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How data can create certainty in uncertain times
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How data can create certainty in uncertain times

Feature 6 minute read

It’s widely accepted that standardised assessment along with quality classroom assessments are vital to identifying where a student is in their learning journey and to measuring their learning progress over time. As this period of uncertainty – in which students were dispersed and traditional schooling disrupted – comes to an end, quality data are more important than ever.

They will provide an essential, evidence-based foundation for targeted teaching as schools return and help teachers allow for the increased variation in student achievement levels that experts predict the disruption will cause.

Australian schools generally have a wealth of data from student assessments available to them. It’s how schools use their data that will make a difference in effecting a smooth transition back to school. We know from our research that, where schools and teachers have a deep understanding of learning progression and use well designed quality classroom assessments and standardised test data in their day-to-day work, they are better able to target their teaching, evaluate the effectiveness of different pedagogies and interventions, and monitor student progress over time.

Here, we look at how schools using ACER’s Progressive Achievement (PAT) approach – assessments, teaching resources and professional learning – can determine starting points for learning and target teaching according to student need.

Using data to guide teaching

In order to get the maximum benefit from assessment results, teachers need to understand the story the data are telling. Research shows there can be up to five years’ difference in the achievement levels of the most and least advanced students in any classroom. PAT assessment data tells schools the precise starting point for learning for each student on a learning progression, allowing teachers to target their teaching and monitor students’ progress, stretching those who need to be challenged and supporting students in need of scaffolding.

ACER’s Progressive Achievement (PAT) approach supports schools and teachers every step of the way.

Get to know PAT assessments and reports

First, you’ll need to make sure you understand how to use PAT assessments properly, and we have a range of free support material to help. If your school already uses PAT, 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, professional learning options and teaching resources the PAT suite contains. (If you aren’t already signed up, ask us for more details.)

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.

Build your expertise

As every teacher knows, it’s your expertise in using your assessment data to plan, teach and monitor student learning that makes the difference to student progress. We have a range of courses which help teachers develop confidence, knowledge and practical skills in designing and using assessment to improve student learning, regardless of starting point.

As well as PAT-specific courses to suit every skill level, check out Using and Interpreting Data in Schools and the Graduate Certificate in Education – Assessment of Student Learning.

Targeted teaching resources

To help schools during the pandemic, we adapted for remote delivery selected maths and reading content from our PAT Teaching Resources Centre and offered it free to schools. Even on your return to the classroom, the page will give you a good idea of the kinds of resources the PAT Teaching Resources Centre contains, all of which are linked directly to PAT achievement bands, making it easy for you to find the specific teaching activity appropriate for each student.

There are a range of other resources out there, too. The various state and territory education departments made a range of teaching resources and support available through the remote learning period that may be useful on your return to school; find them in the links at the end of this PAT Insights story.

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.

The case for assessment

With NAPLAN cancelled in 2020, formalised assessment is unlikely to be an item on your immediate agenda. There is an opportunity, however, to build teachers’ expertise in using the data they have to answer many questions once the transition period ends. How did students cope? Did some flourish while others were left behind? Did students and teachers have the digital skills and knowledge to navigate the world of remote learning? Did some curriculum areas suffer more than others? Did students continue to grow in their learning – and how do we know if they did?

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 pandemic, 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.

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 appropriate resources and to get a reliable picture of their students’ progress over time. It’s how we use that data that may determine our success in transitioning students back into the classroom – and there’s still time to make sure we do that well.

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