Examining School Principals' Conceptions of Assessment and Grading Practices


  • Liying Cheng Queen's University
  • David Baidoo-Anu Queen's University
  • Christopher DeLuca Queen’s University




Principals play a key leadership role in school effectiveness and student success; however, one area that has received relatively little attention so far is principals’ embedded understanding of assessment and grading within the educational context where they work. We examined 141 Chinese school principals’ conceptions of assessment and grading practices using a survey research design. Our results indicated that principals viewed summative assessment as necessarily serving two purposes: (a) accountability, and (b) improvement of teaching and learning. Assessment that does not serve these dual purposes was not viewed as maximally supporting learning in this educational context. The study further found that accountability pressures influenced principals’ conceptions of assessment and consequently shaped their approaches to grading in China’s examination-oriented culture. This study provides implications for a heightened understanding of principals’ leadership in the crucial role that student assessment plays in both enhancing instruction and student learning and ever-expanding accountability mandates within the Chinese education context and other educational contexts globally.

Keywords: principals, conceptions of assessment, grading practices, China.

Les directeurs d'école jouent un rôle clé dans l'efficacité de l'école et la réussite des élèves. Cependant, un domaine qui a reçu relativement peu d'attention jusqu'à présent est la compréhension de l'évaluation et de la notation par les directeurs dans le contexte éducatif où ils travaillent. À l'aide d'une enquête, nous avons examiné les conceptions de 141 directeurs d'école chinois sur les pratiques d'évaluation et de notation. Nos résultats indiquent que les directeurs d'école considèrent que l'évaluation sommative doit nécessairement servir deux objectifs : (a) la responsabilité et (b) l'amélioration de l'enseignement et de l'apprentissage. L'évaluation qui ne sert pas ces deux objectifs n'est pas considérée comme un soutien maximal à l'apprentissage dans ce contexte éducatif. L'étude a également révélé que les pressions liées à l'obligation de rendre des comptes ont influencé les conceptions des directeurs d'école en matière d'évaluation et, par conséquent, leurs approches de la notation dans la culture chinoise axée sur les examens. Cette étude a des implications pour une meilleure compréhension du leadership des directeurs d'école en ce qui concerne le rôle crucial que joue l'évaluation des élèves dans l'amélioration de l'enseignement et de l'apprentissage des élèves, ainsi que des mandats de responsabilisation toujours plus étendus dans le contexte éducatif chinois et d'autres contextes éducatifs dans le monde.

Mots clés : directeurs d'école, conceptions de l'évaluation, pratiques de notation, Chine.

Author Biographies

Liying Cheng, Queen's University

Liying Cheng (PhD) is Professor in Language Education and Assessment at the Faculty of Education, Queen’s University. Her seminal research on washback illustrates the global impact of large-scale testing on instruction, the relationships between assessment and instruction, and the academic and professional acculturation of international and new immigrant students, workers, and professionals in Canada—an underrepresented population in the research, but one whose lives are greatly impacted by testing and assessment. Liying focuses her research on using assessment to support student and teacher learning involving, in particular, linguistically and culturally diverse people around the world.

David Baidoo-Anu, Queen's University

David Baidoo-Anu (him/his) is currently a PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Education, Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario Canada. He earned his Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in educational measurement and evaluation from the University of Cape Coast-Ghana. David’s current research focuses on promoting equitable assessment and learning experiences for underrepresented groups of students through culturally responsive classroom assessment. Particularly, he draws on culturally situated understandings of assessment and empirical evidence showing the positive impacts of quality classroom assessment practices on raising students’ achievement to advocate for systemic assessment reforms. The aim of his doctoral research is to support quality and consistent assessment practices in schools across cultural context and ultimately enhance the assessment experiences of all students regardless of their background.

Christopher DeLuca, Queen’s University

Christopher DeLuca (PhD, Queen’s University) is a Professor and an Associate Dean at the School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs and Professor in Educational Assessment at the Faculty of Education, Queen’s University. Dr. DeLuca leads the Classroom Assessment Research Team and is Director of the Queen’s Assessment and Evaluation Group. Dr. DeLuca’s research examines the complex intersection of assessment, curriculum, and pedagogy as operating within the current context of school accountability and standards-based education. His work largely focuses on supporting teachers in negotiating these critical areas of practice to enhance student learning experiences. In particular, Dr. DeLuca’s research centers on how pre-service and in-service teachers learn to engage the complexities of assessing student learning in relation to the evolving accountability culture in today’s classrooms.



How to Cite

Cheng, L., Baidoo-Anu, D., & DeLuca, C. (2023). Examining School Principals’ Conceptions of Assessment and Grading Practices. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 69(1), 41–65. https://doi.org/10.11575/ajer.v69i1.73115