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Do we need to question the way we assess?

Started by justin hickey 27 Feb 2017 8:57pm () Replies (14)

I find myself somewhat frustrated with the environment that we are expected to work in. Being a data driven industry I feel torn between being an innovative, future focused educator that focuses on individualised learning experiences for my students and on the other hand having the pressure of National Standards reporting hovering over my shoulder. Last year I achieved some wonderful results with my students. I managed to provide opportunities for students to taste success; students who had spent most of their school years feeling inadequate and incapable of achieving well in standardised tests.


Many of my students still failed to score well in standardised tests. However, they managed to succeed in areas that are hard to measure. I saw many students self-esteem improve because they managed to complete a project for the first time on a topic of their choice and one which they were engaged with. They began to see themselves as experts in a niche area. They began to recognise themselves as people of value.


For the first time we began to see some of our young people develop a positive attitude towards school and learning. We saw them develop a positive attitude towards each other. We began to witness young people stand up to bullies and take control of their learning environment by setting an example for the kind of behaviour they expected us all to abide by.


If you could have measured the increase in effort and attitude towards their school community and their learning, then most of these students would have been above the National Standards in Respect, Relationships and Caring for each other. Nice standardised tests do not reflect the depth of learning that exists in our environment. As Linda McNeil, Rice University. Houston, Texas, puts it, “Measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of learning”.


However it seem's to be that we continue to use our standardised tests as a benchmark or baseline, with which to judge the young people we are charged to inspire, challenge and motivate. It's like a nice, comfortable bench to sit on. Even when we commit to innovative pedagogy (such as the focus on "Key Competencies") which we are encouraged by the Ministry to do, we still report to the Ministry, data that is predominantly supported and gathered, using old assessment models.


We need to start exploring new ways to measure the significant gains our students are making. Not gains that are necessarily achieved by knowing which strategy to choose, but gains that are obtained from recognising when a student has finally decided they are interested in learning a new strategy. We need to change the way we address assessing our students and how we report their learning.

Just a thought...





  • Sasha (View all users posts) 28 Feb 2017 12:47pm ()

    Everything you have said echoes my thoughts from the past few years. We are encouraged to teach in innovative ways yet we test in old fashioned ways that measure old fashioned values. It is a major frustration for me. However I don't have any answers as to how to change it. I really hope someone does..... 

  • Gaylyn Lockington (View all users posts) 01 Mar 2017 10:55am ()

    I totally agree with what is mentioned above, we are so data driven that many of our students falls through the cracks when it comes to standardized assessments and yet we see so much improvements in them in other areas that makes them valuable citizens in our community.

    if we are encouraged to teach innovatively then it's high time we come up with innovative measuring strategies that will enable ALL students to succeed in school. 

  • Yvonne Catherwood (View all users posts) 06 Mar 2017 4:43pm ()

    I think it is clear that teachers are frustrated with the requirement to label the students in our classes with very one dimensional titles such as the ones legislated in National Standards, but any change has to come from the policy makers. in my opinion schools are breaking their necks to be able to value their students as a whole and are questioning the role of assessment in this. Shouldn't assessment be all about next steps and where to move on to from here rather than defining a finite point where everyone should be at the same time?

  • Leigh Hynes (View all users posts) 01 Mar 2017 11:49am ()

    We have to ask ourselves - what is the purpose of measuring?  The national standards only report on literacy and numeracy, and for whom?  The MOE?  The parents?  The BOT? The teachers?  The learner? The purpose is different for each group of people and we are only really required to report to the BOT and MOE.

    I really like Justin's idea about celebrating expertise in individual areas.  This is what is most important in the development of children who can be fully equipped to face the world ahead.


  • Tim Thatcher (View all users posts) 01 Mar 2017 12:14pm ()


    An interesting thread. The way data is used to develop learning experiences for student's is something we are working through as CoL. We are trying to find ways to use data to personalise learning rather than pass value judgements on students. As a secondary school we are excited by NZQA's developments with regards to external examinations and feel very lucky to have Steve Bargh pathing the way in term's of ingraining key competencies and research skills within the exams. 

    I think schools are beginning to consider the difference between using data to justify school effectiveness to the MOE and using it for learning. In my view they are two separate methods. The later has a lot of scope for innovation within the school and is worthy of some teacher led inquires. 

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 01 Mar 2017 1:08pm ()

    Just a thought...and a powerful one too Justin, thank you for sharing.

    I hear your angst, my son is one of those learners who may never 'zing' on the National Standards scale, but was so proud when he was crowned 'Dingbats' prince one year. He's logical and analytical, but this doesn't always equate to his achievement standards.

    I'm going to helicopter up and say teachers have always been good at using data to inform their practice. Data driven professional inquiries is a good example of that. Teachers watch, observe, scan, use data analytics, asked students questions, and extend data gathering to parent/whānau voice. All multiple ways of gathering data to inform future learning. 

    The nature of learning (OECD) P12 reads, 

    The learning environment needs to be very clear about what is expected, what learners are doing, and why. Otherwise, motivation decreases, students are less able to fit discrete activities into larger knowledge frameworks, and they are less likely to become self-regulated learners.

    Formative assessment should be substantial, regular and provide meaningful feedback; as well as feeding back to individual learners, this knowledge should be used constantly to shape direction and practice in the learning environment.  

    Key ideas for me?

    • Clear learning intentions
    • Formative assessment
    • Feedback

    Like Leigh says, having a clear purpose for measuring/assessing. How often is this done, by whom, with and for whom? Tim, I love Steve Bargh's work in this area of digitisation and authentic assessment in secondary contexts - where the focus is increasingly on learning processes as well as contextualised understandings.

    Somes things to consider in an educational environment in a digital age is...

    • How to use data effectively as a key part of the inquiry process to raise student achievement and to make evidence-informed decisions?

    • How to move from information being difficult to share or underused towards information that is aggregated, useful for everyone, and relevant throughout a student’s school life

    • How to reduce the administration of collection, analysis, and sharing of data while also making sure the data is accurate, up-to-date, and relevant?

    ​Mark Osborne talks more about data analytics in a data-driven organisation (educational context) below.

    Screenshot of Mark Osborne - data analytics

    Please note: image takes you to Edtalks

    The Connected Learning Advisory Te Ara Tīwhiki have also developed five key principles for organisations to use to underpin effective use of data.

    • The focus is on learning
    • The data is shared and used
    • Parents/caregivers and whānau are involved
    • Data is robust and effectively managed
    • Professional support is provided and sustained

    Similar guidelines are expressed in the e-Learning Planning Framework in the teaching and learning dimension.

    My question is...Do you all think there a way forward for schools/kura to negotiate how this looks now in a digital age, so that it best meets the needs of learners? EG: Might be less formalised reporting methods? More on-going formative platforms for students and their whānau to feed into their own learning? Use of digital tools for effective data sharing?

    Some guidelines to help these wider conversations can be found in Enabling e-Learning assessment.

    What do you think?


    You might also like:

  • justin hickey (View all users posts) 01 Mar 2017 8:26pm ()

    Thanks Tessa.  A very in-depth response with some wonderful points to consider. I certainly hope that with enough discussions on this topic we may find a way to reconsider and negotiate what we value for our learners and how these values are expressed and shared.

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 01 Mar 2017 9:03pm ()

    Thank YOU Justin! smiley I think it's imperative we question what we've 'always known' - especially when we're driven by educational practices that better suit the needs of our 21stC learners. There are real challenges as we transform our practice - what are we losing if we do things differently, who is at risk if we change what 'we've always done'...

    I'm wondering if this is bigger than one or two of us? ie: a real paradigm shift needed across the sector from primary (ECE capture learning stories well) through to tertiary education? 

    I'm also wondering what could be a good starting point for teachers and/or leaders? For example, what current practice could be replaced with a new practice (not in addition to) ie: frequency of summative assessment tasks - or is this beyond our control do you think?

  • Yvonne Catherwood (View all users posts) 06 Mar 2017 5:03pm ()

    Another consideration when thinking about when looking at enforced assessment and reporting (National Standards in our case) is the effect that it has on our culturally diverse classrooms. It seems to me that by constantly labeling students as "well below' and "below" we are hindering their pathways to success. We know that National Standards were introduced to eliminate the long "tail" and we also know that Maori and Pacifica  children are over represented in this tail, but these are the very children who are susceptible to low expectations, so how is constantly labeling them as below standards going to turn this around? Ka Hikitia points out that students achieve better when teachers and parents have high expectations of them so lets celebrate their successes with assessing movement and growth and enforcing the expectation that progress is the most important thing in schools.    

  • justin hickey (View all users posts) 06 Mar 2017 6:02pm ()

    Fantastic Yvonne. I couldn't agree more. We have two non negotiables in our class. Attitude and Effort. As part of of my inquiry last year, I stopped using the term National Standards with my students and instead focused on attitude and effort. We made it very clear to the students that wherever they were was awesome and that if each one of them tried to put more effort towards their learning and tried to come to school with a positive attitude each day, then each of them would make progress.

    By changing the focus and embracing that everybody were different, we noticed students were enjoying their learning more and the students said that they felt less stress about their learning. The only thing we measured our students against on a daily basis was their effort and attitude, which they indicated in their daily reflections. From the feedback I got from my students, they felt more motivated to achieve because they were competing with themselves and not with trying to reach the National Standards, which for some of my students, was something that had always been a "bridge to far".

    It was great to see students begin to believe in themselves.

  • Yvonne Catherwood (View all users posts) 10 Mar 2017 2:55pm ()

    This sounds like a great way for the students to be directing their own learning as well Justin. If they are monitoring their own progress in a positive manner they must then gain the empowerment to set future goals. Learning in this way must surely accelerate their learning. 

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 11 Sep 2017 12:50pm ()

    Thought I'd share this great video spotlighted by both Leigh Hynes and Jan-Marie Kellow - an interview with OECD’s Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher published by Global Education & Skills Forum

    In this interview Andreas talks a lot about assessment and learning and how PISA** results are looking more to publishing skills, concepts and elements (global competencies, social skills, problem solving skills, collaborative skills) of learning rather than content. He makes light of what we already know - the world no longer wants people for what they know, Google can tell you want you want to know. He says,

    “Whatever you measure puts a spotlight on what you measure, at a risk that we lose sight of other things that are equally important.”

    He invites us to look at the important aspects of learning not the urgent. EG: Issues and challenges lie in conceptualising shared understandings/common ground of terms like creativity, resilience, what is emotional intelligence? He says if we don’t do this, these elements won’t become part of the daily teaching in innovative learning environments. 

    Andreas also remarks,

    Teachers are the knowledge workers and will change the minds of people. “Most of our systems are so standards, so compliance driven, so homogenous.”

    Andreas makes a passionate plea for teachers to be courageous - to spend more time on design and experimenting, and do fewer things in greater depth; focus on subjects that will foster their passions and talents. He also concedes we're in a system where status quo has many protectors from so many different angles where teachers still have to adhere to standardized tests...

    What you do think? Can we create systems that reflect this shared understanding about effective assessment in learning, can we be the designers and disrupters for this change?

    ** PISA is best known for globally publishing educational results from contributing OECD countries (including NZ). Find more about the OECD countries involved in the PISA assessment programme.

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