Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Teachers as Mediators: Formative Practices with Assessment Criteria and Standards

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Teachers as Mediators: Formative Practices with Assessment Criteria and Standards

Article excerpt


Australian teachers are operating in an atmosphere of large-scale change. For the first time a national curriculum, known as the Australian Curriculum (Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA), 2013), is being implemented. This implementation sits within a changing environment for assessment nationally, with growing priority given to accountability of teachers.

The Australian Curriculum does not provide guidance for assessment, with decisions about the manner in which assessment will be conducted under the control of state and territory jurisdictions. The introduction of national achievement standards as part of the Australian Curriculum framework provides, for the first time, expectations of 'the depth of understanding, the extent of knowledge and the sophistication of skills that children should typically demonstrate at the end of a period of teaching' (Queensland Board of Senior Secondary School Studies (QSSSS), 2011, p. 15). Emphasis is given to achievement standards as a 'reference point' for assessment and reporting in learning areas (Department for Education and Child Development, 2012). The introduction of national achievement standards also provides opportunities for teachers to consider the usefulness of standards for a range of assessment purposes beyond measurement.

This paper addresses the issue of teachers' use of assessment criteria and standards with students in classrooms. The study reported in this paper was conducted in the high-stakes setting of Queensland Senior English classrooms. The Queensland Senior Schooling, school-based, externally-moderated, standards-referenced system affords opportunities for teachers and students to improve student learning, based on the inclusion of criteria and standards summative assessment approaches in syllabuses with directions for formative assessment practice.

The aim of the study was to develop an understanding of the formative assessment practices of Senior English teachers in a system where they have a role in the design and implementation of assessment for high-stakes summative purposes associated with students' post-school futures, and where formative assessment is associated with effective planning and student improvement. This research was driven in part by the lack of empirical evidence of the system in action since its implementation almost 4 decades ago.

The study used a socio-cultural framework, giving emphasis to the notion that formative assessment is social, situated, context-bound and context-specific. Broadfoot's (1996) writing on assessment forms the centrepiece of the socio-cultural framework as applied in this study. Broadfoot (1996) describes assessment as a social practice that involves interactions between groups of actors including students, teachers, parents and educational institutions. The study examined assessment as socially enacted through and situated in relationships that occur in the classroom, as well as externally to the classroom and the school.

This article reports in particular on findings from the study associated with teachers' use of assessment criteria and standards for formative assessment purposes and their understanding of the utility of the assessment criteria and standards for both teachers and students in the classroom.

This paper has 5 sections, and considers first the key role of assessment criteria and standards in the distinctive Queensland assessment context. A brief review of the relevant international and national literature provides understandings of assessment criteria and standards and their use for formative purposes. Next, the data gathering and methodology of the study are outlined. In section four key findings from the research are presented and discussed.

Queensland and beyond

In Queensland, teacher-produced, task-specific assessment criteria and standards based on subject-specific, defined 'exit' standards published in Syllabus documents are intended to service summative assessment purposes and formative assessment purposes. …

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