Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 5, Issue 3, Article 1 (Dec., 2004)
Mehmet KÜÇÜK & Salih ÇEPNİ
Measurement and assessment for science education in the Turkish educational context: Problems and reflections
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2. Measurements and Assessment in the Turkish Context

In this section we have introduced the general structure of Turkish educational system and discussed the measurement and assessment approaches used in the Turkish educational system, examining the problems encountered in the assessment of Turkish students. And finally, a large problem source of assessment area, the university entrance examination (OSS), has been identified, and then we have focused on its validity and effectiveness as a standard and national exam.

2.1. Structure of the Turkish Educational System

Turkish educational system consists of four parts, which continue one after the other. Each of these is explained in details below:

2.1.1. Pre-school Education, an optional education system, aims at contributing to the physical, mental and emotional development of the children, helps them acquire good habits and prepares them for primary education. Pre-school education institutions include independent kindergartens, nursery classes in primary schools and preparation classes.

2.1.2. Primary Education provides children with basic knowledge and ensures their physical, mental and moral development in accordance with national objectives. It generally comprises the education of children in the 6-14 years age group. An eight years' primary education is compulsory for all Turkish citizens who have reached the age of six. This level of education is free of charge in public schools. There are also private schools under the state control.

2.1.3. Secondary Education encompasses two categories of educational institutions, namely general high schools and vocational-technical high schools (lycées) where a minimum of three years of schooling is implemented after primary education. The aims of secondary education are to provide students with a knowledge of general culture, to acquaint them with problems of individual and societal nature and to motivate them to find solutions; to instill in them the strength and knowledge to participate in the economic, social and cultural development of the country and to prepare them, in line with their interests and talents, for institutions of higher learning.

  1. General high schools are educational institutions, which prepare students for institutions of higher learning. They implement a three-year program over and above primary education, and comprise students in the 15-17 years age group.
  2. Vocational-technical high schools provide specialized instruction with the aim of training qualified personnel. The organization and periods of instruction of these schools are different. Some of them have a four-year program in which case the schooling age is 15-18.

2.1.4. Higher Education: The purpose of higher education is to train manpower within a system of contemporary educational and training principles to meet the needs of the country. It provides high-level specialized education in various fields for students who have completed their secondary education. Universities comprising several units are established by the state and by law as public corporations having autonomy in teaching and research.

2.2 Review of the Literature on Measurement and Assessment Approaches in Turkey

2.2.1. Overview to the Turkish Educational Context: Some Problems and Causes

In the Turkish schools, traditional teaching methods are mostly used. Teachers of both primary and secondary school levels generally use presentation method while teaching their courses. Laboratories are not used as the primary learning centers of science and it is mostly stressed that the majority of science teachers also use traditional methods while teaching in classrooms and prefer demonstration and deduction methods while implementing their laboratory activities (Kaya, Çepni & Küçük, 2004; Pekmez, 2001). Many researchers have investigated the issue of why science teachers are not willing to use laboratories in teaching their courses. It was found out that many factors influence the failure to use laboratory in schools; one factor is that activities done at the laboratories are not consistent with the questions types asked at the university entrance examination; the other factors can be listed as the lack of material in science laboratories, lack of laboratory experts in schools, inconvenient physical conditions of science laboratories, science program fully oriented with subject matter and students' negative attitudes towards laboratories. In addition, the other and maybe the most important factor is that science teachers do not have professional knowledge and skills for implementing laboratory activities properly (Çepni, Ayas & Akdeniz, 1995; Pekmez, 2001; Sahin, 2001). These practices all indicated that a teacher-centered approach is still dominant on the Turkish educational contexts at the beginning of the 21st century. This is expected to change with student-centered methods as stressed in the new science program called "student-centered program" for the primary school levels and have started to be implemented since 2000's.

Of the issues explained so far, the most important one is measurement and assessment of students. Turkish education system is based on behaviorist approach and target, and target behaviors are still dominant in the Turkish teaching programs even if in student-centered program. Universities and National Ministry of Education have started to reject traditional practices and stressed on the contemporary teaching methods, assessment methods; however, essays, short answer tests, multiple-choice tests are mostly used by teachers. In fact, national examinations such as secondary schools entrance examination (LGS) and university entrance examination requires and encourages this application. Teachers are expected to use assessment for two aims: to find out the extent to which students reach knowledge and skills level, and to determine how students gain these knowledge and skills or to determine why they fail to gain these (Turgut, 1992). For student-centered teaching methods in which students are playing an active role, that of using only written essay type and oral examinations[1] seems not to be enough for determining the achievement level of students. Instead of this, while teachers are assessing students' achievement, besides measurement results, they should see the factors such as how pupils join into classroom activities, their scientific attitudes (doing observation, doing research, scientific thinking), gained and exhibited ideas, taking responsibility, study in a group collaboratively sharing present knowledge with others (MEB, 2000). In spite of the importance of these factors discussed in the primary science education program of Turkey, there are many research reports showing that when science teachers are to determine the cognitive levels of attitudes of their students, most of them use written exams, multiple-choice tests, oral exams, short-answer tests, match tests, true-false test and seldom project works (Özden, 1997; Turgut, 1994). For example in a study, done with thirty-nine physics teachers, it was found out that teachers use written examinations the most (Yigit, Saka & Akdeniz, 2000). This was regarded as tantamount to admitting that they aimed at the cognitive level of learning. Some researchers have discussed the instruction contexts and methods; and also measurement and assessment activities which are insufficient (Çelik, 2000; Özden, 1997; Turgut, 1994). However, in Turkey, concerning to this problem, for teachers not being developed during their pre-service education (Yigit, Saka & Akdeniz, 2000) and not being aware of assessment approaches seem to be the first factors. In addition, physical contexts of schools and classrooms, with crowded classroom and lack of materials, lower level students' cognitive abilities and incompetence of teachers are also important. We believe that provided that teachers act as researchers in their classrooms (Cohen & Manion, 1995; Mcniff, 1993; Küçük, 2002; Schön, 1983), they might perform the expected practices in their schools and classrooms. This is, maybe, the first and even the only solution to the current problems.

2.2.2. National Examination Issue: The Cases of OSS and LGS

As mentioned above, the most important problem in determining student learning in Turkey is believed by many educators to be the comprehensive examinations, such as OSS and LGS (Baykul, 1999; Çepni, 1993). Having graduated from secondary schools, the students who want to enter the university have to take the OSS and, at the same time, have to obtain the required grade for entering the demanded department. The OSS is a nation-wide exam held once a year in almost all the cities of the country and Lefkosa in the Republic of Northern Cyprus. Allocation of the students takes place according to the following criteria: scores obtained from the OSS, students' average high school scores and priority ranking of fields of study. Every year, students who want to enter any university find themselves in an examination race, which would take a long time. In this context, some students based on their parents' economical and social status take private courses and continue to a private education institute by paying a great deal of money. Some people resemble students getting ready for the OSS to racehorses that are trained just to reach the finish line as the first one. This situation makes assessment as competitive and comparative as explained also by Black (1986). However, learning is not a competition (Baker & Piburn, 1997).

In addition, studies in the Turkish educational contexts about measurement and assessment are based on the cognitive development and formal operational levels. When the questions asked at these examinations are compared with the questions asked at the primary or secondary schools, it is seen that they are quite different from each other. For example, in many studies that compare the questions, it was found out that while questions asked at school exams are the low level of Bloom taxonomy and Piagetian theory, questions at the comprehensive examinations are at high levels of Bloom taxonomy (Çepni, Ayvaci & Keles, 2001; Karamustafaoglu, Sevim, Karamustafaoglu & Çepni, 2003). In a study done by Kemhacioglu (2001), 1252 questions, which were asked at the high school physics course-1 by twenty physics teachers from different kinds of high schools, and 38 questions asked at the OSS between the years of 1999 and 2000 were investigated in detail according to Bloom taxonomy. It was found out that most of the questions asked by high school physics teachers are at the knowledge, comprehension and practice levels while the questions asked at the OSS are at the comprehension, practice and analysis levels of Bloom taxonomy. Here, it can be seen from the findings that there is not a close relation between teachers' examination questions and OSS questions. Classroom assessment forms of current Turkish science teachers are targeted more at the level of facts and comprehension than at higher levels. Some research findings in which questions asked by science teachers at the primary and secondary schools are analyzed according to Bloom's taxonomy supported this idea (Çepni, Ayvaci & Keles, 2001; Çepni, Bacanak, Özsevgeç & Gökdere, 2001; Morgil & Bayan, 1996) and also similar findings were observed in the related literature. For example, Zoller (1993), Zoller and Tsaparlis (1997) found out that chemistry teachers mostly asked very low cognitive levels of exam questions to assess their students at high school levels and their questions were usually at the first three levels of Bloom taxonomy. Despite the fact that many modern science educators stress application-level questions or science performances today, most of the questions from that era of testing and assessment focused solely on what was considered "scientific fact," with no connection to the lives of the students (Veronesi, 2000). That kind of assessment (quick recall of facts) has led the way to contemporary, divergent views on performance-based science assessment. While facts are important, teachers need to assess more complex cognitive processes. These include the abilities to apply knowledge in solving problems, to analyze complex situations to arrive at new solutions and to evaluate hypotheses and theories. Questions at the low levels of cognitive development only encourage students to memorize the facts and this hinders their intellectual development (Çepni & Azar, 1998). Students who continuously encounter with the lower level questions are directed towards the basic level of thinking. On the other hand, high-level questions are helpful for students to think more creatively and multi-dimensionally (Brualdi, 1998). Students understand that what is assessed is important and what is not assessed is unimportant (Baker & Piburn, 1997). We have explained above that currently some movements are seen in the Turkish educational area in which more learner-centered and, say, more constructivist learning approaches are being supported on the educational area. However, even in this situation, there appears an opposite case because standard and traditional forms of evaluation are still dominant in the current context. There is a growing recognition that standardized and other traditional forms of evaluation are inadequate for assessing constructivist teaching (Baker & Piburn, 1997).

In a study done by Çepni (2003), exam questions of university instructors who work at different science departments were analyzed according to the cognitive levels of Bloom Taxonomy. It was concluded from the comparisons of the findings that 81 % of the questions were at the first three levels and only 19 % of them were at the last three levels of cognitive domain and thus, cognitive levels of the questions were seen surprisingly rather low. This implies that the problems with traditional testing have not gone away yet. Those tests offer no solution to the educational needs of children. All the mentioned points stress that current assessment is thus at a crisis point: the present model is incapable of meeting real needs, and a new approach is not dominant in the Turkish context as also indicated for their educational context by Neill (1997).

Then we wonder if there is any other system, which looks like ours. We think it seems clear that Hong Kong and Turkey have an educational system that is quite similar to each other. Klenowski (1996) describes Hong Kong system as follows: The Hong Kong system is highly bureaucratic and centralized in nature and strongly influenced by its selective function; curriculum development policy follows a top-down and center-periphery approach; the education system is examination oriented. Some development and improvement movements are work like the Turkish context in Hong Kong; for example, educational research has been conducted over the past three years to analyze the processes of student self-evaluation and portfolio assessment and their impact on learning (Klenowski, 1996).

[1] Means that a student is asked a few questions about a special subject area and waited to response to them by explaining orally.

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