Friday, 14 Aug 2009

For immediate release Friday 14 August 2009
Call to reconsider A to E school reports

It is time to reconsider the widespread practice of reporting school achievements as A to E grades according to the chief executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Professor Geoff Masters.

In the opening keynote address to ACER’s annual research conference in Perth on Monday, Professor Masters will tell delegates that the use of A to E grades, together with some other common approaches to assessing what is learned in schools, run the risk of being inconsistent with what is known about the best ways to promote student learning.

“A first problem with A to E grades is that they can influence and reinforce students’ views of their capacity to learn,” Professor Masters says. “Not surprisingly, a student who receives a ‘D’ this year, a ‘D’ next year and a ‘D’ the following year may conclude that there is something stable about their learning capacity: they are a ‘D’ student.”

Professor Masters will argue that learning research shows that a belief in one’s own capacity to learn is an important prerequisite for success. “The message we should be sending to every student is that they are capable of successful learning.”

“This is not about hiding the truth. If a student is not meeting grade expectations or is not making progress, then this needs to be made very transparent. But A to E grades have the potential to label students in the same way that assigning them to class streams once did. Although students are at different stages in their learning and are progressing at different rates, research suggests that, with effort, every student is capable of further learning if motivated and provided with appropriate support.”

Professor Masters says that a second problem with A to E grades is that they are not useful for communicating progress over time.

“Imagine measuring a student’s height and then reporting it as a ‘C’ based on how tall the student is relative to other students of the same age. If a student’s height is reported as ‘C’ every year, then their underlying growth is masked. There is nothing transparent about this form of reporting. In the same way, A to E grades can mask progress in school learning.”

Professor Masters will argue that research shows that learning is promoted when students are able to see the progress they are making over extended periods of time and when they are given feedback that helps them to see what to do next.

“A challenge for the education community is to find ways of assessing and reporting learning that are more consistent with what is known about the factors that promote successful learning,” Professor Masters says.

The ACER Research Conference, Assessment and Student Learning: Collecting, interpreting and using data to inform teaching is being held in Perth from 16-18 August.