Literacy testing and quality
Volume 28 Number 3, 2008; Pages 59–64
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Schools that achieve extraordinary success: how some disadvantaged Victorian schools 'punch over their weight'
Number 109, February 2009; Pages 1–15
A recent research report commissioned by DEECD has identified ways in which six primary and two secondary schools in disadvantaged areas have achieved excellent results. Preconditions include strong leadership: stable over time, and skilled at allocating resources and drawing out staff expertise. Schools must promote high expectations of student capacities and teacher efficacy amongst students and staff, making it more likely that teachers will work hard at lesson planning, persist in the face of challenges, and remain open to new ideas. Establishing an orderly environment is a key starting point for reform, managed not through petty rules but by sending a consistent message about expectations and consequences to students, ensuring each student is bonded to at least one teacher, and facilitating personalised learning. Collective work around this goal can quickly improve school culture. Also needed is a focus on core priorities, usually meaning literacy and numeracy development at primary level and, in secondary school, attention to student engagement and quick remedial action with appropriately targeted teacher professional development. Maintaining a focus on core priorities is more challenging than it first appears. Having established these four basics, schools can build teaching and leadership capacity by developing middle level leaders, filling gaps in staff expertise through recruitment or better use of existing staff, demanding practical applications of what is learnt during professional development, and encouraging disengaged staff to move on. Schools must structure teaching and learning to ensure attention is given to struggling students and core skill development in literacy, numeracy and problem solving, applying explicit teaching where needed rather than a naïve, abdicating form of ‘constructivism’. Data provided by the education system is widely discussed amongst staff and supplemented by other information sourced as required. Real rather than token professional learning teams are established. System initiatives are tailored to advance existing school-level priorities, are thus manageable in terms of workload, and are explained plainly to staff. The school displays pride in its buildings, grounds and student work. Some of these steps are facilitated by the economies of scale available only in larger schools. Transforming a school may take five to seven years.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Improving schools in challenging circumstances
Volume 30 Number 4, 2008; Pages 7–10
The Australian Government has announced a series of research-guided education initiatives, one of which will be focused on disadvantaged school communities. In their 2003 report, Leithwood and Steinbach highlighted key aspects of successful school leadership, including establishing a vision and direction, understanding and developing staff, redesigning the organisation to establish supportive working conditions, and managing teaching and learning programs. However, the application of these points is more complex than it appears, particularly in relation to disadvantaged schools. Such schools need to engage with the school community in order to achieve exceptional results. This can be done by working to understand the often rich social networks and underlying educational norms and beliefs of the families comprising the school community. These beliefs and networks can be proactively engaged in order to foster home environments that encourage learning, and to promote the integration of school networks and communities. Doing so need not be difficult or demanding: attendance levels might be improved by parents ensuring that students are present and on time, or schools might work to ensure that the school is a point where integrated social services are provided for the benefit of the community. Additional leadership strategies that have previously proved successful for disadvantaged schools include reducing school and class sizes, providing a broad and rich curriculum, and promoting engagement of parents and the wider school community. The authors’ research with the International Successful School Principalship Project (ISSPP) provided a number of examples of principals of schools in disadvantaged areas vastly improving the learning outcomes of their students. (K Leithwood and R Steinbach’s report, 'Successful leadership for especially challenging schools', appears in Davies, B & West-Burnham, J (eds), Handbook of educational leadership and management, Pearson Education, London, pp 25-44.)
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
Education - parent participation
Bridging the educational gap: Indigenous and non-Indigenous beliefs, attitudes and practices in a remote Australian school
Volume 30 Number 1, 2008; Pages 41–56
A longitudinal study of one remote school has demonstrated that targeted programs can effectively ‘close the gap’ in both attitudes and performance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. The study focused on the school for three years, tracking the results of a program primarily aimed at increasing the effectiveness of Indigenous Teacher Assistants (ITAs) in mathematics classes. The school has approximately 40 students divided into two classes, one for Years 1 to 3 and one for Years 4 to 7. Staff consisted of a principal, two teachers and five teacher assistants, two Indigenous and three non-Indigenous. Teacher assistants were given additional training that covered mathematics content and strategies for supporting students’ learning. They were encouraged to set maths problems in an Indigenous cultural context wherever possible. Training was provided to teachers on the importance of the teaching assistant role and the best way to use the ITAs. A physical space was also set aside for the teaching assistants, helping them to feel more valued. Regular, formal communication between teacher and teaching assistant was established. After the three years of the program, students were interviewed about their attitudes towards school and maths, and given one verbal mathematical problem: If you were shopping and I was the shopkeeper and I said it costs $5.10 and you gave me $6, how much money would you get back? Around half of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students arrived at the correct answer. Errors for non-Indigenous students were usually based on a misunderstanding of the problem, while the errors of Indigenous students usually came from incorrect application of a procedure. At the end of the program, Indigenous and non-Indigenous students’ attitudes towards maths were largely indistinguishable, with slightly more positive responses from Indigenous students. Over the same period, attendance had risen from around half of the students attending regularly to almost 100 per cent. With appropriate training, support and infrastructure, teaching assistants at remote schools can be a powerful force for closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
February 2009; Pages 77–78
The reliability of a test refers to its assessment consistency, ie the level of consistency with which the test measures participants’ test results. There are three forms of assessment consistency. Stability reliability refers to the consistency of students’ test scores when they take the same test at different times, and is an important issue, for example, when evaluating particular students’ progress. Alternate-form reliability refers to students’ performance on different versions of a test which are intended to be equivalent. Internal consistency reliability refers to a test’s homogeneity, ie the extent to which the different items in the test provide equivalent measures of participants’ responses. Unlike the other two forms of assessment consistency, internal consistency reliability can be computed on the basis of a single test administration. It is therefore easier to measure and is the most commonly reported form of reliability. Educators are likely to want to understand the reliability of standardised tests in which their students take part. A standard error measurement (SEM) of 1 or 2 indicates that the test is ‘quite reliable’. All major published tests are accompanied by information about their SEM. The concept of reliability is distinct from the concept of validity, which does not refer to the accuracy of a test but to ‘the accuracy of score-based inferences about the test takers’.
The leaning (toppling?) tower of PISA
October 2008; Pages 49–51
US students have performed less well on Programme for International School Assessment (PISA) tests than students from many comparable countries. It is notable, however, that US students’ results on PISA tests are also worse than their performance on other international tests such as PIRLS and TIMSS. In fact, the widespread concern about the USA’s poor PISA results should be tempered by an understanding of PISA’s shortcomings. The stems to PISA’s multiple choice questions have been described as ‘strange and verbose’; they sometimes contain inaccuracies or irrelevant material. As a paper and pencil test, PISA will have limited application in future. The evaluation PISA According to PISA (see Introduction online) found that the tests do not match up to the claims of reliability, validity and importance made for them. Countries vary widely in the importance they ascribe to the PISA tests, which is likely to influence students' results. ‘Perhaps PISA’s most glaring flaw’ is its use of the statistical procedure known as the One Dimensional Item Response Theory, which endeavours to measure competence according to one single scale rather than taking into account the various forms of competence students are expected to display in different disciplinary areas. To meet the criterion of one-dimensional measurement, together with the demand for cultural neutrality of test content, 65% of field test items had to be culled at one stage from PISA’s final set of test items. PISA calls for free-form responses by students, so these answers have the potential to yield insights into students’ thinking, but the students' answers have not been published, except in Luxembourg, where they revealed much confusion about the test writers’ expectations. Philosophically, PISA is influenced by the world-view of its publisher, the OECD, which emphasises attainment in maths and science and ‘pushes economic competitiveness as a zero-sum game’ instead of embracing the goals of liberal education and paying attention to issues such as poverty and sustainability.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
United States of America (USA)
Volume 7 Number 4, November 2008; Page 28
In order to improve school retention and subsequent employment rates, the education system must be reformed, says Professor Richard Sweet. Youth unemployment is high in comparison with general unemployment levels, especially among early school leavers, who are three times more likely to be unemployed than those who finish Year 12. Sweet argues that effective transition systems are the answer to high youth unemployment, and education systems and processes are one of the key issues in creating successful transitions between education and work. Despite the implementation of a number of government programs, the needs and interests of some young people are currently not being catered to, resulting in their leaving school early. Sweet’s solution is that schools Australia-wide be divided into junior and senior colleges to cater to the specific needs of young adults and their varied personal interests. The concept is not new, as most other developed countries have a two-tiered model in place. Tasmania and the ACT have both introduced a similar system, and have seen marked improvements in retention rates and in student satisfaction, partly due to these schools being able to offer a wider and more targeted curriculum. The costs of implementing a two-tiered system would soon be offset by the benefits of higher retention rates and subsequent decrease in youth unemployment.
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
Retention rates in schools
Gender differences in the high school and affective experience of introductory college physics students
Volume 46, October 2008; Page 423
Female students account for half of the students enrolled in high school physics, and perform equal to or better than their male counterparts, but are far less likely to persist with physics study. Despite higher secondary physics results, female students who continue physics at tertiary level perform only at equivalent levels to male students, and make up a much smaller percentage of those enrolled. Using data from the ‘Factors Influencing College Science Success’ study, which surveyed 2755 university students, 1986 of whom who had taken high school physics, the authors examined the reasons for this disparity in grades and retention levels. The survey results indicated that secondary teachers were not maintaining female students’ interest in the same way as males’. They also suggested that, rather than applying and contextualising physics knowledge like the male students, who reportedly derived their physics awareness from hobbies and media, female students rely more on ‘rote’ learning strategies rather than conceptual understanding. The authors argue that to engage and maintain the interest of female students, and to promote retention, teachers must not only offer encouragement, but should provide ‘real world’ examples and applications of physics, and resources such as magazines and games that female students might not normally use.
Key Learning AreasScience
Asian students in New Zealand classrooms: their perceptions of supports and barriers to reading achievement
Volume 2, 2008; Pages 39–42
In New Zealand, students with Asian backgrounds perform better at reading than students from other minority groups. The PISA study conducted by the OECD in 2002 indicated that New Zealand Asian students showed higher levels of interest and engagement in reading than other minority groups, and actively used a range of effective learning strategies. The authors surveyed 38 Asian students to identify why they performed better than other ethnic minority group students, and to determine which classroom strategies facilitated or hindered their motivation to read. As with students in an earlier study of Pasifika students, the interviewees found reading practices involving an element of inquiry learning the most stimulating. These approaches included developing their own activities, making up their own questions and summarising the story or book. Approaches and activities perceived as less stimulating or helpful included reading aloud, comprehension worksheets and buddy reading, where an older child reads to a younger child. A second phase of this research project will involve comparing similarities and differences between Asian students and Pasifika students.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Using wikis to create tests
September 2008; Page 20
Wikis, with their online and collaborative nature, may have useful classroom applications for teachers. They are already being used in some educational contexts, such as by a group of language test writers who wanted to streamline their writing and communication processes. Some language teachers are now using wikis for a variety of functions, including keeping a record of class activities and resources for the class to view and work with, for group creative writing in foreign languages and for language exchanges between classes in different countries. More generally, wikis can be used as a resource for exercises and information, with teachers overseeing and monitoring additions to content. One teacher, however, noted that their Year 12 class was not interested in using a wiki to revise class work, indicating that teachers should be mindful of how wikis are implemented and used, and of their limitations, as students may engage with wikis to varying degrees depending on the material involved.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Languages other than English (LOTE)
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