Every school has a vision for student success – sometimes this is clearly defined and supported with learning principles and at others it’s less defined but clearly part of the school’s “ethos” or values that inspire teachers every day. This shared sense of purpose is essential so that everyone’s working toward the same goal.
Once a rich vision for student achievement is shared by all staff, students and parents, I see “evidence” as the next important step. This is two main reasons. First, in the spirit of “backward design,” we should develop measures that capture evidence of what we’re after before we consider teaching to strategies to achieve it. This way, what we do in the classroom won’t just be “good strategies,” but good strategies chosen to produce the desired results. In other words, if the measures for evidence are well-designed, their fulfilment provides validation that the vision has been achieved.
Another reason for setting “evidence” as the second step is that “testing” communicates what “really matters.” Within the last month, approximately one million students in Australia sat the NAPLAN tests for Literacy and Numeracy. I use NAPLAN now, however, to illustrate a fundamental truth: the very act of assessing defines what’s important. Literacy and Numeracy are two of the seven General Capabilities meant to underpin the Australian Curriculum, but how often do we target success in the other five. How many parents or students could name even one? Yet few would deny the importance of the other five: ICT capability, Critical and creative thinking, Personal and social capability, Ethical understanding and Intercultural understanding. Thus, even though all seven apparently warranted inclusion in the Australian Curriculum, it’s clear which two “matter.”
My point is not to downgrade the importance of being literate or developing mathematical capabilities, but to illustrate that the very act of testing something makes it import. And important not only to teachers, but then, clearly to students, parents and ultimately the wider community.
For this reason I suggest that schools consider developing a few richer assessments and build these into the curriculum. Consider setting such performances across the year levels so students can demonstrate their achievements with increasing sophistication as they mature and develop their abilities. Many schools use such an approach to encourage student wellness and “21st Century” skills.
What are you doing at your school? Please share your experiences and insights.