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Conference keynotes united on unlocking student progress

Conference keynotes united on unlocking student progress

ACER news 5 minute read

Delegates to ACER’s Research Conference 2021 will hear that evidence-based learning progressions are the key to navigating curriculum expectations and targeting teaching to meet student learning needs.

In a presentation titled ‘How education gets in the way of learning’, ACER Chief Executive Professor Geoff Masters AO will explain how the formal structures and processes of school education are often inconsistent with what is now known about the best ways to promote learning.

‘The school curriculum, for example, has much in common with an industrial era assembly line,’ Professor Masters explains. ‘Each year, the same curriculum is delivered to all students. They are all given the same amount of time to master it. They then all move in lockstep to the next year’s curriculum where the process is repeated.’

According to Professor Masters, the consequence of this design is that students who have not mastered the content of the current year’s curriculum and lack the prerequisites for the following year’s curriculum move on regardless.

‘Not surprisingly, many students fall increasingly far behind the longer they are in school and as year-level curricula become increasingly beyond their reach. Other students, who may not have required a full year to master that curriculum, are unable to advance to a more challenging curriculum until everybody moves in unison,’ Professor Masters explains.

Fellow keynote speaker and RMIT University Emeritus Professor Dianne Siemon agrees.

‘Insisting that all students irrespective of where they are in their particular learning journey should master all aspects of the mathematics curriculum at their year level is a recipe for disaster,’ Professor Siemon told Teacher magazine in a pre-conference interview.

‘Having said that, I am firmly of the view that all students have the right to be exposed to the curriculum at their year level, but this needs to be done in ways (e.g., accessible but challenging tasks in mixed ability settings), and in contexts (e.g., a culture that supports growth mind-sets) that provide opportunities for all student to learn, if not immediately, then ‘down the track’.’

Professor Siemon’s presentation will explore how learning progressions can sit alongside mandated curricula to help teachers identify where students are and where to go next. According to Professor Siemon, these learning progressions are typically accompanied by assessment tools to identify where learners are in their learning journey and instructional materials aimed at progressing that journey.

The potential for assessment to provide actionable information for improving classroom instruction and enable excellent progress for every student will be the focus of the conference’s final keynotes, by Professor Richard Lehrer, from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and Professor Mark Wilson, from the University of California, Berkeley.

Professors Lehrer and Wilson are currently engaged in the US National Science Foundation Collaborative Research Project to develop a novel assessment system that provides instructionally productive evidence to teachers about student learning, and links dense information from student work products and formative assessments to generate robust estimates of learning growth.

In a pre-conference podcast with Teacher magazine, Professor Lehrer explained that the title of his keynote address, ‘Accountable assessment’, was deliberately provocative in order to highlight a lack of agreement on definitions of what assessments actually measure.

‘One of the ways in which I think assessment should be accountable is that we ought to be able to say very clearly what it is that we’re measuring and how we understand student learning, and how the items that students are responding to relate to what we call ‘constructs’,’ Professor Lehrer said.

But Professor Lehrer also stressed the importance of making assessment accountable to students and teachers, ‘So it’s not something done to them, but, rather, it’s part of something that is ongoing and that benefits them.’

Find out more:

Research Conference 2021, on the theme ‘Excellent progress for every student’, took place 16-19 August. Access all recordings in the main program through our Research Conference On Demand package, available for a limited time.

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