If the average performance is sufficiently high, why is flat-lining necessarily bad? Why expect a change in the average performance?
Why is so much faith placed in a 40 item test of domains as broad as reading or numeracy, or a one-off sample of writing?
But the worst is those who confuse the average NAPLAN performance of each state as measuring anything other than real estate prices of that state!
We do not send our students to schools to maintain the average; we do not ask teachers to teach to the average. But we do expect schools to add value to what students bring to school.
Our aim is mainly about progress, improvement, and making a difference. If this progress question is asked about NAPLAN we get a completely different story.
Let’s look at the detail that inspired a thousand perverse reactions: The message seems to be that Victoria and ACT, with mean scale scores of 444, along with NSW, with a mean scale score of 435, are performing well, and pity about NT, SA and WA who are all at the lower end of the scale!
Students should move to Victoria, ACT or NSW, and avoid the other states. Educators should look to Victoria and ACT to see their magic bullets. So so wrong.
So let’s now ask a different question – which state is making the greatest difference to their students irrespective of the learning level the student is at when they start their schooling; and how has this growth changed over the past seven years?
A totally different story.
We’re all off to understand the Queensland miracle, which has a growth effect-size of 0.45+, which means Queensland’s Year 5s in 2017 are working 13 months ahead of the Year 5s in 2011.
We’re certainly not off to the ACT where, despite the students more likely coming from more affluent homes, there has been no growth over seven years (and they know this, hence the ACT Ministerial task group).
The major issue here, is that we should focus on progress more than on achievement averages.
It is the increase in progression that we want to see, what we should value most, and the messages about progress in parts of Australia are very positive.
We can go deeper and see other pockets of success. At Year 5, Northern Territory is making great gains, and over the past seven years (comparing 2011 to 2017) has improved quite significantly with a growth effect-size of 0.21+, South Australia is also seeing gains, with a growth effect-size of 0.25+. Victoria and NSW are relatively stagnant.
Having said that, we did see improved performance of NSW Year 9 students. A range of factors contribute to results like these, but the new HSC Minimum Standard can help focus school-wide efforts to ensure these improvements are sustained.
Victoria is certainly also moving to a much more focused attention to growth of students, their new Panaroma data system is excellent, and this should lead to improvements.
Looking at the national picture, the 10-year data indicates that positive change in student performance is happening gradually, which will impact national results if it can be repeated across domains and jurisdictions.
We have to recognise school communities across the states and territories, including NSW, for these performances demonstrate the collective efforts of teachers, students and parents in responding to the challenge of improving literacy and numeracy outcomes.
While it’s important to celebrate these wins in some states, these results need to be considered in the context of other performance measures.
Australia’s overall performance continues to stagnate or decline in international tests such as PISA. In particular, results for students at the top end of national performance are slipping – relative to other countries and we are not growing sufficient numbers of students into the top end.
I was delighted by Emeritus Professor Barry McGaw’s call for us to set higher expectations for student performance. We need high expectations for individual student improvement, so that we can see significant increases across the nation.
Tests such as NAPLAN and PISA provide a useful ‘big picture’ view of student learning trends across Australia and the world, but these data have limitations at the classroom level.
Such data can only offer a high-level, point-in-time snapshot of a student’s achievement. The results are six months old by the time they are released and the information is not adequately nuanced.
For teachers to make responsive and informed decisions about how to most effectively teach students, they need more timely and richer data on each individual’s progress.
This is true regardless of whether the student is a gifted high achiever, is struggling, or performing in the middle. But the time and expertise required to gather this information is significant.
As any parent can attest, it’s easy for students to fall behind in their learning despite the best efforts of their committed teachers.
Yes, Australia has many outstanding teachers who understand their students’ progress, evaluate the impact of their teaching and know what to do next.
However teachers have few, if any, assessments that can measure an individual student’s growth over time. We need to make it easier for teachers to do this.
We need to back our teachers to win. We need to help them collect, interpret, use and share meaningful progress data.
We need to empower teachers to immediately take action where it's needed. When teachers have access to information about individual students’ progress they can be more targeted in what and how they teach.
They can identify gaps early, including areas where a student may have missed core concepts in learning.
This is very important, as concepts or skills that are missed early on can block the take up of new skills down the track.
Focusing on progress will help ensure students achieve at least a year’s growth for each year of schooling. Equally, when schools have rich data on student learning, school leaders can support teachers in meeting the needs of learners, and target resources across the school.
In order to improve, we must use powerful interpretation of data to understand student challenges and progress. If we can do this, teachers, students and parents will be empowered to improve our performance.
We’ve all seen the data. Now we must act on it.