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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Assessment: getting to the essence

Number 135, April 2014
Geoff N Masters

Education assessment tends to be seen in terms of fixed, formalised dichotomies, for example the dichotomies of formative and summative, or qualitative and quantitative, assessment. The effect has been to fragment the assessment field, leading, at times, to needless disputes. The underlying purpose of all educational assessment is ‘to establish and understand where learners are in an aspect of their learning at the time of assessment’. This insight offers a more unified understanding of assessment, and leads to a more helpful way of presenting the different aspects of the field. Diagnostic assessment, for example, is often understood in terms of a ‘class of instruments or methods’, an approach that encourages needless disputes as to whether a particular instrument is truly diagnostic. A better approach starts from the recognition that diagnosis can occur at different levels of detail, eg a student’s grasp of a school subject might be diagnosed in overall terms, or in relation to particular aspects of the subject, or in terms of particular concepts. Similarly, diagnosis of the performance of a population of students can be undertaken at a general level, or differentiated by type of student, or school, classroom or individual student. Another way of looking at assessment is to consider the different uses it may be put to, and once again it is helpful to start from a more unified approach to the topic. One use of assessment is as a guide to future action. A national government, for example, requires a different level of detail than a school leader or an individual student. Another use is to evaluate progress over time. Once again, the nature of such assessment varies at different scales, such as an education system, a school, or an individual student. The field of assessment can also be categorised in terms of the different ways in which it might be interpreted: students’ results may be judged normatively against those of other students, or against curriculum expectations, or against past performances. The article discusses issues involved with each form of interpretation. Assessment may also be separated into different types of task. The usefulness of an assessment task depends on the extent to which it makes learning more easily observable, not on the complexity of the task, nor on how impressive it looks per se. Once assessment is reconceptualised this way, ‘many supposedly important distinctions become less significant’. Educators and policy makers should also be aware that the same learning may often be measured equally well through more than one type of task.


Subject Headings


Interest, motivation and attitude towards science and technology at K-12 levels: a systematic review of 12 years of educational research

Volume 50 Number 1,  2014; Pages 85–129
Patrice Potvin, Abdelkrim Hasni

Students’ interest motivation and attitude (IMA) toward science and technology tends to decline during the secondary years. A review of 228 research articles, published 2000-2012, has linked this decline to a range of factors. One is students’ sense of their academic ability. Scitech is perceived as an area ‘destined to attract high achievers’. Students who ultimately pursue this line of study are distinguished more by their high academic self-esteem, rather than by a distinctively high interest in this area. For this reason ‘it might be interesting to consider less elitist and more supportive approaches’ to these subjects. Girls’ IMA develops when measures are taken to improve their self-concept towards physics and technology. In this regard, it is important that both male and female teachers resist sex-stereotyping of girls’ interests and abilities. All interventions to make scitech more appealing to girls appear to have been successful. It is also noteworthy that interventions to assist girls also assist boys. One study has strongly linked IMA to particular types of activity rather than to broad topics or learning goals; this too may be relevant to the improvement of girls’ IMA towards scitech. Students’ IMA appears to have been raised through the use of inquiry-based learning, when it involves opportunities for reflection rather than simply ‘hands-on’ activities. IMA towards scitech has also been raised by contextualisation of content. It is important not to over-use idealised or mathematical models, and not to focus unduly on scitech ‘as a body of knowledge and procedures’. While the need to contextualise content is not a new insight, it is ‘judged to be important to repeat’. Other promising ways to improve interest include ‘collaborative work, contact with real scientists and novelty’. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Education research
Student engagement
Technology teaching
Science teaching

Effects of parental involvement on academic achievement: a meta-synthesis

Volume 66 Number 3,  2014; Pages 377–397
S Wilder

A researcher has synthesised findings from nine meta-analyses to examine links between student achievement and parental involvement in their children's education. Taken as a whole, parental involvement was found to correlate significantly with academic achievement at all grade levels, and across all ethnic groups. Some studies found the correlation to be higher in primary than secondary schooling, perhaps because parents had a stronger grasp of subject matter in the earlier grades, or perhaps because students study habits were more open to amendment at earlier ages. Different types of parental involvement were associated with different academic outcomes. Higher levels of parental assistance with homework did not correlate to higher academic achievement of their children; this may reflect parents’ limited knowledge and skills with regard to academic learning. Some studies found a negative correlation, perhaps because students who are struggling academically are more likely to request help, or to prompt it in other ways. High academic expectations on the part of parents correlated highly with students’ academic achievement. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)


Subject Headings

Educational evaluation
Parent and teacher
Parent and child

‘Smart’ technologies in early years literacy education: a meta-narrative of paradigmatic tensions in iPad use in an Australian preparatory classroom

Volume 14 Number 2, June 2014; Pages 147–174
Julianne Lynch, Terri Redpath

As a device to assist learning, the iPad is well suited to the early primary years due to its portability, touch interface, intuitive navigation, and the range of learning-related apps that it makes available. However, the nature of these apps vary widely. Some apps are relatively closed, in that the content is self-contained and pre-formed. While they allow interactivity, ‘they direct the learner through the content, positioning the learner as a consumer’. A number of gamified literacy apps fall into this category, by focussing on skills within ‘an underlying behaviourist paradigm’ in which the student receives rewards for practicing specific skills. Such apps fit smoothly into current literacy practices which emphasise alphanumeric skills. Other apps are relatively open, as they can be applied to a variety of learning activities, and position the user as an active producer of content. The affordances and potential limitations of iPads for learning in the early years have been illustrated by a recent study, based in a preparatory year classroom in a rural Victorian primary school. The ongoing study has involved ten students in 2010, and a further ten in 2011. In 2010 students used four iPads and six iPod Touch devices; two further iPads have since been added. Evidence was obtained from formal interviews and informal conversations with the teacher, principal, and students; from classroom observations, and from examination of artefacts, including student work samples and curriculum documents. Students demonstrated proficiency with, and interest in, the devices, with gamified apps being ‘particularly alluring’. They preferred iPads and iPods Touch devices to other technology, such as interactive white boards, and also to traditional resources such as story books. Initially students’ learning was seen to be constrained by the use of closed, gamified apps. Later, the use of open apps allowed the students substantially more creativity. They moved from handwritten and drawn plans to drawing apps, and later to an app that allowed them to record an audio track and share their product via social media. There is a danger that good practice such as this is marginalised by current education policies and practices, which subject learning to ‘the procedures and instruments of assessment’.


Subject Headings

Educational evaluation
Teaching and learning
Mobile devices
Early childhood education
Primary education
Education policy

Creative thinking in music: developing a model for meaningful learning in middle school general music

Volume 100 Number 2, December 2013; Pages 61–67
Elizabeth Menard

Music composition is within the capacities of middle years’ students, and offers a way to introduce creativity and a problem-solving approach to school music. Music composition was introduced into the grade 6 curriculum at Roberts Middle School, Ohio, through a ‘Music Creations’ class. Students were initially invited to explore rhythm on bucket drums, after which they were called on to undertake simple problem-solving activities such as repeating the patterns played by the teacher, improvising, and then leading sessions of drumming themselves. Pitch was then explored: the teacher introduced several instruments, demonstrating the sounds they were capable of; and then introduced how notes move up and down, move stepwise or in leaps, or are repeated. Students used these principles to compose simple melodies, memorising them using their own forms of notation, and then teaching their melody to another student. Students later worked to develop their compositions. Eventually each student’s melody was performed by a student ensemble before the whole class. Once this process was completed, the teacher commenced formal instruction concerning form and dynamics, and other fundamental concepts, exemplified by reference to students’ own works. The teacher showed students how pieces might be developed through the use of elements such as accents or dynamic contrasts; after this, students were invited to use these elements to improve upon their own compositions. Involvement in the program of music composition enlivened the subject for the students, allowed them to take pride in their work, and deepened their engagement with subsequent work, such as the study of famous composers of the past. The program was inspired by the Credit Suisse Very Young Composers program. The article includes a one-page outline of the school’s Music Creations class. Creativity is not an inherent part of school music programs, which may be limited to ensemble work or factual learning. However, creativity in music programs may be encouraged by approaching musical learning as a form of problem solving.

Key Learning Areas

The Arts

Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Middle schooling

It's the style that counts

Number 4, June 2014; Pages 13–15
Fran Molloy

It is now widely accepted that each student learns differently, and that teachers need to cater to these differences. This personalised approach to student learning incorporates insights about different ‘learning styles’, which emerged in the 1970s. For a time, the notion of a learning style was conceived as a fixed and general characteristic of each student, who was seen, for example, as a ‘visual’ or ‘verbal’ learner. Education academics now tend to reject this conception as overly schematic and rigid, but they have retained and developed the notion of individual learning differences, and this has permeated good practice among teachers today. Rather than ‘teach to the middle’, teachers are now concerned to cater separately to struggling and advanced learners, identified by preliminary testing. However, it is important to recognise that students' proficiency levels are not fixed, and that they vary not just between subject areas, but between topics within subjects. The advent of team teaching has greatly assisted educators' ability to cater to individual students' needs. Personalised learning has also been encouraged by the online environment and by today’s sophisticated technology. For example, teachers might allow access to an instructional video during class time, as a reference point for students struggling with a particular topic or activity. Technology also facilitates project-based and enquiry learning: open-ended forms of learning that allow students to develop at their own pace. The availability of information online has changed the teacher’s role from one of providing information to one of helping students penetrate, navigate and critique the resources they discover online.


Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Personalised learning

Out of our league

Number 4, June 2014; Pages 16–17
Dallas Bastian

Singapore and Hong Kong have all performed outstandingly on international tests of school students’ academic achievement. These results have generated discussion as to whether the educational policies and practices in the two cities should be adopted by western states, especially those whose results are slipping on ‘league tables’ of educational performance. The article covers the views of several educational commentators on these topics. One issue raised is the limited comparability of cities to whole countries, as education systems. For example, the high performing Asian city-states have more centralised systems than those of western nations. Not all differences can be traced to education policy and practice. It is also significant that neither city contains ‘a low socio-economic band’, a fact that impacts on test results; and in both cities, education benefits from very high public regard. Some commentators argue that the policies and practices of Singapore and Hong Kong may not be appropriate, notwithstanding their strong academic outcomes. The policy of streaming students, for example, may channel students’ future lives too strongly, and at too young an age; students in these cities may also be exposed to undue performance pressure. Hong Kong and Singapore are themselves seeking to adopt some aspects of western education policy, such the encouragement of problem-solving. However, some aspects of education policy in these Asian cities are seen as worthy for adoption, such as teachers’ high salaries, strong financial support for pre-service teachers extensive support for professional development of practicing teachers.


Subject Headings

Educational planning
Educational evaluation
Education policy
Hong Kong

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