Quality Australian evidence on leadership for improved student outcomes
16 August 2007
The paper considers two models that aim to identify the links between school leadership and improved student outcomes. Such models need to be measured in terms of their comprehensiveness, the clarity with which they articulate variables, and their predictive power. The first is a model of successful school principalship. It is based on qualitative case studies of Australian schools undertaken as part of the eight-country International Successful School Principalship Project (SSPP). This study found that successful principals tended to display similar core values and skill sets across all contexts, but that context shaped the way these attributes were applied. Their values included respect for the dignity of individuals and their cultural traditions, encouragement of free and open inquiry and critique, recognition of interdependence in pursuit of the common good, and a willingness to reflect on contextual factors and critically evaluate the expectations of their employer and the school community. The second research project focuses on leadership for organisational learning and student outcomes (‘LOLSO’). It draws on studies involving more than 2500 teachers and 3500 students aged 15 years. It found that principal leadership needs to be ‘transformational, that is, providing individual, cultural and structural support to staff’ and a vision that offers intellectual stimulation and sets high expectations. The leader puts in place a process of ‘organisational learning’, establishing trust and collaboration, a ‘shared and monitored mission’, and a willingness to take initiatives and risks. The process influences students, who observe that teachers change their instructional approach, their expectations and their pattern of interaction with them. Both projects identify three crucial steps in school reform. The first is the establishment of patterns of communication in which people are able to act and provide input to decisions, which leads into a second step, the creation of a professional community sharing norms and values, ‘including valuing difference and diversity’. The third element is the ‘presence of a capacity for change, learning and innovation’.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Improving the quality of contextualised questions: an experimental investigation of focus
Volume 14 Number 2, July 2007; Pages 201–232
There is an increasing trend for examination questions in science and maths to be set in ‘real world’ contexts. Contextualised questions satisfy assessors’ demand that students ‘do the science or maths rather than just understand it’. They avoid tests becoming merely ‘a catechism of questions and learned answers’. Using concrete contexts can motivate students and make the subjects seem more relevant to their lives. Also, it is widely believed that the concrete nature of contextualised questions makes them easier to answer than abstract ones. However the use of context introduces the risk of students being distracted by elements of the question that are irrelevant to its answer. The language used to describe the context is often more complex than the core question, so it may disadvantage struggling readers and readers unfamiliar with cultural conventions in the text. Students may also be disadvantaged if they are unfamiliar with the particular context. On the other hand, students strongly familiar with the context may be more tempted than peers to address irrelevant aspects of it in their answer. The prominence of different elements in the question may not align with their importance (eg pictures attached to the question may have an undue level of impact on the student’s mind). The concept of focus can be used to highlight the extent to which a test question targets only those aspects of the real-world context relevant to the test question. The value of highly focused questions was demonstrated in a study conducted in England, in which 405 Year 9 students aged 13-14 answered a range of questions adapted from a national science test.
Clarifying the purpose of educational assessment
Volume 14 Number 2, July 2007; Pages 149–170
The purpose of assessment can be understood in three distinct ways. Firstly, assessment can be seen as means to make judgements, which can then be formally embodied (eg through grading). Secondly, assessment can be used to make decisions about future actions concerning the student. Thirdly, assessment can be seen in terms of intended results (eg to motivate students or ensure core topics are learnt). These different ways to understand the purpose of assessment carry different implications for assessment design, but even experts in the field often fail to distinguish between them. The lack of clarity feeds into confusion about the nature of formative and summative assessment. Summative assessment ‘can only meaningfully characterize a type of assessment judgement’, ie it is ‘a summing up’ type of assessment that is used to make judgements. It is not meaningful to talk of ‘summative purpose’ because summative assessment is used for various different purposes and cannot apply to them all generally in any helpful way. By contrast, formative assessment ‘can only meaningfully characterize a type of use to which assessment judgements are put’, ie it is used to make decisions. Often it is not appropriate to counterpose formative and summative assessment. It is also unhelpful to group other concepts used in assessment as subordinate categories under these two terms. Assessment is used in many different ways that cannot be collapsed together. Each use requires its own design principles. The confusion surrounding assessment may impact negatively on policy making. The article examines a wide range of terms used in relation to assessment, and briefly reviews the contributions of several major experts in the field since the 1960s.
Teachers talking about writing assessment: valuable professional learning?
Volume 10 Number 2, July 2007; Pages 132–149
A researcher in Scotland has investigated the work of a group of teachers involved in an action research project run by the Scottish Executive Education Department (SEED)'s Assessment is for Learning Programme. It was one of many similar groups set up by SEED to encourage teachers to apply formative assessment strategies in their classrooms. This group consisted of four primary teachers taking Year 7 classes and two teachers of English taking first year secondary classes, and was led by an expert secondary English teacher seconded by SEED. It used action research to reach common assessment judgements in relation to curricular levels and to produce annotated exemplars of student work, using SEED’s criterion-referenced assessment framework and curricular guidelines for teaching writing. At the start of the project the researcher conducted interviews with group members in which they were asked to describe their teaching backgrounds, knowledge and experience of writing pedagogy and assessment, and how they saw the role of students in the assessment process. Group members were interviewed again after attending a wider moderation meeting of teachers from ten schools in their cluster. They were asked to comment on issues arising at the meeting and during the earlier group work. One finding was that teachers saw benefits in cooperation across the primary-secondary divide. The primary teachers commented on the subject knowledge gained from secondary staff. The secondary teachers described the benefit of exposure to primary teachers’ teaching craft, in relation to features such as classroom organisation and management, differentiation and planning across the curriculum. The moderation meeting was also found to allow for a range of learning styles by teachers and therefore complement 'transmission of knowledge' forms of professional development.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Relationship between instructional context and views of nature of science
Volume 29 Number 8, June 2007; Pages 939–961
A study in the USA has examined two approaches to enhancing students’ understanding of the nature of science. The study involved three teachers, taking environmental science, biology and chemistry classes respectively. One of the authors worked closely with each teacher to prepare material covering the nature of science relevant to each subject. The 129 students involved were in Years 9, 10 or 11. Each teacher taught two classes of the same grade level. In one class the teacher integrated instruction about the nature of science into the curriculum. In the other class this material was taught as a separate topic. In both cases, teaching about the nature of science was spread throughout the duration of the subjects. Data were collected by questionnaire and interview. Both the integrated and separated approaches were found to improve students’ understanding of the nature of science, to an equivalent degree.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience literacy
Factors affecting teachers' grading and assessment practices
Volume 53 Number 1, Summer 2007; Pages 1–21
A study in a western Canadian province has examined the degree to which secondary teachers’ adoption of new classroom assessment practices is influenced by class size, school size and subject area. The teachers covered Years 9-12. Researchers received survey results from 513 teachers at 66 schools. Class size and school size were found to have no statistically significant impact on classroom assessment practices. Significant differences were, however, evident between subject areas, particularly with reference to mathematics. As expected from earlier research, maths teachers tended to grade students only on cognitive abilities rather than on behavioural qualities such as effort, work habits or paying attention in class. Maths teachers also made significantly less use of constructed response assessments such as essays. Teachers of maths, science and social science tended to set questions with one correct answer while teachers of English and practical arts, covering industrial arts and home economics, made more use of open-ended questions.
Conceptualising pre-emptive formative assessment
Volume 14 Number 2, July 2007; Pages 171–184
Feedback from teacher to student is most effective before the student has completed a task and been assigned marks for the result, and before misconceptions have taken hold in the student’s mind. Teachers can base this preliminary assessment on various sources of knowledge about the student or the task (eg the experience of similar cohorts, preceding diagnostic assessment, and preceding summative assessments). Pre-emptive formative assessment may be used for topics likely to arise in high-stakes summative tests. It can sometimes also be used to help students recognise and deal with the shortcomings in their own knowledge. Pre-emptive formative assessment is most valuable when it challenges advanced as well as struggling students. Pre-emptive formative assessment may encourage some students to become dependent on the teacher, so self-monitoring by students should be built into the tasks they are given. It should not be tailored entirely to future high-stakes examination but should stimulate more general learning. The article discusses assessment at university as well as school level.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Teaching and learning
Governance leadership in New Zealand schools
Volume 13 Number 1, Winter 2007; Pages 49–65
Reforms establishing Boards of Trustees to govern schools were enacted in New Zealand in the 1980s. The reforms reflected a move to connect schools more deeply with their communities, however one consequence was that the new boards drew in many parents with no previous experience in school governance. The efforts of the new boards to play their role highlighted the delicate balance between management and governance, and the potential for overlap and confusion. A survey was conducted amongst Chairs of school boards, asking them to rate the importance of 51 tasks and competencies, and to describe their development needs in relation to them. Over 500 responses were received. Respondents highlighted the importance of their role in personal interactions, particularly with principal. However they gave less importance to developing and reviewing school policies, a core part of their role. The result suggests that they may rely on principals to take the lead in this area. The finding may also reflect the time pressures on the chair, which is a voluntary position. They may also be experiencing time pressures from growing accountability demands on the school. Participants did not identify role ambiguity as a serious concern. This finding may indicate that the chairs feel confidant about their roles in these areas, or alternatively that they do not rate areas of role overlap as important. It may also indicate that chairs place these issues in the ‘too hard basket’, which would suggest the need for wider distribution of governance roles.
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand
Learning by design
17 October 2007; Pages 16–17
Progressive architects, schools and systems are redefining the design of schools and learning spaces, departing from the old standards of corridors, grey walls and square institutional furniture. The 'Designing from the Inside Out' project began with collaboration between the school principal, teachers and students at Wooranna Park Primary in Victoria, the Victorian Department of Education (DEECD) and architect Mary Featherston. Wooranna Park, a disadvantaged school in Dandenong, aimed to refurbish a combined Grade Five and Six unit at the school, but the school was chosen instead to illustrate the potential for school design to support pedagogy. The key feature of the Wooranna Park project was effective communication between the architect and teachers and students at the school. Students asked for simple changes to traditional design, such as putting the water fountain in the middle of the learning environment instead of outside, and having computers placed evenly around the school rather than all in one room. Wooranna Park’s classrooms are now flexible yet distinctive, and feature plenty of natural light, colour and shade. The project is ongoing, but early data suggests that the open spaces are effecting greater student achievement, and supporting students’ social experiences. Teachers appreciate the greater flexibility offered by the new design, which allows for greater fluidity between subjects. However, recent Monash University research suggests that the degree of communication involved in the Wooranna Park project was atypical. Teachers can often be hesitant about discussing their needs with architects due to a lack of confidence and experience with design. Students, meanwhile, often lack the ‘architectural vocabulary’ to communicate their ideas effectively. Despite the difficulties in facilitating communication between architects and school users, Featherston argues that the light, space, and colour in buildings, and the furniture and tools in classrooms can be effectively manipulated to reflect and support contemporary pedagogy.
Are you making a difference? Values education for real community change
Number 186, November 2007; Pages 44–47
The ruMAD? framework, short for Are You Making a Difference? is designed to allow students to take initiatives around social issues and play active roles as citizens. The framework is designed for a thinking curriculum and supports teaching for deeper understanding. It is funded by the Education Foundation Australia. Issues taken up through the ruMAD? process include social justice, environmental sustainability, and cultural diversity. The process offers schools four ways in which to become involved. A ‘MAD Day – Make a Difference Day’ is designed to raise community awareness around a social issue selected by students or aligned with an Education Foundation theme. An ‘ruMAD? Project’ is an ongoing social issue project developed by students that may be developed for a particular subject unit, either for one year or on a continuing basis at one year level. An ‘ruMAD? Student Foundation’ is a student philanthropic enterprise through which students raise money for designated social issues. Students who have taken part in one of these three types of activities can then become ‘ruMAD? Youth Ambassadors’ who deliver public presentations, act as role models and attend an annual conference with other ambassadors. The article describes work around ruMAD? at Whitfield District Primary School, Victoria and Exmouth District High School, Western Australia.
Thought and thinking
There are no Conferences available in this issue.