Where to now with assessment, post National Standards?
We are living in times of changing education policy. The mandatory use of National Standards has been removed, and a review of NCEA is underway. While the removal of National Standards is welcomed by some schools and teachers, others will find it unsettling and some will be distraught. Whatever your position on it, it will mean change. This is an ideal opportunity for you to thoughtfully re-consider your assessment policies and practices to find the best way to measure your students’ progress and achievement and use this information to plan for further learning. There is no need to make instant decisions, no need to rush into anything. The important thing is that you go through this process of inquiry carefully and considerately.
Here are four key areas to consider when designing assessment policy and procedures.
1. Keep some key design principles in mind.
Good decisions are driven by good principles, so a great place to start is to review the principles of effective assessment and reporting. Our New Zealand Curriculum outlines principles of effective assessment and the list below captures the essence of what is written on pages 39 and 40 of the NZC.
Effective assessment practice:
- benefits and involves students - helps them learn better
- helps teachers teach better
- helps leaders lead better
- helps parents and whānau support their child’s learning
- measures things that are important
- is valid and fair.
As you develop your policies, you can use these six criteria as a ‘filter’ for any decisions. For example, does this assessment practice benefit students? How? Does it involve them? How does this assessment help teachers and leaders to improve?
2. Think about who needs what assessment information and for what purposes.
Having thought about the broader principles, a next step is to consider what information each stakeholder needs in order to support better learning and achievement. This information will be from across the curriculum, with particular emphasis on literacy and numeracy for years 1 to 8. These are the foundation areas which allow students to access the rest of the curriculum.
So who needs the assessment information?
- Students need to know what they are learning and why, where they are in their learning, and what their next steps are. They also need to understand the progress they have made during the year.
- Teachers need to know the achievement levels and progress of each and all of their students so that they can plan for and enhance the teaching and learning.
- Parents and whānau need to know how their child is doing at school. Is s/he making sufficient progress ? How is s/he achieving in relation to established curriculum benchmarks ? What can be done at home to help with next steps in learning?
- School leaders and Boards of Trustees need to know how students are progressing and achieving so that they can resource properly, set targets and support teachers to make improvements.
- Kāhui ako leaders and staff need to know the patterns of progress and achievement within their Kāhui ako so that this information guides their improvement-oriented decisions.
- The Ministry of Education needs to know the patterns of progress and achievement across schools so that they have a basis for making resourcing decisions.
3. Think about the different levels of assessment in the classroom.
Effective assessment recognises and reflects the wide range of information that is available; it takes into account the extensive knowledge that teachers gather about student learning and progress across the year. Teachers and leaders consider the knowledge gained from:
- ongoing formative assessment, the hour-by-hour, day-by-day, monitoring by teachers and students of progress against criteria and frameworks
- mid-range informal assessment, such as running records, quizzes, topic tests
- formal cross-cohort assessment to establish school-wide progress and achievement in relation to norms or benchmarks.
Effective teacher judgments on progress and achievement draw on all these types of assessment.
You can find out more about these levels of assessment here on Assessment Online TKI.
4. Then think about what assessment practices and tools are worth keeping and why.
Teacher professional judgments based on a range of information
Call them what you will, teachers have always made professional judgments and will continue to do so. The important thing is that those judgments are made on important and relevant aspects of our curriculum from a range of sources, including classroom observations, learning conversations, and the informal and formal assessment approaches mentioned above. Supporting the process of making sound professional judgments is teacher knowledge of the curriculum, and the progressions of learning that sit under the broad curriculum descriptors. Clear processes for making professional judgments are part of any effective assessment policy. Effective assessment provides students, and all other stakeholders, with the good quality information needed for them to play their part in promoting learning throughout the whole system.
Moderation improves the decisions teachers make about student learning. It’s important to developing a shared, deep professional understanding of ‘what good looks like’. Teachers vary in their beliefs, understandings, expectations about, and judgments of, student learning. When they work with other teachers during moderation processes, their own knowledge deepens, they establish collaborative practices, and the reliability of school-wide assessment information improves, resulting in better targeting of resources and professional learning for teachers and leaders. And clearer understanding by students of what is to be learnt.
Progressions of learning
The New Zealand Curriculum sets out Achievement Objectives for each of the learning areas and for each curriculum level. To support teachers to better understand and use those curriculum statements, our profession has developed sound, research-based fine-grained progressions of learning, particularly in the foundation areas of literacy and mathematics. These include the Literacy Learning Progressions and the English Language Learning Progressions. The latest and most advanced iterations are the Learning Progression Frameworks, which illustrate the significant steps that learners take as they develop their expertise in reading, writing, and mathematics from years 1 to 10. These frameworks work in conjunction with the PaCT tool for students up to year 8 to establish correlation with the curriculum. All of these tools can help schools to develop shared knowledge of progression and increase the likelihood of accurate and dependable information for school-based decisions and for reporting to parents.
Two other areas which have developed and published progression indicators are the technology curriculum and financial capability, and there is work being done in the health and physical education curriculum area. Additionally, the Learning Progression Frameworks for years 9 and 10 cover the reading, writing and mathematics demands in science and social sciences.
The new policy environment provides an opportunity to think about key markers of learning and the things you want to measure and monitor across the curriculum because they are too important to leave to chance
More formal assessment tools such as e-asTTle and PAT
No single source of information can accurately summarise a student’s achievement or progress. A range of approaches is necessary in order to compile a comprehensive picture of the areas of progress, areas requiring attention, and what a student’s unique progress looks like. However, standardised assessment tools have their place in a robust assessment policy, allowing students and teachers to confirm or interrogate other judgments about progress and achievement. Most standardised tools now have a definite emphasis on formative assessment, which means that they can serve a number of purposes:
- setting teaching and learning priorities
- identifying progress made
- identifying common needs and strengths
- formulating learning goals with students
- contributing to professional judgments for accurate reporting to all stakeholders
- school review.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because national standards are no longer a regulatory requirement doesn’t mean your current assessment policy is entirely obsolete. Begin by considering what is best for your students and your community. Then consider the range of sources of valuable evidence that can be gathered and synthesised to clearly analyse progress before planning your assessment and reporting strategies. Most importantly, identify the processes and tools that will provide a useful and balanced approach to judgment-making about student achievement and progress. Keep the things that work well, and reconsider what needs to be changed. This is a golden opportunity to rethink, rejuvenate and improve.