Assessment makes the grade in what works best

Updated research by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation will help schools lift performance.

13 July 2020
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Image: Ongoing assessment helps students understand where they’re at with their learning intention.

Student assessment has been identified in updated research as one of eight key drivers to improving student academic outcomes.

The addition of assessment in the popular What Works Best research from the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) is part of an update to the 2014 research that also includes a new teacher toolkit.

Sally Egan, relieving executive director of CESE, spoke about the updated resource with Secretary Mark Scott in the latest episode of the Every Student Podcast.

“What Works Best is our flagship program. It’s our evidence-base to support our teachers to know and understand the research in action,” Ms Egan said.

The original research from 2014 included seven themes known to support school improvement and enhance the learning outcomes of students.

This year the research had been updated to include the theme assessment adding to the list of high expectations, collaboration, explicit teaching, effective feedback, use of data to inform practice, classroom management and wellbeing.

The addition of assessment as a theme in the update showed the key role it played in teaching, learning and student achievement.

“It’s an ongoing part of the learning and teaching cycle and it’s embedded in everyday practices in a classroom,” Ms Egan said.

Ms Egan told Mr Scott as part of the research update, CESE researchers had immersed themselves in the classroom at Rooty Hill High School “to really understand how teachers use assessment to gauge individual and class progress”.

“There's a culture there that encourages students to ask questions, to clarify understanding,” she said.

“Teachers [are constantly] checking in on student progress and understanding. Their practice reflects how closely aligned assessment is to the theme, feedback.”

Mr Scott queried whether the research had implications for how students were assessed and if it supported more regular “lower stress, more low-key assessment work".

Ms Egan said “great teachers” had always used ongoing assessment to determine where students were, but it was only now being recognised as key.

"That's assessment at its best because it's timely, it provides teachers the opportunity to provide constructive feedback,” she said.

“It also, as you can imagine, provides the learner with instant understanding of where they're at with their learning intention, where they could be going in relation to the success criteria.”

Ms Egan said the research was a valued tool for teachers and schools to reflect on their practice – as shown by the more than 10,000 downloads of the research already this year.

She said the practical toolkit had been included to help teachers reflect on their current practice for each of the themes and identify areas for improvement.

“The toolkit provides teachers with key questions that enable them to think about new practices they can develop, and importantly, discontinue practices that may not be working for their students,” Ms Egan said.

“Our learners are all different, so it’s important for our teachers to recognise where each theme is at in the classroom, but also recognise it’s sometimes important to pause, discontinue and renew practices in our classrooms.”

Ms Egan pointed to the success of schools such as Strathfield North Public School and Arranounbai School in using the What Works Best framework and toolkit to drive school improvement.

Strathfield North had used the new toolkit, the school excellence framework, and the practical guide to “truly engage in where they're at with the theme assessment”.

She said staff had individually identified where they were at, their goal for improvement and had shared and collaborated on ideas to improve their practice.

“This is an example in how schools can engage in the school improvement focus areas and improve the growth of all their learners,” Ms Egan said.

Arranounbai School meanwhile had utilised the resource to analyse different sets of data that teachers use in a special school to develop personalised learning plans and learning goals for their students.

Ms Egan said the research around the importance of high expectations in driving success was important for parents to also understand.

“We know teachers hold high expectations of their students when they know their students well and value them as learners and understand how to support their learning,” she said.

“Parents should be really aware of that and what that sounds like when they talk to their children about their learning.

“I would encourage parents to really engage in conversations about the feedback their children receive, and how they can assist with their next steps in their learning trajectory.”

Listen to the full episode now:

Read the transcript of Every Student Podcast: Sally Egan.

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