From data-informed to data-led? School leadership within the context of external testing
Volume 16 Number 2, 2010; Pages 90–107
A study has examined the impact of external literacy testing on school leaders and teachers. The research investigated how participation in such testing affected participants' attitudes toward teaching, school leadership and the tests themselves. The research took place at Catholic schools within one NSW diocese. It involved 42 primary, eight secondary and five central schools. It included an initial focus group comprised of three principals and three representatives of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, a survey of school staff, and interviews with nine respondents that spanned professional levels and school types. The study found significant differences in perceptions about the role and value of external testing, and about the role of school leadership using data derived from these tests. Classroom teachers were more likely than members of school executives to doubt the value of external testing for pedagogy, and the current ability of other teachers at their school to apply test data to their teaching at a suitably high level of quality. Classroom teachers also saw less evidence of school-level leadership in the analysis and use of test data, and were more likely to perceive accountability to government as the main driver of external testing. The different response of teachers to school leaders was especially pronounced among less experienced teachers. The results did not vary significantly by school size or school type. Most interviewees reported that schools tended to focus on low-performing students, and some criticised this emphasis as disproportionate. Overall, the study found that the value teachers see in external testing is strengthened when their school leaders apply 'the diagnostic power of the data feedback to effect changes in teaching practices', through inclusion of teaching staff in the processes of analysing and applying test data. The findings are in line with earlier research which highlights the need to develop teachers' skills in understanding test data and applying it to their professional practice. School leaders have an important role to play in developing the assessment literacy of their staff.
New South Wales (NSW)
Volume 45 Number 2, April 2010; Pages 230–251
Definitions of fluency, automaticity and prosody impact on instruction and assessment of reading. The article examines this impact through a close examination of the nature of reading fluency, and its relationship to automaticity and prosody. Automaticity refers to speed, effort and the extent to which reading becomes autonomous and free from the need for conscious attention to the task. Automaticity develops through extensive practice in reading connected texts, through which children gradually learn to integrate phonemic, phrasal, semantic and other forms of information. Prosody refers to appropriate expression or intonation and to phrasing that reflects meaning. Prosody covers semantically appropriate use of pitch, stress, pauses and the duration of vowels and consonants. Prosody helps to bracket speech into units from which to derive meaning, and disambiguates meanings. It also conveys emotion and 'discourse information' such as the start of a paragraph. Definitions of fluency which focus on decoding skills and reading rate have distorted assessment and instruction in the USA. In this context the article reviews curriculum-based measurements and DIBELS. In terms of assessment, it is crucial that the concept of fluency incorporates aspects of prosody. Students should be assessed partly on their comprehension of the meaning of read texts, and on indicators such as the nature of their miscues, how their rate of reading varies with the type of text or instructional level, and the suitability of their prosody to the text being read. Instruction should seek to develop comprehension, prosody and automaticity together, through scaffolded or supported reading. Instruction in 'constrained skills' such as phonemic awareness and word recognition, used in isolation, may hold back the development of reading skills: these skills should be consolidated and extended by the use of substantial amounts of connected texts. Repeating a reading task helps such consolidation up to a point, but too much repetition may focus the reader too closely on basic processes at the expense of higher level skills. Students should read widely to encounter words in various contexts, to improve their recognition of the words, and to deepen their conceptual knowledge and vocabulary. Independent reading should be accompanied by options such as scaffolded silent reading, or partner reading. Fluency needs to be understood as part of overall reading development.
Who's the boss?
February 2011; Pages 18–19,27
The Australian Government has initiated a trial titled Locally Empowered Schools, under which 1,000 public schools throughout the country will be offered self-management. The schools will control their own budgets, staff appointments and long-term planning. The article reports on a range of opinions about the initiative within the education community. A number of arguments have been raised in support of the initiative. Top performers on PISA tests, such as Finland, Singapore and Hong Kong, allow their schools substantial autonomy. There is strong support for more autonomy among principals, including those in Western Australia and Victoria, states which have already moved in the direction of school autonomy. Expert Brian Caldwell supports the model as a means to provide 21st-century learning, and argues against an automatic link between equity and uniformity. However, other commentators have expressed concerns. Greater autonomy in some areas may be accompanied by more centralisation in terms of accountability measures such as school inspections. There are fears that principals may be required to take greater responsibility without commensurate resources to support it. The capacity of schools to benefit from greater autonomy varies according to their SES, location and factors such as staff turnover. Victorian schools have had a significant degree of autonomy since 1993: there are concerns that it has increased principals' workload; opinions vary as to whether it has reduced government spending per student. The impact on remote schools has yet to be tested. Other issues include the merits of trials compared to immediate wholesale implementation of greater autonomy; and potentially contested interpretations of the relative roles of the Australian Government, state and territory governments in school matters. The article includes a 'timeline to self-governance' for the Australian Government initiative and a case study of a school operating under the Independent Public Schools program. (See also an associated news item, 'Concerns mount over principal autonomy' in the same edition of Education Review.)
Subject HeadingsSchool administration
Renovate? How to fix a skills shortage on your school board
December 2010; Pages 56–59
Schools must not only function at their best operationally, but also on a strategic and policy level. A school board's role is to implement long-term plans that help secure funding, so it is vital for school board members to have the right skill set. A school board's composition is usually dictated by its constitution. It is often made up of members of the school community such as parents, staff and old scholars. However, a board solely represented by the school community may lack the right balance in expertise. Two ways to rectify this skill shortage are to provide training and professional development, or to introduce new members to fill the gaps. Training may focus on basics, such as the role of the board, the role of the members, and what the key outcomes are for board meetings. School boards may also consult outside experts to provide insights into current thinking on specific areas relevant to the school. In terms of recruitment, a school's constitution may be changed to allow the appointment of members from outside the school. This assists in gaining the right mix of people and skills. Law and accountancy are the traditional professions from which to seek members, however, strategic marketing, public relations, education infrastructure, risk management and government relations can be equally beneficial. While changing the constitution to widen the appointment options may introduce a fresh new energy and vision, members from outside the school do need to fit in with the school's culture and philosophy. Another way to fill the gaps is to identify and approach potential board members from within the school community who have the right set of skills, alleviating the need to change the school constitution.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Thinking about leadership for learning
Volume 32 Number 4, December 2010; Pages 15–20
Knowing what the future of learning looks like will help schools to establish a suitable and successful leadership strategy. Currently one of the main trends is personalised learning, which provides a more responsive approach to the individual needs of the students. Personalised learning may be achieved in a variety of ways, such as by modifying the pace of learning to match individual needs and conditions, accommodating different learning styles, and utilising new technologies for learning. School buildings are being designed to provide more open and flexible learning environments, which will support personalised learning. The drive toward more measurement of student performance, and accountability of students, teachers and schools, also helps facilitate a personalised approach to learning. With these changes come new approaches to school leadership. Distributed models of leadership are likely to be increasingly applied in schooling. One way to distribute leadership in schools is through co-principalships. This can occur in one of four ways: both principals are full-time, both are part-time, one full- and one part-time, or where there is no principal position but the responsibilities are shared by some or all of the teachers. A professional learning community can also take on some aspects of a leadership role. Principals, as senior level leaders, can influence the school’s continued success. Middle level leaders, such as learning area coordinators, can also play key roles in shaping teaching and learning.
Volume 68 Number 4, December 2010; Pages 85–85
Teachers' expertise can be developed through four types of 'deliberate practice'. The first is a common language of instruction. A common language means that teachers and administrators within a district or school can describe effective teaching in a similar way. It includes a common understanding of agreed strategies. It should also comprehensively reflect the range of behaviours that can positively influence student learning. A comprehensive language of instruction should include strategies that are categorised into three areas: routine strategies such as celebrating success; content strategies, for example using homework; and strategies enacted on the spot such as noticing when a student is not engaged. Secondly, rather than working on a whole range of strategies at once, a teacher should choose, with the aid of an instructional coach or administrator, a few specific strategies to focus on. They should select, per year, one strategy from each of the three categories of language of instruction. By selecting their own strategies, teachers have a sense of ownership of the process. The third type of deliberate practice is tracking teacher progress. A description of the performance levels of the selected strategies is required in order to track teacher improvement. A generic rubric measures five levels of performance. The lowest level is 'beginning', where the strategy is needed but the teacher is not using it. The highest level is 'innovating', where the teacher has the expertise to adapt the strategy to meet the specific needs of each student. Lastly is the opportunity to observe and discuss expertise. Providing teachers with an opportunity to observe each other's teaching strategies can offer new insights into effective classroom practice. Observations may be done by visiting other teachers' classrooms or recording expertly applied strategies. Teachers who demonstrate expertise in specific strategies may end up conducting professional development programs for colleagues, becoming mentors and coaches, and may use online discussion forums to foster further insights among other teachers.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
The PD workshop alive and well
November 2010; Pages 42–46
In-house professional development is currently favoured among schools as the most effective response to building successful teacher professional learning, however, there are arguments for the external PD workshop. External PD, when used as part of a wider professional learning plan, provides greater breadth of perspectives, fosters networking opportunities, and can cater for people at different stages of their teaching career. It provides the chance for teachers in very small schools or who are the sole subject practitioner to find mentors and specific support. External PD programs provide networking opportunities with colleagues and introduce new evidence-based practice that can meet individual learning needs. These programs are successful because they take teachers away from their normal environment, stimulating their thinking through challenging them with the new and unfamiliar. They give participants the opportunity to suggest new ideas and ask questions, where they may have felt held back in their existing workplace or locked in to normal role expectations. However, each form of professional development has its own advantages. In-house PD is comparatively inexpensive and offers consistency where shared practice is needed, for example, introducing new systems across a school. Web-based or online PD is cost-effective and allows learners to choose when they participate. Individual activities, such as reading, lectures, and mentoring or coaching, are flexible, can be tailored to individuals and are low in cost. The value of formal courses is their ongoing nature and the resulting formal accreditation. Conferences, when used for professional development, can stimulate ideas and present broader challenges. Professional development needs to reflect the community context in which teaching occurs, whether it is the broader community in which systemic or state-based requirements are to be met, the local school community or the individual requirements of the teacher.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Learning to teach: the influence of a university–school partnership project on pre-service elementary teachers' efficacy for literacy instruction
Volume 50 Number 1, December 2010; Pages 23–47
A US study has examined the impact of 'vicarious', or modelled, experiences on pre-service teachers' sense of efficacy for literacy instruction. The study, conducted in 2006, involved 25 pre-service teachers. Prior to the study the participants had been randomly placed in eight primary schools. They reported that much of the literacy instruction conducted in these classrooms was 'not consistent with the best practices they were learning in their reading methods course'. For example, the observed classes predominantly involved basal reading series, oral round robin reading, worksheets, teacher-driven writing prompts, or isolated skills instruction. The supervising teachers' approaches also made it difficult for the pre-service teachers to engage in the reflective inquiry and exchange of ideas envisaged by their academic supervisors. For the study, the participants observed an expert academic instructor who temporarily took over classes at three primary schools that used teaching methods aligned to those used at the pre-service teachers' university. The primary teachers who normally took the classes swapped places with the academic instructor, and taught classes of pre-service teachers, describing their 'local knowledge' of classroom practices. The 25 pre-service teachers in the trial also undertook observations at another school, which was again closely aligned to the teaching practices used at the university. The study found that the trial provided an effective form of training for the pre-service teachers.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
United States of America (USA)
There are no Conferences available in this issue.