Parents want to know exactly how their children are going at school both behaviourally and academically.
Parent often express frustration that they cannot work out if their children are meeting academic standards as there can appear to be no clear benchmarking. Not like the ‘old days’ when it was clear where a student stood in relation to his peers.
Teachers, however, do have a very good idea of how each student is learning and achieving in relation to expectations for their year level. So what to ask about at the parent teacher interview if you are still unsure of your child’s success or therwise!!
When discussing their child’s academic progress with the teacher, parents may hear mentioned specific assessment tools which are commonly used in Australian primary schools. Mainly, teachers will simply summarise your child’s results but sometimes parents have a real desire to ‘dig down’ to find out more specific information.
What can be frustrating is when the teacher says your child is doing well but you see a child often struggling at home.
So asking the teacher how your child went in some common assessment tasks will help put your mind at rest.
The national assessment Naplan is a major assessment which catches the media’s attention each year. It is completed around May, testing Year 3, Year 5, Year 7 and Year 9 students. The results provide both Federal and State governments with a comparison of results across the country. This is vital for overall government planning and funding, and also provides important information for schools which can compare their outcomes with similar schools. Parents often find their own child’s results surprising – sometimes much lower than expected but they can also be much higher! There can be interesting reasons why this might happen.
Information gathered by Naplan is the basis for MySchool –a website which can be accessed by the public and provides information on an individual school’s achievement.
Assessments used in the classroom may be teacher generated to identify what students know at the end of a learning activity or subject. They might also be standardised tests which will show the student’s achievement be compared against other students the same age or level.
Most schools will have decided on the appropriate assessment tools for their particular school, students and context. These will be set out in an Assessment Schedule so that classroom teachers know exactly when to administer these assessments/tests so there is consistent data to track students over their primary school years.
Teachers work very hard to provide ‘personalised learning’ for their students. See Personalised learning – a more targeted way of teaching (link). Teachers have never been as capable and aware of teaching to the needs of their students as they are today and this has come about by teachers’ use and understanding of data gathered from assessment.
Here is a snapshot of some of the assessments used by classroom teachers.
Remember these are just a snapshot. If you wish to have more detailed information ask your child’s teacher to show you the actual test and test results of your child. Ask how the teacher is using these results to provide the appropriate level of teaching.
As mentioned before, assessment comes in many forms. In a nutshell:-
Observation: Teachers will observe students to discover how they approach different tasks; how confident they are with their learning; how their behaviour or attitude might affect their learning; how they can manage the organisation of their learning.
Anecdotal evidence: This evidence comes from observation and notes taken by the teacher about what they or other teachers have seen about a child.
Standardised testing: Standardised assessments are formal assessments that have been designed to measure a child’s abilities compared to other children his or her age. These tests have been normed on thousands of children, which means that they have been administered to thousands of children of varying abilities to determine the average level of ability. Your child’s score can then be matched to the average score for other children his or her age.
Teacher generated/created assessments: Before, during or at the end of a specific curriculum unit the teacher may administer a test to see what knowledge the student has already or has retained or understood. This will influence whether to give more time to teaching and practising the knowledge or skills, or whether to move on to the next unit of work. These assessments may include:-
Performance test of skills, concepts or knowledge
Exhibitions and demonstrations
Self- and peer-evaluation
Specific LITERACY assessment: Primary schools use a range of authentic and well researched literacy assessment. Some assessment is targeted at early years learning while some goes across all primary levels.
Early Literacy – Text level/letter identification/ROL (Record of Oral Language)/CAP (Concepts about Print)/HRSW (Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words) – based on the work of Marie Clay. These assessments are administered to Foundation Year (first year of formal schooling) children, with a repeat in Year 1 and 2 for those students for whom there may be some concern. This gives teachers an indication of the child’s base knowledge and progress. An important assessment over all primary years but particularly Foundation to Year 3 is the administration of a running record to identify reading skills.
Running record: Teachers listen to a student reading specific text level books to identify where their common mistakes are occurring and to ensure the difficulty of the book is at the correct level for the student’ reading skills. This informs which particular reading skills need to be further practised or retaught.
TORCH: A widely used assessment which assists teachers to identify a student’s level of reading comprehension skills (not just reading the words but understanding what they are reading) and common reading comprehension errors. This again assists in directing the teacher’s future teaching focus.
PROBE: Similar to the Torch it provides knowledge of the student’s reading comprehension skills.
PAT-R (Progressive Achievement Tests in Reading): The PAT-R is a thoroughly researched and normed test for measuring and tracking student achievement in reading comprehension, word knowledge and spelling. It provides teachers with objective information for setting realistic learning goals and planning effective programs.
CARS and STARS: This is a reading program which assists teachers to support students’ comprehension skills by providing activities based on comprehension strategies.
FOUNTAS & PINNELL BENCHMARK ASSESSMENT SYSTEM (BAS): This system provides for one-on-one assessment and matches students’ instructional (the level at which the teacher is teaching) and independent reading abilities to their text levels.
PM BENCHMARK READING ASSESSMENT RESOURCES: These resources assist teachers to explicitly assess students’ instructional and independent reading levels using unseen, meaningful texts. The emphasis of the PM Benchmark assessment procedures is to ensure that students are comprehending the texts that they read.
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN SPELLING TEST: This is a standardised spelling test. The main purpose is to provide a quick screening instrument to provide teachers with the spread of spelling abilities across their class.
BURT WORD READING TEST: This assesses word recognition skills to provide an approximate reading age.
PAT-SPG (The Progressive Achievement Tests in Written Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar): These are a nationally normed set of tests to assess students’ skills in applying conventions of the English language.
Specific NUMERACY Assessment: Primary schools use a variety of numeracy assessments however historically there have not been as many for teachers too chose from as those assessments in literacy.
PAT-M (PROGRESSIVE ACHIEVEMENT TESTS IN MATHEMATICS): PAT-M is designed for use in Australian schools to provide objective, norm-referenced information to teachers about the level of achievement attained by their students in the skills and understanding of mathematics.
ENRP (EARLY NUMERACY RESEARCH PROJECT): Use of the project’s assessment tools for Foundation to Year 2 students. These include a one-to-one interview with student.
RICH NUMERACY ASSESSMENT TASKS: These are tasks that assist the teacher to know what the student knows and indicates what skills should be taught to move the student on in their learning. Rich assessment tasks can be teacher generated or sourced from commercial resources.
Gathering data about your child’s learning is an essential part of contemporary teaching.
Teachers are building their capacity to read and use the data gathered to increase the learning. This can only be a good thing.
But how much better if parents are genuine partners in this endeavour!