Enhancing Teacher Judgement - By Mathilda Joubert
I was recently asked to participate in an Oxford-style debate at the Brightpath conference on the topic: Parents should expect that their child’s school collects and uses robust evidence of learning to ensure that every student has the opportunity to make a year’s progress each year. Good idea or setting schools up to fail?
As you will know, most of our primary schools are currently using Brightpath software to enhance teacher judgements in assessing student learning accurately. It is a great resource that can help us to demonstrate progress in student learning and target teaching more effectively. The School Curriculum and Standards Authority (SCSA) has recently bought a licence for every school in WA to use Brightpath and they are investing in developing further resources within the program to cover all learning areas from Kindergarten to Year 10.
At the conference I was part of the proposing team for the debate, who had to defend the importance of measuring progress (not only attainment) in schools. I thought you would enjoy reading the key points in my argument. I have to warn you that, in the style of a typical Oxford debate, some of the language is very dramatic and overblown.
Ladies and gentlemen, I agree that schools should demonstrate that every student has the opportunity to make a year’s progress for a year’s learning based on five key reasons outlined below.
- Firstly, the purpose of teaching is to cause learning. Learning involves a process of growth (or progress), moving from what you already know to new/deeper learning or understanding. We can’t control the starting points of children in our classrooms, but we can and should enable growth/learning for all. Students come to school to learn, not just to show what they can do. What we assess shows what we value. Do we value getting it right or do we value learning? As James Nottingham reminded us: “Learning is about improving; not proving”.
- Secondly, visible progress can act as a motivator for students to continue learning. Imagine the child who continually achieves a D on test after test. They become disheartened or believe that they make no progress. Or the A student can become complacent. If we only track attainment no progress is visible. Research shows that the pecking order in the classroom is locked in by age eight. If we encourage and track progress for all we can start to challenge children’s preconceived ideas of achievement.
- Thirdly, monitoring progress of all learners can make us as a nation more competitive globally. John Hattie, the chairman of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), reminds us that Australia is the only western country continuously sliding backwards in all areas of international educational tests over the past 20 years. The single biggest problem is coasting schools: schools that have high achievement, but low progress for students. We have more coasting schools than any other western nation. (For example almost half of independent and Catholic schools are deemed as coasting schools, demonstrating low student progress despite high attainment). This will remain a problem whilst we only keep schools accountable for merely meeting minimum standards of achievement. This would be akin to hospitals only tracking how many people die on their wards. A greater focus on measuring progress in schools can reverse this trend of sliding educational achievement nationally.
- Fourthly, the wasted talent from students not progressing in their learning is a national disgrace. Too many students in Australian schools are failing: failing to make progress in their learning. As teachers we are often good at progressing the learning of our weakest students, but research demonstrates that our brightest students are not making sufficient progress – they are flatlining. Just think of the wasted potential. A tree that doesn’t grow, withers and dies. What happens to children who do not continue to grow in their learning?
- Finally, developing robust evidence of progress in student learning is an equity issue. Every child matters and every child deserves the opportunity to make a year’s progress for a year’s learning – not only the lower achieving students. The brain loves a challenge, but it also loves a cop-out. Our role as educators is to challenge all students’ pre-conceived ideas of what they are capable of – to help them smash through barriers and glass ceilings. Every child deserves that – no matter what the curriculum expectations for the year are. We have to move beyond ‘teach to the middle of the class’ to teaching at the point of need – and measuring progress helps us target teaching effectively for all.
In closing, I suspect the opposing team will highlight the challenges of measuring progress. No one says it is easy, but the danger is that we will fall prey to MacNamara’s fallacy, that we end up valuing what we can easily measure, rather than working out how to measure what we really value. We have to shift the focus from measuring attainment only, to measuring progress. Parents expect it and children deserve it. We simply cannot afford poverty of aspiration.
 Masters, G. (2016). Policy Insights: Five challenges in Australian school education. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research.
 Goss, P., Sonnemann, J., Chisholm, C., Nelson, L., 2016, Widening gaps: what NAPLAN tells us about student progress, Grattan Institute.