Some findings from this project
A full report outlining the findings and giving advice for schools is available at this link: Supporting New Senior Assessment Resource for Schools version 1
In this research, designing for learner agency and equitable outcomes were identified as first-order priorities to anchor explorations of task validity. Assessment design was seen as an ongoing process where summative assessment tasks, curriculum plans and formative pedagogic tasks were aligned and adjusted in response to peer, researcher and student feedback. Learner agency encapsulated the idea of students as active decision makers in their learning and assessment processes. Equity was seen as the full participation of all learners.
Finding 1: Student-focused planning included responsive decision making
Seeking feedback on the alignment between curriculum plans and summative tasks, and providing evidence of that alignment to reviewers was new work for the teachers who valued the opportunity to refine their thinking. Teachers created evidence of their responsive planning as increasingly the student questions drove learning and discussions highlighted areas for further teaching. Where students found it ‘scary’ to be in charge of discussions, or to experiment with some of the writing ‘recipes’ they had learned in junior school the teachers spent more time developing trust to help students take these risks. All teachers had to decide ‘what needed to be sacrificed’ in their teaching plans as there was not enough time to cover the pre-planned content as well as the responsively planned material.
Finding 2: Increased focus on critical agency enhanced other elements of learner agency
There was evidence of enhanced agency from students through their participation in class activities, and also the quality of their summative results. Through giving peer feedback and other collaborative activities in class, students shared their different perspectives and their thinking behind their assessment work. As students heard and read a variety of quality answers, there were greater opportunities for uncertainty to be shared and ideas to be tested. Flexibility in how to use the same evidence in different ways helped students feel prepared for unseen exam questions, and also for workplace discussions. Students’ summative assessment had evidence of more original ideas and ‘less regurgitation’, and greater skill in analysis and argument, suggesting a relationship between critical and creative agency.
Finding 3: Increased critical agency in one subject area had positive effects in other subjects
For many of the students it was the first time a teacher had explicitly taught them what the assessment criteria looked like using multiple examples. Students independently used skills they had learned to self regulate their work. Students then transferred the skills they had learned in English about understanding criteria to other subjects, and advocated for supported peer feedback in other classes.
Finding 4: Prioritising accessibility in assessment design led to enhanced equity
The teachers designed for equity in task scaffolding through including peer support, mixed ability groups, multiple modes of engagement through a mixture of visual, auditory and hands on tasks. Using a checklist about the accessibility of the summative task sheet was a “huge success” leading to a culture shift in one school that “making sure it is inclusive isn’t a criticism”. Consultations with students identified areas for ongoing research as different students approached their assessment by drawing on different information in the task sheets and activities.
An open access publication is available that explores some of these ideas:
Graham, L., Tancredi, H., Willis, J., McGraw, K. (2018) Designing out barriers to student access and participation in secondary school assessment. Australian Educational Researcher. 45:1, pp. 103-124. 45: 103. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-018-0266-y
Finding 5: Feedback loops enhance assessment literacy of teachers
The five inquiries became a chain of decisions that generated evidence for teachers to argue for the validity of their work. Feedback from students, researchers and colleagues was seen as essential information that enabled them to “step outside of the silos” of their work and have their ideas questioned, confirmed and challenged.