Doing well at school is significantly dependent on how engaged students are. A common policy response to declining test rankings is to increase the frequency and stakes of tests and hold students, teachers and schools accountable for achieving higher standards. This, however, has resulted in a kind of performance stagflation, as shown in the improvement in Australian students’ average NAPLAN scores over the course of six years or so. There has been little or no average improvement. The response, to write more and more explicit standards and more and more explicit articulations of expectations of performance on standards, hasn’t worked. Performance has stagnated; engagement has plummeted.
The policy response above parallels the old blue joke about teaching: "You are going to do it again and again and again til you get it right!" The policy response merely intensifies existing practice - more of the same. It has been the wrong target,conceptually and practically. Walking in to many classrooms today feels much like it has walking into a classroom at any time over the last five decades. Students are grouped into year levels by age, and are often doing the same thing, in the same way, at the same time as the rest of their group. Many teachers continue to ‘deliver the curriculum’ for the year level they teach, and students are assessed and graded on how well they perform on that curriculum.
Engagement, personalization and differentiation are observed more in the rhetoric than the practice. In most school systems there are data imperatives, cultural imperatives, performance imperatives and new pedagogical imperatives. Less common are policy strategies that help teachers learn how to better engage students, learn how to better personalise the learning, better diagnose learner needs, better use data to support decisions around student activity, and better use inquiry-based, project methodologies. This is the policy deficiency in many jurisdictions.
Such a basic policy deficiency should occur at state and national levels. Imagine, for example, if spending on high stakes tests to find out what we already know was allocated instead to help teachers learn more practical and successful strategies to engage students in the learning? Classrooms might look and operate differently. Some education policy-makers have made a classic athlete’s error of watching the scoreboard instead of concentrating on executing skills to the best of your ability.
Too often in schools, the learning needs of students are well met. In most classrooms, if a whole class methodology is the general practice, then up to 60% or more of the students will not be getting their learning needs met in terms of intent, content, focus or activity. The challenge is for teachers to not only meet all students at their points of need or want with learning opportunities that stretch and extend them, but to provide students with some agency over their own learning. Competence without agency is only useful for tests, and even then, not that useful.
At mme moe, we are providing practical and contemporary pathways and functionality to assist teachers to meet this challenge. The only ones who seem to think, despite the evidence, that testing improves learning are thoe with a commercial or sentimental interest in testing or publications designed to prepare students for testing. With innovations like mme moe, we support community-based growth culture, enabling teachers and those who support them to reclaim the teaching profession.
For teachers to best get an idea of how to gather and use information about where students are in their long-term progress as part of the process of planning learning, mme moe offers this process as a self-assessment activity for teachers to model themselves. Teachers are able to self-assess against a teacher competency framework and make informed decisions about what, when and how they will go about improving their practice. Knowing that they can do this for themselves puts teachers in the position of knowing and having the confidence that they can undertake the same process with their students. So, instead of relying on age or grade based drivers for the planning of learning and teaching, they will be in a position to truly plan using a student competence, interest, need, and recognition of prior learning basis.
The importance of data of this sort is the increasing expectation that students will access a more personalised learning context. However, to expect people who have been taught in a non-personalised manner, in primary, secondary, tertiary and employment settings, to then be able to work in a personalised way in their own classroom is probably setting them up for failure. Personalisation in learning and teaching is not just one more incremental change tactic, it is a fundamental change strategy, and as such should be thought of in systemic terms.
So at mme moe, we’ve set up a community so that teachers can access functionality, a contemporary competency framework, people and resources fot support and mentoring. Our functionality helps teachers reflect on their practice and make the targeted changes they have identified as integral to their personal learning journey - and it is a journey, not an event. Although there is an event and a decision to be made.
Teachers can’t just wake up one day and be expert in the personalised learning space. There are careers’ worth of acculturation of practices to be dealt with. But teachers can wake up and have the mindset and make the decision that that is the pathway they want to take.
Teachers can become more reflective, immediately. It will be more beneficial for a teacher to be reflective and provide themselves with some meta-analysis than it will be for them to study for the coming teachers’ test.Teachers can defendably self-assess. In fact, self-assessing for the purpose of identifying your own needs and your own professional learning pathway is arguably more defendable than what currently passes for performance management in most schools.
Teachers can and want to work in learning communities, where they can both be mentored and do some mentoring, and both receive and provide support. Any other configuration of this places the teacher into a situation where their expertise, mostly hard won, is discounted and minimally valued and used.
Significant student underachievement, disengagement and disenchantment with school and with learning is a cultural problem. It is not a problem that is best addressed with systemic testing and top-down accountability. Tests perform a function when dispensed in moderation, so do management reviews, but they are not solutions for accountability or academic excellence as many imply. The solutions required include developing in-school, cross-school, perhaps cross-jurisdictional communities of improvement consisting of reflective teachers who are on their own learning journey to work in a more personalised, inquiry-based, project-oriented way.
As a nation, it is disappointing to see no improvement in NAPLAN scores and no improvement in the engagement in learning of students. Other countries have their own 'NAPLAN; testing stories. Education solutions do not lie in more testing. They lie in a mindset of developing more flexible ways of managing learning and teaching to better address individuals’ current levels of performance and their learning wants and needs. Is anyone arguing that our teachers are good at this? We need to find ways of getting better at it.
"Finally", we hear bureaucrats say, "something we can test!"