The past decade has seen a high level of engagement and commitment by schools to the collection, analysis and interpretation of information about students to inform teaching and learning. Rapid changes in society, economics and technology, the increased demand for accountability, and the need to prepare all students to be citizens in an increasingly globalised world, has cultivated the increased requirement to inform and improve
education through various evidence based approaches.
However, while evidence is one way to support the core business of schools
–maximising student learning and outcomes – evidence in and of itself is not sufficient to maximise student outcomes. If we are serious about
developing and maintaining an evidence based culture of improvement in
teaching and learning, the unique and specialised knowledge, skills, experience
and professional capacity of teachers must be valued as fundamental
components of any evidence process.
That is, the way in which evidence is obtained, collated, interpreted and results
strategically utilised, must be interlinked with, and influenced by, the profession.
What is evidence?
Evidence is obtained through various forms of assessment – which may
include teacher observation, tests, peer assessment and practical performance –
and constitutes the information and data that is used to gauge the
educational attainment and progress of individuals; groups; and cohorts; and
increasingly, the effectiveness of programs and performance of
educational systems. Information and assessment data are
increasingly used for multiple purposes, including national and international
comparisons of standards of learning and educational attainment (Timmins,
2004). Increased pressures at a local level to meet accountability requirements, and to deliver improved results across the cohort have ‘put data
to an increasing array of use’ (Timmins, 2004, p. 2) in schools.
Why is an evidenced based approach to teaching and learning important?
As realised by many educationalists, an evidence-based approach to teaching
and learning is crucial to maximising student outcomes.We need to ‘know’ –
to have evidence about the performance of our students in order to support them to achieve high quality educational outcomes.
There are four major ways in which we can use the information we gain from
assessment (our evidence) to maximise student learning and outcomes. These
include using evidence to:
- improve the focus of our teaching (a diagnostic capacity)
- focus students’ attention on their strengths and weaknesses (a motivation capacity)
- improve programming and planning (a means of program assessment)
- report on an assessment (a means of communicating student
In order to most effectively support students to achieve quality educational
outcomes, the process of evidence to inform teaching and learning must be
an explicit and accountable one, which is equitable, representative, valid, and
Sharing the secret
The increased use of information and assessment data to inform teaching and learning brings a largely recognised increased need for assessment that is
an open and accountable process about what really matters, what students
should know, and a process that provides the best information to them
on how they can improve. Assessment should not be a covert mission, but rather a process defined by the importance of transparency and information sharing which is directed by positioning the needs of students as paramount. Providing students with minimal and nondescript information about assessment is an antiquated approach, which has the potential to disengage students from an important aspect of their learning experience and limit their capacity for achievement. Being open with students about the once held secrets of assessment, and engaging students in associated questioning and conversation, provides a greater opportunity for all students to achieve high quality educational outcomes. The development of assessment that makes explicit the standards, criteria and feedback for students has been recognised as a significant development in describing and quantifying student
achievement and progress.The adoption of criterion-referenced reporting (in favour of, or in collaboration with, the more traditional norm-referenced assessment) by education systems as the primary means to describe students’
achievements and progress has enabled the use of data to identify particular
strengths or weaknesses in curriculum terms at the classroom, school and
system levels. One example of this has been the development of assessment
rubrics. Rubrics have been powerful in supporting student learning in their
simplistic form by providing a list of criteria, or ‘what counts’ in a project or assignment; and in providing a scale describing the characteristics of a range
of student work.This tool creates the structure for important conversations
about assessment by providing students with informative feedback about their
work and detailed evaluations of final products (Department of Education
Criterion-referenced assessment sheds light on many of the previously protected secrets of assessment. In the past, the details of assessment have usually remained teacher-only information. However, increasingly so, teachers and students are engaging in conversations about assessment that involves a common language.These conversations are crucial to provide the learner with an opportunity and impetus to discuss how goals are set, how performance is measured, and how performance can be improved. Significantly, they enable the learner to experience an active role in the assessment process.They also provide important feedback for teachers that can be used to respond to students’ particular needs. Advances in educational measurement have paved the way for the introduction of progress maps or achievement scales that articulate a continuum of typical development in a specified domain. Once defined, these maps can be used to describe quality student achievement at both a point in time and over time.This development has also provided the means to establish where individual students are in a continuum of learning the essential starting point from which to develop a relevant and appropriate learning pathway.
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