Using data to create certainty in an uncertain world

Thursday, 30 Apr 2020

Schools with a well-established assessment program have a wealth of data to guide remote teaching in Term 2, but how well they use the data could have a big impact.

It’s widely accepted that standardised assessment is vital to identifying where a student is in their learning journey and to measuring their learning progress over time. In this period of uncertainty, with students dispersed and educational disadvantage likely amplified as a result, data are more important than ever. They will provide an essential, evidence-based foundation for targeted teaching in Term 2 2020 and help teachers plan for the predicted increase in variation in student achievement levels on their return to the classroom.

As a PAT school, you are in a position of strength. You have a wealth of data from previous PAT assessments available in your school’s online (OARS) account. What will make a difference to the effectiveness of remote learning in Term 2 is how well you use the data at your disposal.

Using data to guide remote teaching

The research shows there can be up to five years’ difference in the achievement levels of the most and least advanced students in any classroom. Your PAT data can tell you the precise starting point for learning for each student and how to target your teaching accordingly, to stretch those who need to be challenged and support students in need of scaffolding.

In order to get the maximum benefit from assessment results, teachers need to understand the story the data are telling, then transform it into targeted teaching delivered using the specialist skills and knowledge remote teaching requires. Here we look at the three steps you will need to take to deliver effective remote teaching using evidence from assessment.

Step 1: Getting to know PAT

First, you’ll need to make sure you understand how to use PAT properly, and we have a range of free support material to help. Follow the ‘User guide and assessment documentation’ link at the bottom of your school’s online (OARS) account to find lots of useful information, including a series of webinars and video demonstrations, to help you understand the assessments, teaching resources and professional learning options the PAT suite contains.

For example, a unique aspect of the PAT approach is its student achievement band levels, each accompanied by a description of the learning progression it represents. Do you understand what each band means? Log in to your school’s account and check out our webinars Using and Interpreting the PAT Bands Report and Using and Interpreting the PAT Group Report, which look at the fundamentals of band descriptors and reporting at the individual and group (class, year or school) level. Other webinars and video demos cover topics like setting up your staff account, adding and rolling over student accounts, and linking reports with tools in the PAT Teaching Resources Centre.

These webinars are great for getting to grips with the basics but our PAT short courses  specifically designed for effective online learning – now also offered in intensive and bespoke options – will give you a more complete picture and help you take your PAT practice to the next level.

Step 2: Targeting teaching

Speaking of the online PAT Teaching Resources Centre, now is a good time to explore its contents. Our 30-day free trial is still on offer, or you might prefer to road-test the selection of resources uploaded to our new remote learning page. It contains a range of reading and mathematics tools, including teaching activities, videos and worksheets, adapted specifically for remote delivery and available to all schools completely free.

The Centre’s resources are directly linked to PAT achievement bands, making it easy for you to find the specific teaching activity appropriate for each student, but there are a range of other sources out there, too. The government’s advisory body to schools on copyright issues, Smartcopying, offers this guide to selecting teaching resources that won’t infringe copyright, as well as best practice for sharing them securely with students.

Additionally, the various state and territory education departments have made a range of remote teaching resources and support available – find them in the links at the end of this PAT Insights story.

Step 3: Upskill yourself

Targeted resources suitable for remote delivery are just one part of the remote teaching picture. Even the most experienced classroom teachers will need to rapidly upskill to deliver remote learning effectively. The Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has produced this excellent overview of key principles, and ACER researchers wrote this guide to taking an evidence-based approach for Teacher magazine, but there is no substitute for practical training. 

Our ACER-accredited Online Teaching course offers an in-depth, evidence-based approach and is now offered as an intensive, with new intakes added regularly to meet demand from Australia’s educators.

The case for assessment

With NAPLAN cancelled in 2020, formalised assessment is unlikely to be an item on your Term 2 agenda. However, many questions will need answers once this period of instability ends. How will students cope with the transition to remote learning? Will some flourish while others are left behind? Do students and teachers possess enough digital literacy to navigate the world of remote learning? Will some curriculum areas suffer more than others? Will students continue to grow in their learning – and how will we know if they do?

A series of reports commissioned by the Australian Government published recently suggests that there may be far-reaching educational disadvantage disproportionately affecting already vulnerable children as a result of the current situation, and suggests that performance in certain subjects – in particular, numeracy – will be negatively affected.

These predictions will be borne out – or not – in your assessment data and mitigated by quality targeted teaching. Most schools administer PAT assessments in Term 3 and Term 4 and, if this is you, we recommend sticking to that schedule; the research shows that standardised assessments are most effective in measuring progress when administered around 9-12 months apart. Other schools are administering PAT in Term 2 and we have made special provisions to help them out.

However, teachers may benefit from short-term diagnostic information in Term 2 and parents may be keen to see tangible evidence of their child’s progress. ACER Certificates are a self-paced program in mathematics and reading that can be completed at home and awarded by teachers to students on their return to school.

It’s hard to know when Australian education will return to ‘normal’ – or what that normal will look like when it does – so it is reassuring to know that data can provide a degree of certainty in uncertain times, giving teachers the evidence they need to pinpoint starting points for learning, to target their teaching, to find resources appropriate for remote delivery and to get a reliable picture of their students’ progress over time. It’s how we use that data that may be the ultimate determinant of the success of remote learning in Term 2 2020.