Assessment in a Testing Time

Article excerpt

As implementation of the NSW Board of Studies (BOS) English K-10 Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum in 2014 has begun, our toes are not merely testing the waters, rather we have dived in; familiarising ourselves with the underlying principles, the pedagogical shifts, the inclusion of cross-curriculum priorities, the general capabilities, the organisation of content and the changing emphases and classification of texts in a K-10 English learning continuum.

The principles that underpinned the intent of the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCYEETA, 2008), that were then reflected in the Australian Curriculum English Shape Papers (Curriculum Corporation 2008), have reticulated through the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2013) and the NSW BOS English K-10 Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum (Board of Studies NSW, 2013). The emphases throughout these documents on the importance of developing students' knowledge, understanding, skills and values to live fulfilling, productive and responsible lives, as successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens reflects the social semiotic perspective to learning English utilising the new syllabus, call us to revitalise teaching and learning (Bernstein, 1981; Halliday & Hasan, 1985; Ministerial Council of Education, 2008).

This revitalised approach to teaching and learning also requires us to reconsider current assumptions and practices with regard to assessment of the English K-10 Syllabus ensuring we measure the full range of learning including understanding, skills, processes and values underpinning the new curriculum (Wyatt-Smith & Cumming, 2009). Certainly assessment has not been amiss in previous syllabuses. In fact, discussion about assessment dimensions have been at the coalface of Australian education and the growing tensions with increased assessment pressures acknowledged widely by research (Collins, 2013; Dreher, 2012; Higgins, Miller & Wegmann, 2006; Hipwell & Klenowski, 2011; McTighe & Wiggins, 2012; Shute, 2008; Wiliam, 2010). However, at this point of trajectory into the new curriculum at whatever level assessment decisions are made, whether in the classroom or at that of national policy, it is essential to ensure that the approaches being used are the most productive and suited to the learning models being implemented in 21st century classrooms (Wyatt-Smith & Cumming, 2009).

McTighe and Wiggins (2012) argue that rich assessment tasks need to be streamlined with teaching and learning cycles to ensure we are on track with student learning and our teaching. They argue that without an overall end in mind, teachers may create wonderful individual learning sequences but the sequences may not necessarily fit together within the context of the learning, the needs of the learners or achieve the intended results. This view is reflected in both the Australian Curriculum and the NSW BOS English K-10 Syllabus and thus reiterates the importance of considering assessment when implementing the new syllabus. In order to identify what's new about assessment in this dawn of educational reform and what we need to do; we can ask two over-arching questions:

1. What do we already know about assessment?

2. How does the English K-10 Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum require educators to undertake effective assessment?

1. What do we already know about assessment? In order to use assessment for developing deeper student learning, we understand that assessment needs to be on target and focused; valid and objective; provide data which informs future learning and, is clearly anchored in curriculum outcomes (Ground-Water Smith & White, 1995; Hattie, 2009; Shute, 2008; Vygotsky, 1978; Wyatt-Smith & Cumming, 2009). We also know that assessment needs to provide effective, criteria-based and non-judgemental feedback to stakeholders so that learning and teaching are improved (Hattie, 2012). …