirements.
My staff had already determined the grades we
were awarding without looking at the rubrics—
however the rubrics provided not only confirmation
of our decisions but also focused discussion when
determining the grades to be awarded.
Apart from the assessment benefits of using the
rubric, the survey asked the question as to whether it
may also be utilised as a tool to enhance pre-service
Figure 4 indicates that there is agreement that
the use of the rubric does help pre-service teachers
learn. The mechanism at work is that the pre-service
teacher can use the rubric as an indication of the
standard expected for each graduate outcome and
plan how they are going to achieve them. They may
even seek advice as to how they can do better so as
to achieve the standards.
When the mentor teacher is reviewing the
performance of the pre-service teacher with them at
the end of the professional experience placement,
the standards can again be used as the basis for the
evaluation process and valuable learning can occur.
The following comments from mentor teachers
illustrate the pre-service teacher learning that they
believe occurs while using the rubric:
Feedback and discussion—verbal and written is
valuable for student learning.
The grading scale also allows me to give the
student specific feedback that relates to their
The rubric provides a target for the students to
know what they could / should be aiming for.
The rubric states clearly the various levels that
students can obtain and therefore gives them key
performance indicators on which to focus.
The grading is incremental and allows students to
see what they need to do to advance to the next
This research hypothesised that the use of the
rubric may result in the mentor teachers thinking
a little more carefully about the whole assessment
process for their pre-service teacher (Figure 5). The
survey asked this question and around 75% of the
respondents agreed that using the rubric as a basis
for assessment of their pre-service teacher had
caused them to think more about the assessment
process, and probably think more carefully (see
the following comment). Figure 5 illustrates this
The following comment is indicative of several
that showed how much the mentor teachers relied
on the rubric in the assessment process:
We have discussed the rubric many times,
particularly when trying to come to a decision
about [pre-service teacher’s] professional conduct
and teaching practice... and [mentor teacher] kept
referring back to it to help her assess [the
preservice teacher’s] performance... and to confirm
Both the quantitative and qualitative data showed
that the inclusion of the grading rubric with the pack
of materials and resources sent out to the mentor
teachers has been a popular strategy. The results
are very comprehensive and the authors believe
this is the case not only for the reasons surveyed
and reported above, but because the grading rubric
has filled a vacuum and given mentor teachers a
tool to complete a task that has historically been
approached in a somewhat random manner.
In addition to comments relating to their own
situation, mentor teachers were able to see a wider
application of the benefits of a grading rubric.
Some teachers felt the rubric would improve
interconsistency. One typical comment stated, “it seems
like an instrument that will develop a level playing
field for you.” Other teachers saw its application as a
diagnostic tool, not just for the pre-service teacher,
but for course content and structure, with one stating
that it could “identify areas of weakness within the
student / cohort which need to be addressed.” There
were also teachers who appreciated the fact that
pre-service teachers were being assessed against
teaching standards, and that it was “scaffolded to the
New Scheme Teacher requirements.” Some mentor
teachers from states other than NSW, however,
saw this as irrelevant to their situation. With the
implementation of National Teaching Standards
in 2013, the rubric will be redefined according to
the graduate level of the National Standards, thus
addressing this problem. Each of the above points
highlights an issue raised in the literature
2009a; Cochrane-Smith & Fries, 2002; Sadler, 2011;
and affirms the decision to move to a
grading rubric for assessing pre-service teachers.
It is important to recognise that this study revealed
a small number of perceived issues relating to the
rubric. Criticisms from mentor teachers pertained to
the construction of the rubric, in particular the lack
of clarity in performance descriptors (“Grading is
important, however the examples supplied seem a
little complicated / cumbersome”), and mismatched
rating scales to descriptors (“I feel that some of the
distinctions between the levels were ambiguous”).
These comments were in line with the cautions
in regards to the development
of rubrics. The grading rubric is continually being
refined in response to these observations.
Despite some minor criticisms, it appears
that the overall impact of introducing the grading
rubric was one of relief and perceived support for
mentor teachers, pre-service teachers and college
supervisors. Other phrases used by mentor teachers
Great help, gives all teachers common ground, it
was a helping guide, I hope other universities adopt
this practice, it allowed me to sort my thoughts,
it allowed me to focus on judgments that were
relevant, it helped them identify their ‘next steps’, it
provides language and details.
Historically, the practical assessment of pre-service
teachers in the school setting has presented many
issues. These concerns have usually been focussed
to sort my
and focus on
around questioning reliability and consistency in
the way mentor teachers have allocated grades to
pre-service teachers. The mentor teachers have
felt under-resourced to decide on a grade, the
preservice teachers have been bewildered by the
inconsistencies in the way they have been graded
and the college supervisors had not adequately
addressed either of these situations.
The authors believe that the rubric has achieved
a satisfactory balance between providing adequate
outcomes for assessment and not being so onerous
as to discourage the supervisors from using it.
This style of assessment is built on sound theory.
It accepts that it is unfair and unreasonable to ask
anybody to grade anything without valid criteria from
which to work.
The introduction of the grading rubric has
empowered mentor teachers to assess confidently
pre-determined levels of competence. It would be
”had eliminated inconsistencies, but the appraisal
while encouraging pre-service teachers to attain
overstating the use of the grading rubric to say it
and level of acceptance of the rubric initiative
suggest that with continued assessment, review
and development the rubric will continue to provide
an effective means of assessment of pre-service
teachers in the workplace. TEACH
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