I have been pleasantly surprised with the work the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has undertaken to develop a number of seemingly high quality, well tested and useful self reflection and learning tools for teachers to support AITSL’s core work of building the capacity of teachers and school leaders. For example The 360 student feedback tools the teacher standards illustrations of practice and the teacher self assessment tools all have real potential to be useful for teachers who are taking responsibility for their own learning and development in schools that support and encourage collaboration, mentoring and peer support.
In fact I would like to suggest that the work of AITSL has the potential to be a very important counter point to all the US borrowed corporate reforms represented by NAPLAN, Performance pay and all the rest.
But to be effective the work of AITS needs to be able to stand apart from all the less worthy reforms. The self-reflective tools are a very good example of these challenges. If they can be kept apart from the evaluation, performance management tendencies of corporate reform and be quarantined for the use by teachers and their schools for authentic professional learning, they have the potential to be very significant tools for building collective teacher capacity.
If however they are captured to be used as part of the new performance management practices that are being imposed on teachers, all the wonderful work involved in developing them will go down the toilet.
Anthony Cody talks about these same tensions in the US context. In a recent blog he responds to a Bill Gate TEDX talk on the value of videos in classrooms. According to Cody, Bill Gates rationale for promoting video cameras in schools goes as follow
… there’s one group of people that get almost no systematic feedback to help them do their jobs better. Until recently, 98% of teachers just got one word of feedback: “satisfactory.” Today, districts are revamping the way they evaluate teachers. But we still give them almost no feedback that actually helps them improve their practice. Our teachers deserve better. The system we have today isn’t fair to them. It’s not fair to students, and it’s putting America’s global leadership at risk.
Cody notes that Gates slides from feedback to evaluation without pause as though they are one and the same.
Do you notice something? He starts out talking about feedback, but then slides into describing a formal evaluation process. There are LOTS of ways to enhance feedback that could have nothing at all to do with our evaluation systems ….
They are not. There is a world of difference between:
- Professional learning: as teachers working together, observing each others practice; using tools that give them information about their practice for them to use as they see fit; reflecting on their practice alone or in teams; trialling changes; reflecting; and giving mutual feedback; and
- Performance review: where external parties apply standards to an assessment of practice
The problem is that as soon as a tool is captured for use for the second purpose – performance review – the less likely it is that teachers will trust it and see it as useful.
But this slide happens all the time. And we are in danger of this happening with the tools developed by AITSL. This is because we are focusing on the wrong things. The Commonwealth Government tells us that what we need is a national best practice performance management framework and high quality tools.
Linda Darling Hammond on the other had argues that it is not a good framework that is lacking. Rather what we lack, is time – time in schools for teachers to collaborate, to work with others to reflect on their practice and a culture where this is expected not as a fearful evaluation process but as an integral part of professional development
As I see it the work of AITSL could go either way and I just hope that it is possible to corral some of the best of their work and make sure it is not captured to serve the performativity agenda, For as Anthony Cody says:
Right beneath the surface are these seeds of possibility, waiting for the right conditions to come about. You take an area, a school, a district, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, you offer people discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do, and schools that were once bereft spring to life.
I get a google download to my email on the topic ”Gonski” everyday. As you can imagine it is pretty lively at the moment, even if it is far from comprehensive. Curiously, mixed up in the hits, post the Commonwealth Government’s detailed offer to states and territories, I found one written outside this timeline – just prior to the announcement. I have to say that, of all the articles talking about Gonski, this one wins my personal prize for utter rubbish. However because it was published by the, usually respectable, Canberra Times and it had the enticing title “Equality the loser in Gonski’s class war”, I opened it with some interest and excitement. I expected it to be a critique of the compromises that have been made in order to make the changes to school funding politically palatable to our powerful non-Government lobby. So you can imagine my surprise when I found the author to be none other than Kevin Donnelly, who is arguing the Governments funding plan for implementing Gonski, is bad because it doesn’t deliver equality. Now Donnelly has gone on the record frequently saying that equity in education is a dangerous Fabian idea. On reading this piece it soon becomes clear that Donnelly is arguing that equity in education should mean that all schools should get the same Government funding – and anything other than that is unequal. According to Donnelly, this is because lots of kids go to non-Government schools and, contrary to what Gonski and all other reputable reports tell us, Socio-Economic Status (SES) is not a significant factor in influencing educational outcomes. Now this is an extraordinary claim. He is stating that an 18 month review by a group of highly intelligent and capable review members, that received over 7000 submissions, commissioned four comprehensive research reports, and undertook deliberations at every level across all school systems in Australia is wrong. To back up his claim Donnelly quotes some research reports written by Gary Marks who – says Donnelly - demonstrates clearly that SES is not a determining factor in school outcomes. I did a bit of digging on Gary Marks and I found a number of research reports – all of which claims exactly the same thing – that SES influence is overstated and does not predetermine all educational outcomes. All were behind pay-walls and I was not willing to fork over money to read them because the only person who appears to have ever quoted from these reports is – you guessed it - Kevin Donnelly. I don’t have to read them to point out to Mr. Donnelly that “SES does not predetermine all education outcomes” is not the same as SES being irrelevant. However in my search around I stumbled across something much more relevant to Donnelly’s claims – an article by Bernie Shepherd. Now those of you who know of Shepherd’s work will know that he is one of the few researchers who has spent the last few years, in an unpaid capacity, laboriously crunching MySchool data in ways that most of us can’t because of limitations built into its design. His latest piece, published in the Insiders is called ” Student Achievement frozen by Inequity” There are many useful graphs in this article but just 2 will suffice to make my point. The first, labeled in his paper Chart 1, shows year 5 NAPLAN 2012 reading score averages, at the school level by the school geo-location and by its Index of School education advantage (ICSEA). While I lack the technical expertise to provide a larger image of this graph, the following clues may assist: The horizontal bottom line divides schools according to geo-location with city schools on your left and remote in your right. You can see a very strong relationship. The other line going back in the cube categorises schools by the Index of Educational Advantage ICSEA score with low scoring schools, highly disadvantaged at the front and highly advantaged schools at the back – once again a perfect relationship The highest column in the back corner shows that top city school average year 5 NAPLAN reading score is 557 – just below Band 8 The lowest score in the front forward cornet shows the year 5 average NAPLAN reading score for remote schools in the lowest ICSEA band, Their average is 284 or at the bottom of Band 2 It is clear from this that the relationship between NAPLAN results and the school demography and location is extremely strong with the difference between the average scores from the most advantaged schools to the least advantaged differing by over 273 points or about 4 standard deviations. Now this difference is staggering. The most advantaged city school year 5 students score averages are well above the minimum standards for year 9 reading, while the most disadvantaged very remote school year 5 averages are well below the minimum standard for year 3 in reading. This next table, known in the paper as Chart 5. shows Net Recurrent Income per student (2011) Based on finance data from 2011 published on the My School website, March 2013 The chart shows quite clearly that: … – with one stunning exception -Australia generally does give the greatest dollar amounts to the schools where educational disadvantage is greatest: the low-ICSEA and more remote schools. Even so the Gonski Review concluded that these amounts were not sufficient and they recommended an overall increase but weighted still further in favour of the most disadvantaged schools. But lets look more closely at this, ‘one stunning exception’ because, these are not distinguishable by school type (Catholic, Government, Independent) but by the level of School advantage (ICSEA). The exception to the overall trend in Chart 5 is evident among the schools in the two highest ICSEA categories, which receive more dollars per student than those in the next lower ICSEA categories. The schools in the 1200 ICSEA category spend on average a similar amount per student to that which is spent on the far less advantaged students in the 700 ICSEA range. Now to make this concrete I suggest you play around with MySchool and try and find those schools in the ICSEA 1,100 – 1,200 range. They are very few. They include some public schools up in the high 1100s but not many at 1200. The Friends school in Tasmania is around 1186 and the ‘top’ NT school, The Essington School, is well below this at 1021. Now try to find schools in the 600s and 700s. They are very few and far between – mostly remote or very remote and mostly with a significant or 100 per cent Indigenous student population. Under current funding policies, these anomalies are increasing year by year. This is our reality and as Kenneth Davidson reminds us (also in the Canberra Times) our school funding architecture is not just highly unequal but one that has been avoided in most other countries for very good reasons Those countries place restrictions on private schools’ ability to use state aid in order to supplement fees and increase total resources above the standard set by government schools. In effect, the private schools operate as part of the public system. Australia’s system of state aid for private education is unique. It avoids confronting what every educationalist understands, namely that beyond a certain point, the transfer of middle-class students from government to non-government schools impoverishes the students who remain in the public system. So for Kevin Donnelly to come out and say that changes that address this extreme inequality are unequal is staggering. So staggering in fact that many reading this will wonder why I waste my time taking him on. I do this because mainstream newspapers still give Donnelly and his ilk prime time space with no one pointing out these absurdities. I do this because our possible future prime minister has muttered something quite similar And I do this because, the appalling funding situation we seem to have ended up with has come to be seen as normal, fair and natural, when it is in fact, unique, highly unequal and anything but normal. And as long as it appears to be normal to subsidise high end schools who then turn around and charge high fees it is but a small step to saying – but surely all schools should be funded equally.
We’ve put up with absolute rubbish from Kevin Donnelly for too long. It’s time to look at his claims without the emotion and invective
In his latest rant, in The Australian, called, “Education saviour is pulling too many levers”, Donnelly makes the following claims.
1. Julia Gillard “in a desperate attempt” is going to use education as her lever to stay in power
Sadly, and a little reluctantly, I share concerns about the growing centrality of education in the future election debate. Although chances are slim, I am pinning my hopes on progress on implementing the key components of the Gonski reforms prior to the election to the extent that they cannot easily be rolled back.
The temptation to use it the Gonski implementation plan as an election carrot will not save the ALP but it will cost public schools dearly.
2. Billions have been wasted on the Building the Education Revolution program that forced off-the-shelf, centrally mandated infrastructure on schools with little, if any, educational benefit;
Donnelly clearly has not read the ANAO Audit report into the BER, because it concludes that where there were poor decisions and centralized rollouts the culprits were state Governments not the Commonwealth and that to some extent this was inevitable given the justifiable time constraints. May I also remind him that this was a GFC response first and foremost not an education initiative? The audit report makes this clear:
The Government decided on school based infrastructure spending because it had a number of elements that supported stimulus objectives
It also notes that:
The objectives of the BER program are, first, to provide economic stimulus through the rapid construction and refurbishment of school infrastructure and, second, to build learning environments to help children, families and communities participate in activities that will support achievement, develop learning potential and bring communities together
For many schools the capital works were a godsend because the new hall or learning space gave them the capacity to do the thing that Donnelly most encourages – use new space to increase local innovative solutions to education challenges. Indeed the audit report noted that over 95% of principals that responded to the ANAO survey indicated that the program provided something of ongoing value to their school and school community.
3. The computers in schools program delivered thousands and thousands of now out-of-date computers that schools can ill-afford to maintain or update.
I am not one to argue that ICT is the magic bullet answer to everything about teaching and learning in our schools. However I am convinced that with well-informed computer literate teachers, who are also good teachers in the broader sense, students can only benefit. I also acknowledge that a high level of computer literacy is now a core area of learning. To achieve this even “out of currency” computer hardware will be better than no computers
Any ICT hardware rollout will result in out-of-date computers and a maintenance/update impost. But the state of ICT infrastructure in our schools desperately needed to be addressed. Is Donnelly really arguing that schools that do not have enough in their budgets to manage the whole-of-life costs of having computers should go without? I wonder which schools these might be?
4. Julia Gillard’s data fetish is forcing a centralised and inflexible accountability regime on schools, government and non-government, that is imposing a command and control regime on classrooms across the nation.
There is no doubt that we could benefit from a better accountability and reporting regime – for all schools. So this is one of the few areas where Donnelly and I have aligned concerns but possibly for different reasons. I continue to believe that the changes to the original intention of NAPLAN testing has been disastrous for some Australian schools – but possibly not the ones dear to Donnelly’s heart.
The reporting of NAPLAN results at the school level has, almost certainly, distorted what is taught in schools. This is especially the case in schools where students struggle – our highly concentrated low SES schools. It has also contributed to the residualisation of the public school system. And we now have evidence that when the middle class students are leached out of public schools, public school students loose out in lots of ways. For example they lose out because of the loss of articulate and ‘entitled’ parent advocates for the needs of the schools. But they also lose out because each middle class child is actually a resource. That is their existence in the class enhances the learning of all students in that class..
Donnelly, on the other hand, appears to be more concerned that non-Government schools are now under the same reporting obligations as government schools. I know of no other area of Commonwealth funding that was not expected to provide a defined level of accountability and reporting. This anomaly was way overdue.
5. The Gillard-inspired national curriculum, instead of embracing rigorous, academic standards, is awash with progressive fads such as child-centred, inquiry-based learning, all taught through a politically correct prism involving indigenous, Asian and environmental perspectives.
Donnelly appears to have a short memory on this matter. The national curriculum effort was kicked off by the previous Howard Government – and that is why History was singled out above other social science disciplines.
Perhaps Donnelly has not read the national curriculum? If he had he would know that it is just a sequence and scoping exercise and does not address pedagogy at all. Donnelly has had a bee in his bonnet for years about so called ‘progressive fads’ based on nothing more than sheer ignorance. And as for the cross curriculum perspectives – these came out of extensive consultation and negotiation and were not imposed by the Gillard Government. While there are unfortunately many examples of Commonwealth overreach, the cross-curricular perspectives are not examples.
6. Even though the Commonwealth Government neither manages any schools nor employs any teachers, Gillard is making it a condition of funding that every school across Australia must implement Canberra’s (sic) National Plan for School Improvement.
This is another area where, to some extent, I do agree with Donnelly but for very different reasons.
My position is that the National Plan for School Improvement is Commonwealth overreach that was unnecessary and risky because it could have put the Gonski implementation at risk.
The National Plan for School Improvement was unnecessary because, all education systems throughout the country already had some form of school improvement planning and annual reporting, and had begun to share good practice through the National Partnership process. It was also unnecessary because it foolishly cut across the more informed and consultative process being undertaken by AITSL to grow the teacher performance feedback and improvement process in collaboration with the various teaching institutes around Australia. This process had a strong emphasis on supporting teacher development and self-reflection based on well-supported peer, supervisor and student feedback. The Commonwealth initiative has recast the whole process into a high stakes, external reporting context that will be much less useful and teacher friendly. This is a pity. AITSL’s work should not have been distorted in this manner.
It was, and is, risky as some states seized on the obligations of the Plan as the rationale to push back on the Gonski reforms. Tying the two together was poor strategy, in light of the importance of implementing Gonski between now and September 2013.
Donnelly’s objection to the Plan appears to be that is is imposed on the non Government sectors that should, according to Donnelly, be able to receive significant levels of Commonwealth funding with no accountability?. It’s the imposts he objects to, not their design elements.
7. Research here and overseas proves that the most effective way to strengthen schools, raise standards and assist teachers is to embrace diversity, autonomy and choice in education. The solution lies in less government interference and micro-management, not more.
I am afraid that Donnelly’s claims that autonomy and choice is the best way to strengthen schools does not have a shred of evidence. I, and others, have written about the autonomy claims and there is now solid international evidence confirming that market models of education choice are disastrous for education equity and therefore for education overall.
8. Autonomy in education helps to explain why Catholic and independent schools, on the whole, outperform government schools.
There is now enduring evidence that the differences in school outcomes are overwhelmingly connected with student demography and not schooling system. When SES is taken into account the non Government systems do not perform any better at all. The very detailed research undertaken by Richard Teese in the context of the Gonski Review process concluded that:
Using NAPLAN data, the paper shows that public schools work as well or better than private schools (including Catholic schools). This finding echoes the results of PISA 2009 that, after adjustment for intakes, public schools are as successful as private schools
9. Gillard’s plan for increased government regulation and control and a one size fits all, lowest common denominator approach is fabianism and based on the socialist ideal of equality of outcomes.
Now this is the strangest claim of all. Here Donnelly uses fabianism as a slur and it is not the first time he has taken this tack. However it is a term so quaint, so rarely used, that this tactic may well pass unnoticed. In fact in order to find a useful definition I had to go back to 1932 to an essay by GDH Cole. Cole’s explanation is interesting given the implied nastiness of fabianism:
Whereas Marxism looked to the creation of socialism by revolution based on the increasing misery of the working class and the breakdown of capitalism through its inability to solve the problem of distribution, Webb argued that the economic position of the workers had improved in the nineteenth century, was still improving and might be expected to continue to improve. He regarded the social reforms of the nineteenth century (e.g. factory acts, mines acts, housing acts, education acts) as the beginnings of socialism within the framework of capitalist society. He saw legislation about wages, hours and conditions of labor, and progressive taxation of capitalist incomes as means for the more equitable distribution of wealth; …
The Fabians are essentially rationalists, seeking to convince men by logical argument that socialism is desirable and offering their arguments to all men without regard to the classes to which they belong. They seem to believe that if only they can demonstrate that socialism will make for greater efficiency and a greater sum of human happiness the demonstration is bound to prevail.
So our progressive tax system, our Fair Work Australia, our transfer payments to those in poverty, our national health system, our public education system, our welfare safety net, our superannuation minimums – these are all examples of fabianism at work, not because fabianism is a secret sect with mal intent as implied by Donnelly but because we have come to see the benefits of a strong cohesive society where the wealth of the country is not enjoyed by the few while the majority slave in misery.
What’s so bad about our proud achievements Donnelly? I for one want to keep moving in this direction and for me implementing the Gonski reform is the essential next step in schooling policy.
10. Tony Abbott’s view of education, is based on diversity and choice where schools are empowered to manage their own affairs free from over regulation and constraint.
It is interesting that Donnelly thinks he knows what Tony Abbott’s view of education is, because I suspect most of us remain unclear on this matter. Abbott has said on one occasion that more funding should go to Independent schools – an astonishing claim given our profile relative to all other countries. His shadow Minister has said a bit more but his statement that we should go back to didactic teaching (like when he was a boy) does not imply a commitment to allowing schools to manage their own affairs to me. But maybe he only means that this is what Government schools should do. That would probably be OK according Kevin Donnelly’s view of the world.
 Ibid P 8
 Ibid P 26
 A useful, research article about this is the submission prepared by Dr Greg Thompson in response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Australian Education Bill 2012 – Submission no. 16 available at this URL http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=ee/auseducation/subs.htm
The best explanation for the important of ‘ other student affect’ on student learning is from an unpublished paper by Chris Bonner where he notes that “the way this resource of students is distributed between schools really matters. Regardless of their own Socio-economic background, students attending schools in which the average socio economic background is high tent to perform better that if they are enrolled in a school with below Socio-economic intake
 See for example, http://educatorvoices.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/school-autonomy-its-a-system-thing/ and http://www.saveourschools.com.au/media-releases/media-release-school-autonomy-is-not-the-success-claimed
The problems with school choice
Choice and autonomy questioned by OECD’s Andreas Schleicher
I was only partly surprised to read in the Adelaide Advertiser that Geoff Masters, CEO of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) has called for the scrapping of the A-E grading system and replacing it with NAPLAN growth information.
To be blunt, I regard the A-E system as a nonsense cooked up by the previous Coalition Government and imposed on all states as a condition of funding. It has never meant much and the different approaches to curriculum taken by the different state systems made its reporting even more confusing.
With the introduction of the Australian National Curriculum, the A-E grading system may have a more consistent approach across states but that meaning itself is often confusing and unhelpful. As Masters notes
If a student gets a D one year and a D the next, then they might think they’re not making any progress at all when they are but the current reporting process doesn’t help them see it… [T]his could contribute to some students becoming disillusioned with the school system.
Abandoning this approach makes sense. But the Advertiser article also implied that Masters is arguing that we should replace the A-E reporting with a NAPLAN gains process. This to me was a complete surprise.
This is because I believe that would be a disaster and, more importantly, I am pretty sure that Masters would also see the limitations of such an approach.
At the 2010 Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Administration and Reporting of NAPLAN, Geoff Masters spoke at length about the limitations of NAPLAN covering the following:
- Its limitation for students at the extremes because it is not multilevel
- Its original purpose as a population measure and the potential reliability and validity problems with using it at school, classroom and individual student level
- Its limited diagnostic power – because of the narrow range of testing and the multiple choice format
He also acknowledged the potential dangers of teachers teaching to the test and the narrowing of the curriculum. (Unfortunately there appears to be a problem with the APH website and I was unable to reference this, but I have located a summary of the ACER position)
Now these are not minor problems.
I was also surprised because the idea that the CEO of ACER would not use this as an opportunity to talk about the benefit of diagnostic and formative assessments is unlikely. After all, these tests are important for ACER’s revenue stream.
So what is going on here?
To investigate, I decided to look beyond the Advertiser article and track down the publication that Masters was speaking to at the conference. It’s a new publication launched yesterday called Reforming Educational Assessment: Imperatives, principles and challenges
And low and behold, the editor Sheradyn Holderhead got it wrong. What Masters is arguing for is anything but the swapping out of one poorly informed reporting system (A to E Reporting) for a flawed one (NAPLAN) He is mapping out a whole new approach to assessment that can be built on our best understandings of assessment and learning but also meet the “performativity” needs of politicians and administrators.
Now some will object to the compromise taken here because they see “performativity” as a problem in and of itself. At one level I agree but because I also look for solutions that are politically doable I tend to take a more pragmatic position.
This is because I see the reporting of NAPLAN through MySchool as a kind of one way reform – a bit like privatization of public utilities. Once such system has been developed it is almost impossible to reverse the process. The genie cannot be put back into the bottle. So to me, the only solution is to build a more credible system – one that is less stressful for students, less negative for lagging students, more helpful for teachers, less likely to lead to a narrowing of the curriculum through teaching to the test and less prone to be used as a basis for school league tables.
And my take on Master’s article is that, if taken seriously, his map for developing a new assessment system would have the potential to provide the design features for a whole new approach to assessment that doesn’t require the complete overthrow of the school transparency agenda to be effective.
Here are some of the most significant points made by Masters on student assessment:
Assessment is at the core of effective teaching
Assessment plays an essential role in clarifying starting points for action. This is a feature of professional work in all fields. Professionals such as architects, engineers, psychologists and medical practitioners do not commence action without first gathering evidence about the situation confronting them. This data-gathering process often entails detailed investigation and testing. Solutions, interventions and treatments are then tailored to the presenting situation or problem, with a view to achieving a desired outcome. This feature of professional work distinguishes it from other kinds of work that require only the routine implementation of pre-prepared, one-size-fits-all solutions.
Similarly, effective teachers undertake assessments of where learners are in their learning before they start teaching. But for teachers, there are obvious practical challenges in identifying where each individual is in his or her learning, and in continually monitoring that student’s progress over time. Nevertheless, this is exactly what effective teaching requires.
Understandings derived from developments in the science of learning challenge long-held views about learning, and thus approaches to assessing and reporting learning.
These insights suggest that assessment systems need to
- Emphasise understanding where students are at, rather than judging performance
- Provide information about where individuals are in their learning, what experiences and activities are likely to result in further learning, and what learning progress is being made over time
- Give priority to the assessment of conceptual understandings, mental models and the ability to apply learning to real world situations
- Provide timely feedback in a form that a) guides student action and builds confidence that further learning is possible and b) allows learners to understand where they are in their learning and so provide guidance on next steps
- Focus the attention of schools and school systems on the development of broader life skills and attributes – not just subject specific content knowledge
- Take account of the important role of attitudes and self belief in successful learners
On this last point Masters goes on to say that:
Successful learners have strong beliefs in their own capacity to learn and a deep belief in the relationship between success and effort. They take a level of responsibility for their own learning (for example, identifying gaps in their knowledge and taking steps to address them) and monitor their own learning progress over time. The implications of these findings are that assessment processes must be designed to build and strengthen metacognitive skills. One of the most effective strategies for building learners’ self-confidence is to assist them to see the progress they are making.
….. current approaches to assessment and reporting often do not do this. When students receive the same letter grade (for example, a grade of ‘B’) year after year, they are provided with little sense of the progress they are actually making. Worse, this practice can reinforce some students’ negative views of their learning capacity (for example, that they are a ‘D’ student).
Assessment is also vital in order to assess how a system is progressing – whether for a class, school, system, state or nation
Assessment, in this sense, is used to guide policy decision making or to measure the impact of interventions or treatments or to identify problems or issues
In educational debate these classroom based and the system driven assessments are often seen as in conflict and their respective proponents as members of opposing ideological and educational camps.
But the most important argument in the paper is that we have the potential to overcome the polarised approach to assessments that is typical of current discussion about education; but only if we start with the premise that the CORE purpose of assessment is to understand where students are in their learning. Other assessment goals should be built on this core.
Once information is available about where a student is in his or her learning, that information can be interpreted in a variety of ways, including in terms of the kinds of knowledge, skills and understandings that the student now demonstrates (criterion- or standards-referencing); by reference to the performances of other students of the same age or year level (norm-referencing); by reference to the same student’s performance on some previous occasion; or by reference to a performance target or expectation that may have been set (for example, the standard expected of students by the end
of Year 5). Once it is recognised that the fundamental purpose of assessment is to establish where students are in their learning (that is, what they know, understand and can do), many traditional assessment distinctions become unnecessary and unhelpful.
To this end, Masters proposes the adoption and implementation of a coherent assessment ‘system’ based on a set of 5 assessment design principles as follows
Principle 1: Assessments should be guided by, and address, an empirically based understanding of the relevant learning domain.
Principle 2: Assessment methods should be selected for their ability to provide useful information about where students are in their learning within the domain.
Principle 3: Responses to, or performances on, assessment tasks should be recorded using one or more task ‘rubrics’.
Principle 4: Available assessment evidence should be used to draw a conclusion about where learners are in their progress within the learning domain.
Principle 5: Feedback and reports of assessments should show where learners are in their learning at the time of assessment and, ideally, what progress they have made over time.
So, to return to the premise of the Advertiser article, Masters is not arguing for expanding the use value of the currently model of NAPLAN. In fact, he is arguing for the reconceptualisation of assessment that:
- starts with the goal of establishing where learners are in their learning within a learning domain; and
- develops, on the basis of this a new Learning Assessment System that is equally relevant in all educational assessment contexts, including classroom diagnostic assessments, international surveys, senior secondary assessments, national literacy and numeracy assessments, and higher education admissions testing.
As the Advertiser article demonstrates, this kind of argument is not amenable to easy headlines and quick sound bytes. Building the support for moving in this direction will not be easy.
But the first step is to recognize that the popular understanding that system based assessment and ‘classroom useful’ assessment are and must necessarily be at cross purposes and to start to articulate how a common approach could be possible. Masters refers to this as the unifying principle:
….. it has become popular to refer to the ‘multiple purposes’ of assessment and to assume that these multiple purposes require quite different approaches and methods of assessment. …
This review paper has argued …. that assessments should be seen as having a single general purpose: to establish where learners are in their long-term progress within a domain of learning at the time of assessment. The purpose is not so much to judge as to understand. This unifying principle, which has potential benefits for learners, teachers and other educational decision-makers, can be applied to assessments at all levels of decision-making, from classrooms to cabinet rooms.
So if you are still not convinced that Masters is NOT arguing for replacing the A-E reporting with NAPLAN growth scores, this quote may help:
As long as assessment and reporting processes retain their focus on the mastery of traditional school subjects, this focus will continue to drive classroom teaching and learning. There is also growing recognition that traditional assessment methods, developed to judge student success on defined bodies of curriculum content, are inadequate for assessing and monitoring attributes and dispositions that develop incrementally over extended periods of time.
 This is a widely used term usually associated with the work of Stephen J. Ball. In simple terms it refers to our testing mania in schools and the culture and conceptual frameworks that support reform built around testing data. To read more this might be a useful starting point http://www.scribd.com/doc/70287884/Ball-performativity-teachers
I was stunned to see that the Canberra Times published its own league table about ACT Schools. I mean I was sure that a respectable rag like the CT would know better than to engage in a cheap stunt like this
Sadly I was wrong.
Thankfully Trevor Cobbold of Save our Schools fame has stepped in and provided a telling commentary here Save Our Schools Canberra: The Whackiness of School League Tables
The table shows the following
- That the data from NAPLAN at the schools level is completely meaningless and unreliable at least when it comes to drawing any conclusions about school or teacher quality.
- Across year groups, across the disciplines, and across the independent, Catholic and government sectors, schools are jumping around all over the place!
The simple fact is that student cohorts change every year. And the smaller the school, the greater the chance of wild fluctuations.
You see NAPLAN was never ever designed to be reliable and valid at the individual school level – never. It is/was designed a population measure and at that level and that level only it is quite reliable and useful. At the school level – not so much
The decision to provide NAPLAN results at the school level is a political decision and there is no evidence that the results are valid at this level – they were not intended to be used in this way.
According to Cobbold in the ACT In Year 3 writing, one school went from 1st last year to 66th this year, whilst in Year 3 grammar another school went from 81st to 4th!
These are not aberrations, as similarly spectacular rises and falls appear throughout the tables.
So what if anything d these league table results tell us:
“what really matters – attracting and retaining the best in teaching, giving schools and systems the support they need to become hubs of collaborative professional learning, and improving equity by targeting resources to students who need extra assistance, as recommended by the Gonski report into school funding”.
It really is as simple at that
During the consultation phase on the development of the Australian National Curriculum, the Australian Human Rights Commission stated that they were concerned about the lack of a comprehensive and coherent coverage of Human Rights in the Draft Curriculum. They also indicated on their website that
The Commission is participating in consultations on the draft curriculum and recommending ways in which the human rights content in the curriculum can be strengthened.
They also posted position paper on how it could best be included. Position Paper
The fact that their coverage of this matter on their website today still states that they are ‘engaged in consultations’ suggests that their intervention may have been too late.
However, for those teaching older students, who would like to include the study of the ideas and issues surrounding human rights in their teaching this video developed by the London School of Economics The Burning Issue: The DNA of Human Rights | British Politics and Policy at LSE. might be a useful resource. It will certainly promote an interesting discussion and draw on important ideas.
I was particularly drawn to the way in which the speaker, Professor Conor Gearty, demonstrated through interviews and props how
All powerful emancipatory ideas get sucked into the vortex of power, which seeks, not to remove them, but to twist them to meanings that suit the powerful
For readers interested in education reform fight-back initiatives the latest US appear to be the Education Opportunity Network.
This initiative aims to make sure all children and youth have the opportunity to learn by sharing provocative information, analysis, and opportunities for action — and by linking educators in the trenches, students, parents, community leaders, education experts, and progressive activists who know education is crucial to the fight for democracy and economic progress.
This video neatly encapsulates why just ending child marriage could do so much in a development context – increase literacy, reduce mother and child mortality, reduce poverty and lack of earning power.
One area of child marriage consistently overlooked is within Australia’s remote Indigenous communities. They have conditions quite similar to women in developing world’s failed state situations. However because they live in one of the wealthiest developed countries in the world, the lens of development is never applied.
This is not just about traditions of arranged marriages – which still take place but the accepted practice of girls leaving school to have babies at a very tender age. Investing in educating girls about sexual health and sexuality and in persuading girls and their families of different possible futures could make such a difference to communities.
We have well funded football programs right across North Australia because we see this as a way to persuade remote Indigenous boys of the benefits of fitness, health, education and having goals. When I asked why there was not any equivalent program for girls I invariably received one of the following 2 answers
“if we can get boys to attend school the girls will follow” or ” but girls can be part of the program too.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH