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Nicole Barnes

Professor, Educational Foundations

University Hall 2129
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Classroom assessment refers to the information teachers gathered to make educational decisions about students, to provide feedback to students about their performance, and to evaluate instructional effectiveness and curricular appropriateness. Accordingly, classroom assessment is not a “thing,” but instead a process that can be directed to inform teaching and learning. Dr. Barnes' previous experience teaching at-risk elementary school students in jeopardy of being retained has inspired her interest in developing processes and tools that improve teachers' classroom assessment practices. To do so, she draws on her expertise as an educational psychologist and teacher educator to investigate and expose the psychological underpinnings (e.g., beliefs, biases, epistemologies, strategy use) of teachers' classroom assessment practices so that they can be developed and taught to novices. As part of her research program, Dr. Barnes has explored how teachers plan for assessment; create teacher-made tests, projects, and formative assignments; engage in analysis processes that result in informed and accurate inferences about students' knowledge and skills; craft feedback that advances learners' understandings and self-regulation; and use assessment information to inform instructional practices.

Dr. Barnes teaches courses in educational psychology, assessment, research methods & design, and quantitative analysis. She is a member of the doctoral faculty in Teacher Education and Teacher Development and co-directs the CaLM (Classroom Assessment, Learning and Motivation) lab.


Educational assessment; classroom assessment; teachers' data use; self-and co-regulated learning during assessment; instructional feedback; urban education



Research Projects

Teachers with Expertise in Data Use: How Do They Engage in Data-Driven Decision

Teachers are expected to engage in data use to make instructional decisions that improve teaching and student learning (Data Quality Campaign, 2009; US DOE, 2009). Despite the demand to develop teachers’ data literacy and data use for instruction, there is little empirical evidence on how teachers understand and use data in authentic contexts that can be referenced to guide these policies and interventions (Mandinach, Honey, Light, & Brunner, 2008).

In this investigation we draw from the theoretical and empirical bases of data-driven decision making (DDDM, Mandinach et al., 2008; Marsh, 2012) and teacher expertise (e.g., Alexander et al., 2004) to uncover the craft knowledge of and contextual influences on teachers with expertise in data use. Craft knowledge is the experience-based “how to” knowledge developed and enacted by practitioners
(Grimmett & MacKinnon, 1992). Extensive theoretical and empirical work has specified DDDM at the school or district level but little is known about how teachers engage in this practice within their classrooms. We seek to understand if the DDDM, designed for school and district level decision making, can be used to understand how teachers engage with data in their classrooms. Specifically,
we want to uncover how and under what conditions fifth grade teachers with expertise in data use engage in a data based decision making process.

Teachers' Epistemic Cognition in Classroom Assessment

Epistemic cognition represents aspects of teachers’ thinking focused on issues related to
knowledge, which may have particular relevance for classroom assessment practices given
that teachers must discern what their students know and then use this information to inform
instruction. We believe that teachers’ epistemic cognition is inherently
more complex than current models developed for learners. In this instrumental
case study, we investigate fifth grade English Language Arts teachers’ epistemic cognition as they evaluate students’ classroom assessments.

Teachers' Beliefs about Assessment

Researchers have long explored the relevance of teachers’ beliefs as
related to teaching practice (see Fives & Buehl, 2012; Pajares, 1992). Emerging
from this work is the foundational perspective that teachers’ beliefs are
not a singular unidimensional construct. Rather, beliefs are situated in domains
and contexts. Moreover, teachers have beliefs about a variety of things that
may or may not influence their professional work (Pajares, 1992). With the advent
of data use, teachers’ beliefs about assessment, data, and the use of data should be
explored in the same ways researchers have investigated teachers’ beliefs in other domains. The purpose of this investigation is to explore elementary teachers’ beliefs about data and data use.

Investigating Preservice and Practicing Teachers’ Cognitive Strategy Use during Test Construction

Classroom assessment is an integral part of the teaching-learning process (Popham, 2002) and teachers often rely largely on data from their own assessments to make decisions about students' knowledge and skills (Boothroyd, McMorris, & Pruzek, 1992). In fact, when determining course grades and student progress, teachers regularly weigh their own tests more heavily than data from other assessment sources(Boothroyd, et al., 1992). Since a number of academic decisions (e.g., entrance into advanced placement courses, college admittance) are determined to a certain extent by course grades, it is only reasonable to consider the quality of teacher made tests. Despite the fact that teachers report that they are confident constructing assessments, research suggests that teachers often overestimate the validity of their tests and the number of items measuring higher-order thinking skills. One such assessment technique described in many assessment textbooks that has little empirical evidence to validate its merit is the table of specifications (TOS). Our research focuses on the use of a table of specifications (TOS) as a strategy to improve content and construct validity of classroom tests.

Investigating Teachers’ Response to Flexible Seating in Secondary Classrooms

Over the past two decades, but more in recent years, there has been a movement in classrooms towards “flexible seating” or “alternative seating” (Bork, Wiwel, Blackburn, Johnson & Finelli, 2018; Neill & Etheridge, 2008; Sorrell, 2019). Flexible seating can range from “tables and chairs are easily movable and rearranged into different layouts” (Bork et al., 2018, p.2) to offering different seating options for students to choose from (Sorrell, 2019). Those options include, but are not limited to, standing desks, sitting on a rug, rolling chairs, “video game chairs,” beanbags, and puzzle fitting tables (Kennedy, 2016). Despite the recent popularity, there is little empirical research on the value of either form of seating arrangement, especially with regard to teachers’ perceptions and use of this technique as part of their instruction (Bork, et al., 2018; Sorrell, 2019). Flexible seating may offer teachers new ways to arrange the classroom environment, and help them to teach in ways that ultimately lead to improved quality in their overall practice. Therefore the purpose of this research is to investigate teachers’ response to the use of flexible seating.

Exploring how teachers give and how students use feedback in writing.

Instructional feedback in writing is defined as "information provided by another person, group of people, agency, machine, self, or experience that allows a writer, one learning to write, or a writing teacher/mentor to compare some aspect of performance to an expected, desired, or idealized performance" (Graham, 2019). In this research program, we explore the types of feedback teachers provide to students, and the conditions under which students use (or not) feedback to improve their writing.

What happens when a math and english teacher talk teaching?

Interdisciplinary collaboration among teachers through an interdisciplinary team is a common practice at the middle school level and is typically used as a way for teachers to share ideas and strategies for curriculum and students (Flowers et al., 2000). This same type of collaboration, however, is less common at the high school level. High schools are notoriously cellular with teachers isolated from one another and curricula divided by content area (Jackson, 1968; Lortie, 1975; Little 1990). In this investigation, we seek to explore the effects of a Mathematics-English interdisciplinary community of practice on teachers' knowledge and practice.

Exploring the Roles of Coursework and Field Experience in Teacher Candidates’ Assessment Literacy: A Focus on Approaches to Assessment

Recognizing that assessment literacy is a complex construct comprised of knowledge, skills, and dispositions, we seek to better understand how teacher candidates develop assessment literacy by focusing on the dispositional construct of approaches to assessment. In this study, we explore teacher candidates’ approaches to classroom assessment at three points in their preservice program: (1) prior to a one-credit assessment course; (2) after their assessment course; and (3) after 10 weeks of full-time student teaching.