Enabling and aligning assessment for learning: some research and policy lessons from Queensland
Volume 16 Number 2, September 2006; Pages 83–103
The Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Study (QSRLS) examined and compared the teaching and assessment practices at 250 primary and secondary classrooms in Queensland over 1998–2000. The 24 schools involved were selected ‘because of their reputations for reform’. They covered a wide range in terms of size, location, social class and ethnic make-up. The classes examined covered English, maths, science and social science for Years 6, 8 and 11, and classes for other subjects and years when taught by teachers considered exemplary by peers. Researchers collected information through classroom observation, discussion with the teachers, and assessment tasks set by the teachers and put forward by them as examples of their best practice. The article summarises the findings of the QSRLS with regard to these assessment practices, and contrasts them to the model of ‘productive assessment’ called for in the QSRLS final report. Teachers were found to be supportive of students. However, the QSRLS also found ‘a glaring absence of intellectual demand in both the pedagogies and types of assessment tasks set’. The situation regarding assessment tasks was found to be ‘even worse than that with the pedagogies’. Assessment tasks generally constituted ‘busy work’ and focused on recall of knowledge. The intellectual demands on students at Year 8 fell off compared to those for Year 6 students, mirroring a fall in pedagogic demands. Students were sometimes penalised for producing work that went beyond the assessment tasks set for them. By contrast, the productive assessment model calls for students to be asked to show high-quality academic work. Such work involves an awareness that knowledge is socially constructed and contestable, consideration of a range of alternative viewpoints and solutions to problems, deep knowledge of core subject content, and the working up of simpler knowledge into more complex forms. The QSRLS found that students’ experiences beyond school were drawn on in a trivial way or not at all for assessment material. This approach works strongly against traditionally underachieving students. Student work should be socially connected in forms such as presentations to adults beyond the school or to younger students, and should draw on students’ cultural backgrounds. The QSRLS also calls for students to be ‘working with and valuing difference’. There is a need for ongoing investment in teacher learning at the lower secondary level, and closer alignment of curriculum and assessment practices.
Teaching and learning
Discussion of socio-scientific issues: the role of science knowledge
Volume 28 Number 11, 15 September 2006; Pages 1267–1287
Many social issues involve scientific topics, but opinion is divided as to whether such issues should be covered in school science classes. It is sometimes argued that the scientific knowledge required to address controversial issues such as gene therapy is too complex to inform school-level discussion. Another obstacle to such discussions is that science teachers usually lack the experience and confidence to teach social aspects of science. A study in
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience literacy
A teacher's guide to pitfalls in decision making
Volume 15 Number 1, 3rd Quarter 2006; Pages 25–37
Individuals who are aware of the limitations of natural decision making are more likely to make informed decisions based on sound information, and are less likely to be misled by fads and unproved practices. Cognitively, one can fail to consider all the alternatives. This can be addressed by the construction of a simple 2X2 matrix where practice/outcome relationships are explicitly considered. This may indicate the need for further evidence. A number of emotional and social factors can influence our decisions. We can be influenced by the way information is presented. Most is from second-hand sources, such as reading or listening. Storytellers may omit detail, simplify and include their own interpretations. This includes testimonials, which typically report only positive outcomes. One needs to be aware of one’s susceptibility to a good story. The influence of others, in particular people like us and people we like, may lead to the adoption of programs without careful examination. Have the original proponents of a practice made a strong, rational case for its effectiveness? Look for deliberate deception if financial gain is involved. Expert opinion requires careful analysis. Is the expert really an expert in the field? Is there a conflict of interest? There is also a tendency to find an expert who confirms one's own beliefs. A lack of 'impolite' critical feedback can lead to the belief that consensus exists when it does not. There can be a conflict between one's values and the evidence relating to particular practices. One may be committed to doing what is best, but this requires rational evaluation of evidence, not following one's inclinations. Teachers may view new practices from a logistical perspective, and be more likely to adopt practices that make fewer demands, or are similar to current practices. Practices may be based on intuitively appealing ideas or conventional wisdom. Intuition is no substitute for evidence, and conventional wisdom can be wrong. Parents and teachers want good outcomes for children. This can lead to the adoption of dubious programs in the belief or the hope, with no actual evidence, they will perform. A scientific approach to decision making, using the double blind controlled study, is recommended.
Subject HeadingsSpecial education
Contamination of current accountability systems
Volume 87 Number 10, June 2006; Pages 762–766
US policy makers’ desire to make educators accountable for their use of public funds is not unreasonable, but doing so through student achievement testing is highly unreliable. In most cases, assessment instruments and technologies are not up to coping with the high stakes now placed on them. Furthermore, the data itself is open to contamination. For example, statistics on student reading ability do not take into account the phenomenon of summer reading loss. Research has shown that students can lose a significant part of the reading ability they have gained at school during the summer vacation, and that this loss is likely to be greatest in children from lower income families. The usual scheduling of assessments does not give schools enough time to address summer reading loss, so a low-income school’s impact on children’s reading achievement may be underrepresented. Grade retention, or ‘flunking’, also contaminates school statistics. Retaining the lowest-achieving students in third grade, for example, means fourth-grade statistics for the following year will improve, providing a false picture of actual school effectiveness. Assessing students by age level rather than grade level may yield more accurate results. Some schools also artificially augment test scores through direct test preparation lessons. Their focus on improving statistics suggests that these schools may not have the skills to make real improvements to student proficiency. The last contaminating factor for reading results is the inappropriate test accommodations made for students with disabilities. Having tests read aloud to students means that it is listening, not reading, that is actually tested. Tighter guidelines around accommodations are needed to improve the validity of assessment data. Not only does the current
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
United States of America (USA)
Incorporating pupil perspectives in initial teacher education: lessons from the Pupil Mentoring Project
Volume 10 Number 2, July 2006; Pages 197–206
Most teacher training courses now incorporate input from universities, classroom teachers, school leaders and other education professionals, but few seek input from school students. A six-year project in
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Practitioner research or descriptions of classroom practice? A discussion of teachers investigating their classrooms
Volume 14 Number 3, September 2006; Pages 395–405
As interest in teachers’ ‘practitioner research’ has increased, criticisms have been levelled at its quality. Some argue that practitioner research often amounts to no more than descriptions of, or justifications for, existing practice, based on data of questionable validity. However, a narrow scientific definition of research risks marginalising teachers’ expertise with respect to their own practice. Different types of research may arise from different imperatives, and practitioner research necessarily stems from, and informs, teaching practice, rather than being embedded in the development of academic theory. A group of teacher researchers from nine English primary schools were studied over one academic year, to investigate the practitioner research process’s potential for improving professional understanding. The group met four times during the year to plan, develop and present individual research projects. They were directed to choose research topics which interested them, which could be scientifically evaluated and which involved practical and appropriate methods of data collection. The teachers had all experienced in-service training in the topics they chose, so tended to enter the project with preconceived ideas they were hoping to support. Through undertaking the research and interacting with their colleagues in the research network, they came to understand the complexity of concepts often treated superficially in in-service training sessions. Membership of the network enabled the dialogue and reflection that is essential to the action research process to take place. Although data collection methods reflected a lack of formal methodology training, the teachers were able to support their hypotheses using a variety of data sources. Some were also motivated to explore related theoretical literature. The process provided significant opportunities for teachers to learn from their colleagues and share the knowledge created in their classrooms. It suggests that the proposed dichotomy between practitioner research and descriptions of practice may be false, as description is simply a necessary component of practitioner data collection. Rather, it is the element of critical questioning from teachers and their professional communities that distinguishes teacher practitioner research.
Subject HeadingsEducation research
Teaching and learning
Grammar matters, period
23 October 2006; Page 12
In the 1970s the study of grammar 'went out of fashion' in Victorian schools. The absence of grammar instruction since that time has had a ruinous effect on recent graduates' understanding of the structure of English. Their poor English skills have been sharply criticised by the
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Collective teacher efficacy, pupil attainment and socioeconomic status in primary school
Volume 9 Number 2, July 2006; Pages 111–129
Collective teacher efficacy (CTE) is the collective belief of teachers in a school that they can make a difference to student achievement. The article describes research into the relationship between CTE, socioeconomic status (SES), and student attainment in 15 Scottish primary schools. The study was motivated by concerns that SES is often seen as a determining factor in student attainment, creating a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy by lowering teacher and student expectations. Previous studies have demonstrated that CTE also influences student achievement, sometimes more so than SES. The Scottish study found a strong statistical correlation between CTE and SES. It suggests that the influences of SES and CTE are interconnected, and that neither can be singled out as having the strongest effect on student achievement. The schools with the highest CTE demonstrated the greatest gains in student achievement over time. One school was of particular interest, having both low SES and high CTE, and demonstrating the highest increase in student achievement. This school became the subject of a case study into the factors influencing CTE. Mutual respect between students and teachers, a positive school ethos, well-motivated staff and quality in-service training were identified as powerful CTE generators. The school was also characterised by a strong focus on pedagogy, and the vision and drive of its principal. Interestingly, neither resourcing nor previous academic results were mentioned as CTE determinants. The study suggests that the individual influences of SES and CTE are difficult to isolate. However, CTE might well be the easier factor to change. Based on the research results, it can be expected that working to increase CTE in a school will have a positive effect on student achievement, and may help address the damaging cycle of ‘socioeconomic determinism’.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Safety net or free fall: the impact of cooperating teachers
Volume 10 Number 2, July 2006; Pages 167–178
With around 30–50 per cent of US teachers leaving the profession within their first five years, teacher preparation programs have come under scrutiny. The Professional Development School (PDS) model is one such program, where preservice teachers undertake ‘internships’ at a local K–12 school. A study of 14 preservice teachers’ experiences of the program revealed that the relationship between the intern and the cooperating teacher was most important to their perceptions of the program’s success. ‘Cooperating teacher’ is a broad term applied to any teacher who hosts an intern for either short-term early field experiences or student teaching placement. Interviews with interns revealed that these teachers have a profound influence, and that both positive and negative attitudes towards teaching can be contagious. The most highly valued types of relationships to emerge in the study were the ‘safety net’ and the ‘platform’. In the ‘safety net’ model, the cooperating teacher placed sufficient confidence in the intern to allow them to operate independently, but made sure support was at hand if difficulties should arise. In the ‘platform’ model, the cooperating teacher scaffolded lessons so that there were opportunities for the intern to actively participate. Both models assumed a partnership of mutual respect and shared ownership between the intern and the mentor. Negative relationships were characterised by either an absence or excess of direction by the cooperating teacher. Interns were either forced to work within narrow parameters by a mentor unable to relinquish control of their class, or were left wondering what to do if the cooperating teacher was not interested. The research implies that more extensive training of cooperating teachers is needed to improve the success rate of the PDS model. It also suggests that cooperating teachers should be chosen more carefully. Although increases in mentor screening would exacerbate existing problems of short supply, it may be that a delayed field experience, or even no field experience at all, would be better for preservice teachers than a bad one.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
United States of America (USA)
'Daddy, where did the words go?' How teachers can help emergent readers develop a concept of word in text
Volume 43 Number 1, Spring 2006; Pages 37–49
Young children entering school may not be able to distinguish written words on a page, or distinguish syllables or phonemes from words, since spoken words are usually run together, and ‘we are hard wired to acquire language without consciously having to think about it’. Instead, children establish meaning from strings of words that they have unconsciously combined. Research has established a strong link between early reading ability and phonological awareness, that is, ‘the ability to listen to and manipulate the sound structure of spoken language’. Research has also demonstrated that reading is improved by explicitly teaching children that spoken words are composites of constituent sounds, and by matching letters to letter sounds. At present research has not fully established how much phoneme awareness is required for a child to begin reading, or how long phoneme instruction should continue once a child is reading. However, research by D Morris and others has led to a model of early reading acquisition in which a central role is played by a child’s ability to distinguish words in text. Children learn to distinguish the initial letter in a word, then the final letter, then letters and sounds internal to the word, before moving on to complete processing of letter sounds in the word. Teachers can support this process in a range of ways. Reading aloud to children models correct reading, acquaints children with the full story line, and provides an encouraging environment. The first letter in each word can be highlighted to a child by finger pointing and verbal emphasis. Very new or struggling readers can be helped by ‘echoing’, in which the adult reads one or two sentences aloud, pointing to each word, then asks the child to reread and point to the same words. In ‘choral reading’ the adult and child ‘fingerpoint read’ together. The article lists a range of other techniques. Importantly, all these methods situate the words within a text, never treating them in isolation.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
You've got a friend
Number 174, October 2006; Pages 12–15
Bellaire Primary School has implemented a two-part program along Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) guidelines that includes induction and mentoring for novice teachers. The school is very active in developing a continuous learning regime for staff. It also has a history of employing graduate students, and implemented induction programs some years ago to help ensure these new teachers get a positive start at the school. Induction involves providing new teachers with information and support about administrative tasks and procedures. The school’s current program grew out of a 2003 trialling of the Teacher Mentoring Professional Development and Resource Kit. Mentoring involves providing new teachers with support in the classroom. Mentors are selected for their experience, expertise and willingness to share their skills and knowledge with others. A mentor may act as an advisor, a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board, an assistant or a confidante. Novice and mentor work together to decide the best way to provide support, which may take the form of scheduled meetings or informal discussions. Novice and mentor complete a written agreement that outlines the practices required for a successful program. Initially, mentors were available only to graduates, but this year all new teachers to the school were allocated a mentor. There is now discussion about extending the program over two years. The program has been seen as generally effective and is valued by the participants. The use of a critical friend or mentor is a powerful professional development strategy.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Primary health care for young people: Are there models of service delivery that improve access and quality?
Volume 25 Number 2, June 2006; Pages 49–59
Young people and service providers of primary health in
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Girls and physics: continuing barriers to 'belonging'
Volume 17 Number 3, September 2006; Pages 281–305
A literature review has investigated possible reasons for, and solutions to, the ongoing decline in girls’ participation in school physics courses. The review, Girls in the Physics Classroom, was funded by the Institute of Physics at the Open University,
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsGreat Britain
Creative dissent about school leadership: co-construction in new settings
School leadership has become a contested concept, with interpretations ranging from strong managerial direction to building devolved leadership capacity around a shared school vision. During 2004 and 2005, a qualitative study was undertaken of eight school leaders who had participated in the South Australian Learning to Learn initiative, and who had subsequently been appointed to different schools. Data was gathered from regular ‘Stewards Group’ meetings that the leaders had organised, to share their experiences of establishing transformative models of leadership in new contexts. Five leadership paradoxes emerged, arising from differences between the eight leaders’ expectations of leadership and those of their new schools: leading learning versus managing resources; acknowledging the past versus initiating new directions; challenging colleagues while establishing trust; making decisions according to routine or deep reflection; and maintaining an appropriate level of analytical objectivity while weathering the emotional turmoil of entering a new workplace. The next phase of the research identified strategies leaders employed for negotiating these paradoxes. Establishing trusting, respectful professional relationships was their first priority. To do this, it was also necessary to develop understanding of, and demonstrate respect for, the schools’ existing cultures. Some leaders deliberately structured opportunities for staff to share past experiences, to build a communal knowledge base about the school. All leaders found significant time was needed to establish a shared vision, sometimes involving working backwards from existing practices to the values underpinning them. Although all leaders were steadfast in their own leadership vision, knowing when to compromise was often necessary in order to overcome conflict and move forward. Communication was also essential, and sometimes difficult for leaders who had grown accustomed to using a professional language of transformative leadership unfamiliar to their new colleagues. A constant process of reflection and reframing helped the leaders turn dissent into an opportunity for creativity, and establish a process of shared meaning construction within their schools. Lastly, access to support was crucial for the leaders to survive their transitions, including the debriefing and collaborative problem-solving within the Stewards Group.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership