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best practices in assessment

March 31, 2013

chalk & blackboard

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Here’s my second task for uni due on May 3:

  1. Plan a professional learning program for staff in your school looking at how to develop best practice in assessment.
  2. Devise a whole school assessment policy that embodies best practice in assessment.

In our Humanities team, the new year generated focus on assessment for learning through reviewing courses, along with assessment tasks, and establishing common standards that align with learning goals identified in the Australian Curriculum. Our content in English and Social Studies is backward-mapped; cross marking focuses on standards. Resources are amassing here and here.

We discuss and review our expectations of achievement, then share student work samples to moderate. At team meetings, we begin with what is working. 

At the micro (classroom and school) level, motion leaders work to make explicit the two-way causal relationship between instruction and assessment. Assessment for learning prevails in successful schools so that teachers can tailor-make appropriate instruction to individual needs. Practice is transparent so that precision and specificity can be identified and spread (Fullan, 2010, p. 60).


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Much of this process can look like tinkering, adjustment or play.

Academic reading (evidence) drives a sense of purpose.

With recent visits from pre-service teachers drawing impressions from our design of a learning culture, I can appreciate the sense of dynamic that emerges from sharing philosophy along with classroom observations:

What are you doing? Why are you doing that? How will you know it works?

Great questions – three of many enabling clarification. Best practice is a constant refinement process. Pedagogy meshes with learning and feedback is the mechanism which drives change/ improvements. Constant loops then inform cycles of teaching & learning.

These are the work-in-progress notes in my outline for assignment 2:

  • Need a definition of purpose (for learning)
  • Assessment policies are often accountability focused eg assignment sheets and marks register/ school rules/ consequences
  • Quality feedback requires clarification, especially in relation to teacher effectiveness
  • Low SEI school context renders school comparisons comparatively critical
  • Validity
  • Reliability
  • NAPLAN system focus – monitoring (system establishes national consistency)
  • Continuum paradigm (not simple measurement)
  • AITSL –  know students and how they learn
  • Focus on visible learninghow students think rather than what they know (Forster, 2009).


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The predominant message from research into school improvement is “all schools have the potential to succeed and that the quality of leadership is an important contributor to their improvement” (Harris, 2006, p.10).

How to achieve improvement?

  • Coaching/ mentor process with action research undertaken to focus on improving feedback & assessment
  • Moderation/ comparability ie pairwise marking
  • Academic reading (evidence based)
  • Embedding learning culture through community of practice (PLN)
  • Leadership of learning – cultural focus; Reculturing involves radically changing the paradigm of leadership to focus on “complexity and the relational nature of leadership influence” (Timperley & Robertson, 2011, p.3).
  • Inclusive learning environment – challenge of change – “Learning is at the heart of what schools must be about” (Stoll & Bolam, 2005, p. 54).


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By “focusing closely on the nature and conditions of professional learning – on how knowledge central to the work of education is created, deepened, and shared (or not) through networks and networking” (Little, 2005, p. 282), I learn along with colleagues that our collective commitment to reviewing student learning opportunities through action research is “an important condition for realising education change and school improvement” (Vanderlind & Braak, 2010, p. 544).

What is crucial, then, is developing teachers’ conception of teaching “as an evidence-based profession” where benchmarks, performance and feedback are embedded as crucial to improvement in student achievement (Hattie, 2009, p. 127).

Selected references

Forster, M. (2009). Informative assessment: Understanding and guiding learning.  Paper presented at the ACER research conference on Assessment and Student Learning. Retrieved January 9, 2013 from:

Fullan, M. (2010). Motion leadership: The skinny on becoming change savvy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Harris, A. (2006). Leading change in schools in difficulty. Journal of Educational Change, 7, 9-18. Retrieved November 3, 2012 from Springer.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. Oxon: Routledge.

Little, J. (2005). Big change question professional learning and school-network ties: Prospects for school improvement. Journal of Educational Change, 6(3), 277–291.

Stoll, L., & Bolam, R. (2005). Developing leadership for learning communities. In M. Coles, & G. Southworth (Eds.). Developing leadership: Creating the schools of tomorrow, (pp. 50 – 64). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Timperley, H. & Robertson, J. (2011). Establishing platforms for leadership and learning. In J. Robertson & H. Timperley (Eds.). Leadership and Learning (pp. 3-12). London: Sage.

Vanderlinde, R. & van Braak, J. (2010). The e-capacity of primary schools: Development of a conceptual model and scale construction from a school improvement perspective. Computers & Education, 55, 541-553.


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