In-depth analysis and policy advice about important issues in Australian education, written by ACER’s thought leaders.

Time for a paradigm shift in school education?

11 Nov 2020

Schools can be thought of as operating within a prevailing paradigm. This paradigm has theoretical underpinnings, concepts, rules and methods that guide ‘normal’ practice. However, as occasionally occurs in a field of practice, a significant mismatch currently exists between theory and observation; normal practice in school education is not delivering the results it was expected to deliver. For some, this constitutes a crisis. This mismatch is commonly attributed to factors other than the paradigm itself—for example, to underperforming teachers, underfunded schools, changes in society or a lack of student effort. While these may all be contributors, the thesis of this essay is that the schooling paradigm itself is in need of review and that the answer may lie in a shift in how we think about teaching and learning. HTML | PDF

Is there another way to think about schooling?

18 Apr 2016

There is a well-established way of thinking about schooling. It goes something like this. What students are expected to learn at school is spelled out in the school curriculum. The role of teachers is to teach the relevant year-level curriculum. The role of students is to learn what teachers teach. The role of assessment is to determine how much of what has been taught students have successfully learnt. Students are then graded on how well they have learnt what teachers have taught. 

The alternative is to think differently about the nature of learning; the characteristics of learners; the school curriculum; what it means to ‘teach’; the role of assessment; and the nature of ‘reporting’ – in short, to think differently about schooling itself.

Unfinished business: PISA shows Indigenous youth are being left behind

12 Feb 2014

The latest international assessment of students’ mathematical, scientific and reading literacy – the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – shows that the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students has remained the same for the last decade. In short, Indigenous 15-year-olds remain approximately two-and-a-half years behind their non-Indigenous peers in schooling. This essay provides a précis of the results and analysis of some of the issues; and discusses a range of implications for policy and practice. HTML | PDF

Towards a growth mindset in assessment

14 Oct 2013

The approaches we take to assessing learning, the kinds of tasks we assign and the way we report success or failure at school send powerful messages to students not only about their own learning, but also about the nature of learning itself. Assessment and reporting processes shape student, parent and community beliefs about learning – sometimes in unintended ways. HTML | PDF

Deconstructing maths anxiety: Helping students to develop a positive attitude towards learning maths

24 Jul 2013

Higher maths ability is often believed to go hand-in-hand with greater levels of general intelligence. At the same time, many students have a negative attitude towards maths. Maths anxiety is defined in the research literature as feelings of concern, tension or nervousness that are experienced in combination with maths. In 2005, researchers in the United States estimated that approximately 20 per cent of the US population were highly maths anxious. Given the cultural similarities between the US and Australia, we can assume that the percentage would be comparable here. HTML | PDF

Preparing 21st Century learners: The case for school-community collaborations

22 Mar 2012

Highly effective schools have high levels of parent and community engagement.i ‘Community’ here includes parents, business and philanthropic organisations, and various services and not-for-profit groups. How ‘engagement’ is defined and what it looks like in practice will vary from school to school. But, as the growing body of research makes quite clear, support from those beyond the school gates is an essential part of preparing learners for the twenty-first century. HTML | PDF

The hard work of improvement

18 Oct 2011

A common strategy for promoting improved employee or organisational performance is to place a strong focus on organisational results. For example, in commercial businesses, it is common to focus on results such as sales volumes, total business revenue, annual company profit or share price. With desired results clearly identified, results metrics are then established to measure existing performance levels, set targets for improvement, monitor improvement over time and hold employees accountable for achieving better results. HTML | PDF

Assessing student learning: Why reform is overdue

10 Aug 2011

Advances in our understanding of human learning require new approaches to assessing and monitoring student learning. Much assessment thinking has changed little over the past fifty years. The field continues to be dominated by twentieth century introductory textbook concepts, including such dichotomies as formative versus summative assessment, criterion-referenced versus norm-referenced testing, quantitative versus qualitative assessment, informal versus formal assessment – distinctions that often hamper rather than promote clear thinking about assessment. HTML | PDF

The power of expectation

15 Jul 2011

Success in most fields of endeavour depends on an ability to visualise success. It has long been known that elite athletes mentally rehearse each performance prior to its execution. Advances in neuroscience show why this may be so important: the neurological processes involved in visualising a performance are almost identical to those involved in the performance itself. Indeed, simply watching somebody else perform activates ‘mirror’ neurons in the observer paralleling neuronal activity in the performer. The ability to visualise success and an accompanying belief that success is possible appear to be prerequisites for most forms of human achievement. HTML | PDF