• Secretary's update

Every Student Podcast: Sally Egan

13 July 2020

Sally Egan from the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation talks to Mark Scott about the updated What Works Best research.

Transcript

Mark Scott

Hi, I'm Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education.

Welcome to Every Student, the podcast where I get to introduce you to some of our great leaders in education. I'm here today with Sally Egan, who leads the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) here in the NSW Department of Education. We'll be talking today about research and a new toolkit to support the most effective practices for school improvement and enhancing student outcomes. Welcome Sally.

Sally Egan

Morning Mark.

Mark Scott

When we think of the work of CESE, possibly the best known piece of research is the What Works Best research. Recently, that's been refreshed and renewed for school leaders everywhere in Australia. For those who aren't familiar with it, what is the What Works Best research and what's it all about?

Sally Egan

What Works Best is our flagship program. It's our evidence-base to support our teachers, to know and understand the research into action. In 2014, we released seven themes from the growing bank of evidence for What Works Best, to improve student educational outcomes. It's not an exhaustive list of effective practices, but a useful framework for teachers and our school leaders to consider when deciding how to challenge the status quo, and certainly tackle student and school improvement. Recently in 2020, we updated the research and we provided an additional theme – assessment.

Our eight themes are assessment, high expectations, collaboration, explicit teaching, effective feedback, data to inform practice, classroom management and wellbeing.

I suppose it's important to note that the research and the resources are really important to know how our teachers and schools can understand their own performance and impact student outcomes. It's a process for our schools for improvement.

Mark Scott

So how do we know of all the things, of all the research, how do we come to the conclusion that these are the eight things that schools really need to be focused on and engaged in? What leads you down the path to choose these eight?

Sally Egan

The research, the evidence, the data, the CESE team, our research analysts, really engaged and immersed themselves in the research. They spent time in our schools, they identified where our best performing schools are at. Informed by their practices, they understood where our schools were at.

Whilst they recognise that what the data was telling them, they really truly engaged in what the research said and identified where our schools were performing at their best. Those schools that are performing at their best are generally using this research into practice.

Mark Scott

So there's almost like a triangulation with all the data that the department collects. You analyse that and look for high performing schools, and that'd be high performing schools across all backgrounds, FOEI [Family Occupation and Education Index], all levels of student performance, identify high performing schools, look at what those schools are doing and then link that back to the research?

Sally Egan

Yeah, absolutely. I think it's important that none of these schools are addressing any of these themes in isolation. They're addressing these themes simultaneously, in addition to obviously using the syllabus first and foremost.

Mark Scott

This has been the most popular piece of CESE research, downloaded thousands and thousands of times, regularly cited. This year, as you've refreshed it, you've also put a toolkit with it as well. What's the aim of the toolkit?

Sally Egan

It's interesting, we've had the research for some time, as you suggested. The idea of the resources support teachers to reflect on their current practice for each of the What Works Best themes, and identify areas for improvement. The practice guide provides practical strategies and reflective questions, so that teachers can engage individually, collectively, communities of practice.

Mark Scott

So what kind of things will teachers find in the toolkit for the first time?

Sally Egan

The toolkit provides teachers with key questions. Questions that enable them to think about new practices that can develop, and importantly, discontinue practices that may not be working for their students in front of them. As you can imagine, our learners are all different. So it's important for our teachers to recognise where each theme is at in their classroom, but also recognise sometimes it's important to pause, discontinue and renew practices in our classrooms.

Mark Scott

There's a real need and focus for improvement in the system. We talk in the strategic plan about this commitment for every student, every teacher, every leader, every school, improving every year. To what extent does that principle of improvement underpin a lot of this research and what it is that you're driving schools to do in engaging with this research?

Sally Egan

I think it's important for our schools to be strategic in the way in which they triangulate what's happening in their schools. It's really about school, teacher and student performance. It's performance for all our learners. If we recognise that these eight themes are incredibly important to address our school improvement agenda, it's important to think about how we could use these toolkits and the research and the evidence to identify where every teacher is at. With these themes, with their own performance, but also their school and individual student performance.

I think it's important to recognise that the latest theme that's been added is assessment. What's important when we recognise the inclusion of that theme, it plays a key role in teaching, learning and student achievement.

Mark Scott

Tell us about how assessment got to be on the list this time. You've got the seven, none have been dropped, they all remain important, but you must've felt there was a gap there or the evidence was driving you towards assessment being a driver of student improvement and school improvement.

Sally Egan

It's fair to say that assessment was placed in various themes in the 2014 research. What we identified as we were renewing the research, we understood and talked to teachers. But also in the reality of what we know about teaching and learning, the assessment plays a key role towards student achievement. It's an ongoing part of the cycle of our learning and teaching cycle, and it's embedded in everyday practices in a classroom.

What's important, I think, is that we recognise that a teacher continually asks, where are my students at? And where to next? That's the assessment piece that deserves, and quite rightly so, the research is saying.

An individual example of that would be recently at Rooty Hill High School, where our team had the privilege of immersing themselves, for a day, 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. Teachers checking in on student progress and understanding. Their practice reflects how closely aligned assessment is to the theme, feedback.

Mark Scott

What about the use of data and the skills that our teachers have in using data to inform practice? In the School Excellence Framework, it's interesting when schools assess their own capability, that this is often the area where they are the toughest self-markers on their ability to use data to inform practice.

Sally Egan

I'd like to share two examples of that, Mark. Recently at Strathfield North Public School, they used the toolkit to unpack their collective and individual capacity and understanding of the themes. As I attended the staff meeting and listened to the principal leading the professional learning, the teachers used the toolkit, the school excellence framework and the practical guide to truly engage in where they're at with the theme assessment. They individually identified where they were at, where to next, effectively trial, share and collaborate 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.

Another example in relation to the data would be how Arranounbai [School] have used the understanding of what they use as data and evidence to utilise the different sets of data that teachers use in a special school, the work samples, the classroom-based assessments and ensure their observations assist the teachers to triangulate the data and evidence to develop the personalised learning plans and learning goals for their students.

When we think about data, I think it's also important to think about how teachers can identify where a student needs particular attention, but importantly to stretch. Where can we stretch our students and how we can stretch their challenge points for their teaching practices to improve.

Mark Scott

You've worked closely with lots of schools and you've spent some time as a DEL [Director, Educational Leadership] working in the field with us. One of the interesting challenges I think about all this work is that schools are such busy places and teachers are so busy. The operational pressures and demands of our schools are absolutely enormous. I can understand and I can sympathise with a view that is just running the place and just running classes every day is overwhelming enough. At the end of the day people are exhausted.

How do you encourage busy, exhausted people to be able to go and step away and be reflective of their practice and reflective, not just on business as usual, but on the changes they need to make to drive improvement? How can the What Works Best document really help teachers engage in the improvement journey?

Sally Egan

Considering we've had an interesting Term, we've had 10,000 downloads already of this document. I think it's a fair indication that our teachers are interested, keen and really interested in thinking about the reflection of their practice. I don't believe it's an additional piece, I think teachers, quite rightly so, always reflect on where the practice is at and where to next. I think there's a strong alignment to the strategic improvement planning process. That will ensure our schools are not engaging in additional documentation, but in fact, there's an alignment to the strong research basis of our School Excellence Framework and the What Works Best by using both together. That's what we're beginning to see in our schools.

Mark Scott

If you're a parent and you're engaged in this and you're listening to the podcast, how can you expect that a school using the What Works Best framework will change their practice in a way that you might see an impact on their children at that school?

Sally Egan

I think parents should be really interested in thinking about what are their expectations for their children. What do they look like, sound like? What do goals, look like, sound like for their children as they work towards their next steps? We know high expectations in a school will be known by the learners in each school and their community. We know that 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.

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. Or indeed, their point of challenge, where they are at and where to next. It's important too to think about how they can engage in conversations about assessment. Assessment is an embedded ongoing part of the teaching and learning cycle.

Mark Scott

To what extent do you think the research drives us more towards formative assessment models, which is providing more regular feedback, but lower stress, more low key assessment work?

Sally Egan

Teachers have been using that for years and I think what's important recently, in recent times we're recognising that. Great teachers, for many years, have always asked great questions about where our students are at. They possibly haven't always realised or been recognised that that's assessment at its best because it's timely, it provides teachers the opportunity to provide constructive feedback. 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 and for the teachers to provide that ongoing loop of ongoing support and improvement.

Mark Scott

One of the interesting things, I suppose, underpinning a lot of this work is the data that we collect as the department on schools. I think there's almost like a curious dichotomy. When you look at the data that's created, in a sense on all schools, the broad data, there are relatively few snapshots of that. HSC is clearly one, NAPLAN in [Year] 3, 5, 7, 9 is another. We've got Best Start Assessments that are beginning to roll and possibly other broader diagnostic tools as well.

But it's not like a healthcare system that can be providing data on the performance of its hospitals and a whole series of measures that emerge every day. But one of the things we've done here is collect a lot more data on schools over time. That data is collected in a tool that our teachers and school leaders will know of as Scout, which is now quite a rich database that helps schools identify the performance of their students. But also, provide some level of insight of statistically similar schools, some sense of benchmarking. Can you talk a little bit about Scout, what teachers find in Scout and how we see Scout being used across the system?

Sally Egan

Scout can be used to understand the attendance data, how teachers and students are engaging in the technical tools within their school. We can identify where our students are at with Tell Them From Me, understand how are students progressing in relation to their expectations, their sense of belonging? That's important as we think about What Works Best.

We also know that when teachers use the NAPLAN data they don't just look at the top two bands. They look at item analysis, they rigorously engage in the item analysis in relation to reading or numeracy. Importantly, they look at the national minimum standard and think about where our students are at in our secondary context.

Any sets of data, whether it's VALID in Year 8, and think about the scientific literacy that our students are working towards. Any of that is data that is in Scout, but importantly, our great teachers use that as one starting point. They're curious about it, they ask great questions. They know that it's only one part of this story, they go on learning walks to identify what that looks like in practice. We really need to support our teachers to be confident in those learning walks and our leaders to validate what they can hear and see in their classrooms.

Mark Scott

Just explain to us about learning walks, what are they?

Sally Egan

A great learning walk, Mark, is when a teacher, a leader, you and I, walk into a school and truly engage with the learners in their schools. To understand where a student is at, to ask a student, what are you learning today? Where are you up to? Where is the learning intention? What are you working towards? How will you know you'll get there? Who is available to support you along your learning trajectory? Our great students can articulate that really well. When it's clear, they know the intention of the learning experience. But they also know what success will look like.

Mark Scott

Another thing that you've been involved in for us here in the department and I see a lot in schools is, data walls. And the attempt to visually depict where schools are up to. Tell us about data walls you've been building and the benefit of being able to see the data in that way.

Sally Egan

Data walls, importantly are tactile. So it's there, it's enabling our teachers and our school leaders to put faces to the data, to know, care and value our students.

Mark Scott

That phrase I've heard a lot in the last six months – faces to the data. Explain that.

Sally Egan

It's important to know where our students are at, along the trajectory of a particular scale of a data wall, that's co-constructed by schools themselves. As they co-construct, they co-plan the next steps for those students. It's important when they look at the faces of those students they come to terms with, what are our expectations for those learners? When were they last assessed? Are they a sticky problem? Do they need that knowledgeable other in the conversation to support our students and think about where to next as we progress that student along their learning trajectory?

Mark Scott

And faces to the data means that we know every student?

Sally Egan

Oh, absolutely, Mark.

Mark Scott

In the context of our strategic plan, every student is known, valued and cared for. We know where they are in their learning journey. We have a moment where we come together and focus on how she's going, how he's going, and what are the next steps for learning for every child?

Sally Egan

I think it's important to also recognise the data wall, the impact that can have at a school level, is that every teacher is responsible for all learners in the school. All learners have the potential to grow, but also all teachers have the responsibility for all learners in the school context.

Mark Scott

Sally Egan thanks for your time this morning and thanks for letting us know about the new revised version of What Works Best, available now on the CESE website. And the guide for schools as well to think about how they take that good practice, that great research and put it into practice in their own schools. Thanks for your time today in the Every Student Podcast.

Sally Egan

Thanks Mark.

Mark Scott

Thank you for listening to this episode of Every Student. Never miss an episode by subscribing on your podcast platform of choice, or by heading to our website at education.nsw.gov.au/every-student-podcast. Or if you know someone who is a remarkable, innovative educator that we could all learn from, you can get in touch with us by Twitter @NSWEducation, on Facebook or email everystudentpodcast@det.nsw.edu.au. Thanks again and I'll catch you next time.

Mark Scott

About the Secretary

Mark Scott is Secretary of the Department of Education. He has worked as a teacher, in public administration and as a journalist and media executive. He is committed to public education and learning environments where every child can flourish.

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