Academic Exchange Quarterly     Fall    2005    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  9, Issue  3

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Student Goal Orientation and Formative Assessment




Jenefer Husman, Arizona State University

Sarah Brem, Arizona State University

Mary Anne Duggan, Arizona State University



Husman, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Psychology in Education, Brem, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Psychology in Education, Duggan is doctoral student in Psychology in Education [1]



This study examined the role of formative assessment in the development of student goal orientations.Students in one elementary school were examined over the course of a school year as they participated in a reading program using continuous formative assessment.Mastery orientation remained consistently high and performance orientation decreased. Studentsí personal goal orientations were significantly related to their perceptions of their teachersí goals for reading.



As teachers, our ultimate goal is to foster lifelong learning. School is an opportunity for students to gain skills and content knowledge, but without the motivation to seek out and confront challenge there will be no lifelong growth, success, and satisfaction. A major concern for teachers and administrators when choosing any new learning program is whether that program will support learning for its own sake. If a program in math or reading encourages students to put forth effort in exchange for immediate, ephemeral prizes at the expense of fostering a lasting appreciation for and enjoyment of math or reading, the end result for us as teachers is disappointing.


Educational researchers have found feedback, whether formative (i.e., providing ongoing assessment that shapes subsequent lessons) or summative (i.e., providing a final assessment of studentsí skills), can affect studentsí motivation for continuing with a task and for engaging in that task in the future.Feedback does so by affecting the types of achievement goals students set for themselves (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002).Achievement Goal Theory states there are two types of goal orientations: mastery orientation and performance orientation (Kaplan, Middleton, Urdan, & Midgley, 2002).


Mastery-oriented learners are focused on learning as something valuable and meaningful in itself. They view learning tasks as ongoing processes, are more concerned with charting their own progress than comparing their progress to that of others, and view all outcomes as opportunities to learn something about themselves.Research consistently has shown mastery-oriented learners are more willing to take risks, are more likely to use deep processing strategies, and are more willing and able to work on their own than performance-oriented learners (Kaplan et al., 2002). The mastery-oriented learner is focused on learning for the sake of learning.


Performance-oriented learners are harder to pin down. They focus on the learning product or outcome measure and proving their ability relative to others. Their chief concern is getting a better score or grade than other students in their class. Performance-oriented students want to be seen as being at the top of the class, or, just as importantly, not seen as being at the bottom (Pintrich, 2000).


Not surprisingly, performance-oriented learning has been associated with less adaptive patterns of beliefs and behaviors such as surface learning strategies, decreased adaptive help seeking behaviors, and lack of intellectual risk taking (Midgely, Kaplan, & Middleton, 2001). However, high performance orientation also has been associated with adaptive motivation such as increased self-efficacy and high task value (Pintrich, 2000).In an attempt to clarify performance orientation researchers have differentiated between performance-approach and performance-avoid goal orientations.Performance-approach students seek out challenges as ways to establish themselves as top students; though they are not focused on learning (as mastery students would be), they may learn and grow from these experiences. Performance-avoid students, however, are concerned with not failing, and run from challenges or engage in self-sabotaging behaviors in order to have an excuse for poor performance (Elliot & McGregor, 2001).


In summary, mastery orientation is strongly associated with adaptive motivational patterns, and performance-avoid orientation is strongly associated with maladaptive motivational patterns. Performance-approach goals, however, have been shown to lead to both better and worse student achievement (Midgely et al., 2001).


Although students come into classrooms with their own achievement goals, their goals also are influenced by teachersí goals. This is not to say teachers can wholly determine studentsí goal orientation; however, through evaluation and systems of reward, teachers can influence studentsí goal orientation within the classroom (Patrick, Turner, Meyer, & Midgley, 2003). Teacher influence is further complicated by externally imposed curricula with embedded implicit and explicit goals. Teachers must decide whether and how to integrate curricular goals with their own.


Teacher and curriculum goals often converge during evaluation. Evaluation can have a significant effect on studentsí goal orientations (Ames, 1992). When evaluation is accompanied by good prospects for improvement, and mistakes are seen as learning opportunities expected on the path to success, mastery orientation is encouraged. Performance orientation is fostered when teachers stress correct performance and avoiding mistakes.Social comparison, such as focusing on winning or living up to a particular standard, also supports studentsí performance orientation.


Teachers, parents, and researchers express concerns that standardized assessments, whether formative or summative, can encourage students to adopt performance orientations because they frequently stress normative evaluation and are connected with significant long-term consequences. However, if such tests are used to chart individual progress, identify strengths and weaknesses, and plan future instruction, they could as easily foster mastery orientation. In short, we argue the problem is not the nature of assessment, but why an assessment is administered and how it is used.


When we were initially approached by the school described below to examine changes in studentsí reading performance as a result the Reading Renaissance program, teachers, parents and students voiced concerns about the effects of the program on student motivation (Sadusky & Brem, 2002). Standardized formative assessment is a primary component of Reading Renaissance, and these assessments raised the fears we describe above.


Reading Renaissance is a commercially available program for tracking and guiding silent-sustained reading (Paul, 2003).For many childrenís books released by major publishers (e.g., Scholastic, Harper Collins, etc.), Reading Renaissance provides a book level, assigns a number of points (based on level and length), and creates a short, computer-based multiple-choice comprehension quiz students attempt after finishing the book. Teachers are trained to help students set individual point goals and use the results of each quiz to assist students in reaching their goal. If students struggle with books at a particular level, they are encouraged to move to a lower level. If students continually perform well on the quizzes, they can continue to read at their current level. Teachers are advised by the program, however, to expand the range of book levels teachers encourage these students to try.


Teachers, parents, and students at this school generally held favorable opinions of Reading Renaissance; there was a significant gain in Stanford-9 Total Reading scores since its inception (even when compared with a non-implementing control school in the same district), library records showed far more books were being signed out, and survey and interview data indicated the vast majority of parents, teachers, and students wanted to see the program expanded (Sadusky & Brem, 2002).


However, all three groups expressed concern about the emphasis on brief, multiple choice comprehension tests and the use of goals and points to chart progress. Critics claim these tests do lasting damage to studentsí motivation to read (Pavonetti, Brimmer, & Cipielewski, 2000). If students spend time in environments that emphasize points, levels, and goals, parents fear when this artificial structure is no longer present students will not be motivated to read. Worse, this environment could sap away studentsí initial motivation to read, and they would be less motivated to read than they were before exposure to the program.


The school wanted to know about the effects the reading program could have on studentsí motivation. They liked the program; it seemed to be working, and they wanted it to continue using it. Still, they feared there would be long-term harm.


From a researcherís perspective, this situation illustrated the complexity of assessment, achievement goals, and goal orientation quite well. The use of points and levels can easily lead to social comparison, as students track who is reading at the highest level in their class, who has earned the most points, or who has the highest average on quizzes. This easily could support performance orientation, and, of greatest concern, performance avoid orientation as students try to avoid being at the bottom of the class. However, if this information is kept private and the focus is on achieving realistic personal goals, then these same information sources should foster either performance approach orientation or mastery orientation.


Therefore, our belief was the program would not necessarily produce positive or deleterious orientation; it could do either, depending on how it was presented to students. There could be an overall trend that arises from exposure to the program (i.e., a main effect of time in our study), corresponding roughly to studentsí personal goals. However, based on existing research, we also hypothesized that studentsí goal orientation over time would correlate with their perception of the environment. We thus tracked not only studentsí personal goal orientation toward Reading Renaissance, but also their perception of their teachersí goals regarding Reading Renaissance.





The site of our study was a K-6 urban, Title I elementary school; 36% of the 625 students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Twenty-four percent of the schoolís population comes from minority backgrounds, predominantly Latino and Native American. Of those 625 students, we tracked 239 students participating in Reading Renaissance in grades 3 through 6 from fall, 2003 to spring, 2004.


Procedure and Measures

Goal orientation was measured using an adaptation of the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Scales, or PALS (Midgley et al., 2000). This survey is designed to measure studentsí performance avoid, performance approach, and mastery goal orientations, with item responses ranging from one to five.We adapted the survey to make the questions and vocabulary more appropriate for third through sixth grade students and made the measure specific to silent, sustained reading within the Reading Renaissance program. Two versions were created for our study: one asked students about their own personal goals within Reading Renaissance, and the other asked them what they thought their teachersí goals were in the program.


A pilot study was conducted to determine the reliability and structural validity of the adapted PALS. In addition, principal component analyses on the adapted scales in both the fall of 2003 and spring 2004 showed that mastery, performance approach, and performance avoid orientations consistently emerged.


The PALS was administered in the middle of the first and the third 9-week grading period of the academic year.The first administration was timed to occur after the students had become accustomed to the teacher and schoolís dynamic; the second administration came before the state-wide mandatory standardized testing began.We administered the surveys in studentsí normal classrooms with their teachers present (but not participating in the process). In the 3rd grade classrooms all questions were read aloud by one research assistant, while a second circulated to help students. In the 4th through 6th grade classrooms, the students read the PALS to themselves, and both research assistants circulated around the room to provide assistance. In all cases, students had few, if any, difficulties.



A repeated measures MANOVA was conducted to determine if studentsí goal orientations changed over the course of the semester.Studentsí grade level was used as a between subjects factor to examine possible developmental differences.


Performance avoid orientation means dropped at all grade levels from the fall to the spring, (three = 3.16 to 2.85, four = 3.02 to 2.66, five = 2.88 to 2.86, six = 2.87 to 2.56).In addition, performance approach orientation mean scores fell over the course of the year for all grades (three = 2.97 to 2.58, four = 2.93 to 2.72, five = 2.92 to 2.55, six = 2.53 to 2.28).Mastery scores both rose and fell depending on grade level, but all were above 4.00 (three = 4.57 to 4.45, four = 4.61 to 4.56, five = 4.26 to 4.29, six = 4.42 to 4.03).


The MANOVA did indicate a significant within subject effect for time [F (3, 233) = 7.03. p < .001], but did not find a significant between subjects effect for grade level [F (9, 567) = 1.55. p = .13].There also was no interaction effect for grade and time [F (9, 567) = 1.00. p=.44]. Thus, we found no developmental differences and focused instead on how students changed their goal orientations over time.


The univariate analyses showed students were less performance approach oriented by the end of the year, with the mean performance approach score falling from 2.85 to 2.54 [F (1,235) = 17.33. p<.001].Students also became less performance avoid oriented, with scores falling from 2.96 to 2.75 [F (1,235) = 6.04. p <.05]. Studentsí mastery goal orientation did not change significantly, hovering around 4.40 [F (1, 235) = 2.28. p = .13] throughout the academic year.


Regarding the relationship between studentsí orientation and their perception of their teachersí orientation, we found the more performance oriented the students thought their teachers were, the more performance oriented they tended to be themselves; they were more likely to be performance approach oriented (r=0.34, p < 0.001) and more likely to be performance avoid oriented (r=0.22, p < 0.001). This was as expected. Also as expected, teachersí perceived performance orientation was not associated with studentsí mastery orientation.


Regarding teachersí perceived mastery orientation, however, the results were both expected and surprising. As expected, we found the more mastery oriented students believed their teachers to be, the more mastery oriented the students were (r=0.38, p <0.001). In addition we found the more mastery oriented the teacher seemed to students, the more likely the student was to be performance oriented; studentsí perceptions of their teachersí mastery orientation was moderately related to their performance-approach orientation (r = .26; p<.001), and weakly related to their performance-avoid orientation (r=.20; p=.001).




Previous research concerning standardized assessments has raised the concern that assessment may negatively impact student motivation by supporting maladaptive achievement goals in students.Contrary to this, in this study students showed a strong mastery orientation within the Reading Renaissance framework they sustained throughout the year and a moderate performance orientation that tended to decrease as the year progressed. Thus, this school has little to worry about in terms of the effects of Reading Renaissance on student motivation; if anything, the overall reduction of performance-approach goals, and performance-avoid goals especially, is a positive outcome.


However, when we examine the effects of studentsí perceptions of teachers, the story is more complicated. Although, the findings do support our position that it is not evaluation in and of itself that affects goal orientation, but how evaluation is carried out. Performance orientation in teachers, as predicted, was associated with performance orientation in students. Mastery orientation in teachers, however, was associated with stronger student goal orientation overall; the largest correlation was, as expected, with studentsí own mastery orientation. Yet student performance orientation was higher as well. We speculate mastery orientation in teachers may encourage students to try harder, and students do not clearly differentiate between trying to learn and trying to get a high score. Additional research, and additional consideration of the messages we send students, is needed.



The findings reported here do not provide support for the notion that assessment, in and of itself, will necessarily increase performance orientation in students.Formative assessment can be a valuable tool for supporting positive student outcomes and, as our findings suggest, does not necessarily interfere with the development of a mastery orientation or foster a performance orientation in students.



[1] This research was supported by a grant from Renaissance Learning, Inc.The findings and opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Renaissance Learning, Inc.



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