Better assessment for teaching needed to lift top students' results

10 January 2013

The top performing 25 per cent of Victorian students are not achieving their potential, according to a major study from the Assessment Research Centre (ARC) in the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education.

The Assessment and Learning Partnerships (ALP) program, which is funded by the Australian Research Council, has been running since 2008 and has involved 36,000 Year 3 – Year 10 students in over 500 Catholic and Government schools.

Teachers participated in an online professional development program provided free of charge by the University and learned to use assessment data to determine where each student is most ready to learn.

Students were then divided into groups for reading comprehension, maths and critical thinking, based on ability rather than year level. According to Professor Patrick Griffin, lead researcher and ARC director, students in the lower ability groups progressed more quickly than those in the higher ability groups.

“We were surprised to see the talented, high-ability groups of students not developing their potential," Professor Griffin said. "Higher-ability students should be able to improve at a faster rate than lower-ability students, but we found the opposite problem."

This year the researchers hope to learn more by visiting schools that have been successful in improving the results of high-ability students.

“We are achieving fantastic results with lower-achieving students,” said Professor Griffin. “If we can crack how to achieve the same levels of improvement with high-achieving students, the overall gains will be phenomenal.”

The ALP program advocates a collaborative approach, requiring teachers to work together to challenge one another using evidence.

“Teachers who learn to focus on what students do, say, make or write, find it easier to challenge ideas and suggested strategies,” said Professor Griffin. “The use of directly observable evidence is one of the most important features of the program.”

Another important tenant of the program is that assessment data is used positively, to identify where the student is most read to learn; known among educators as the ‘proximal zone of development.’

“This is not about using assessment to find problems,” said Professor Griffin. “It is not a deficit model. Rather, we recognise that every student will learn if we intervene at the right level for them.”

More information on the ALP program can be found here.