A whole school approach to assessment and testing

Firstly, the process of assessment is seen as “gathering information”. Evaluation is the process of reflecting on, or judging, the quality of that data (how well they have done it). From our perspective, assessment is ongoing, authentic and purposeful. Teachers, parents and students are constantly gathering information about what they are learning and what they can do. Evaluation in so far as reflection on what was learnt is important if it is done in a way that supports the child to go further and supports the teacher to plan experiences. Evaluation that is judgmental to the detriment of the child’s self-esteem and learning abilities is not effective.

We believe that assessment and evaluation should

  • reflect a diversity of learning experiences and styles
  • be specific to individuals’ learning journeys
  • be non-comparative and non-competitive (to ensure that learning is not reduced to a base number or statistic – for more see below)
  • be positive – focused on strengths and abilities
  • reflect developmental learning, achieved at student’s own pace
  • connect with well-researched practices in teaching and learning
  • comply with acceptable standards, benchmarks and outcomes by the end of the 8 years of schooling (prep to year 7)
  • be communicative (to all stakeholders, including teachers, parents, government departments and most importantly the children themselves)
  • inform teaching and learning
  • be integrated into regular classroom experiences
  • be aligned with the school philosophies of play, choice, exploration and investigation at all levels and age groups across the whole school

Pine Community School response to “Basic Skills Testing”

The NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) tests are an initiative of the Commonwealth Government to replace the Years 3, 5 and 7 tests conducted by the Queensland Studies Authority. NAPLAN is held annually in May. 2008 was the first year that these tests were held and included Year 9 in the program.

The administration of these tests is mandatory and Pine Community School offers students the opportunity to sit the tests on the allocated days. Parents have the right to individually decline their child’s participation in the tests.

The tests are designed “to accommodate the assessment of students against national benchmark standards” (NAPLAN – 3579 Test Preparation Handbook 2008).

Assessment is comparative and reported against the achievement of other students.

Our philosophy which is the backbone of our pedagogy is that our students learn in co-operative settings. We value our students moving through the curriculum at their own pace which makes fitting our students into the year 3, 5 and 7 invalid. We offer a student-centred learning environment. Refer to Pine Community School Parent Handbook page 1 “Particular Aims” No. 1. – “to provide an un-graded situation in which students may learn and progress at their own pace” and No. 3 – “to encourage co-operation rather than competition…………..”

Pine students grow in a learning environment which is inclusive of all learners. They don’t necessarily see the teachers as all knowing and enjoy learning along side them. The individual rate of learning might not correspond with the levels of the state primary school, however the school aims to develop the basic literacy and numeracy skills and cover the other areas defined in the Queensland Department of Education curriculum guidelines by the end of the student’s primary schooling. (Page 4 Pine Community School Handbook).
At the beginning of 2002 a group of concerned teachers and parents from various alternate/democratic schools in NSW met to discuss the implications of the Commonwealth and State Governments’ policies regarding basic skills testing.

Key amongst the concerns was that such testing:

  • Diminishes the significant contribution that democratic schools make to free educational choice because the measures do not recognise democratic educational approaches
  • Harms students, classroom and school wellbeing by using competitive, irrelevant and destructive measurement systems in collaborative, meaning-based and creative educational contexts
  • Risks curricula becoming test-driven because so much time is spent preparing students and running the tests
  • Undermines teacher professionalism because test results are used to inform student progress rather than the relationship between each teacher and pupil
  • Reduces the scope of education to very limited forms of learning and intelligence by measuring only that which can be quantified, which has serious consequences for society as a whole
  • Is out of step with current national and international discussions regarding pedagogy and the future of primary and secondary education
  • Risks schools’ market share (enrolments) should low Basic Skills Testing (BST) results be published where such results are not reflective of poor quality of education, just a quality that can’t be measured by BST
  • While the BST measure only a very limited component of the educational outcomes of a school the concept of league tables could lead to those elements getting over emphasised to the detriment of other equally important elements of a comprehensive curriculum
  • Risks schools market share should schools choose exemption and be deemed to fail the benchmark by government
  • Deploys scant teacher resources away from democratic schooling (their core business) and towards bureaucracy and test management
  • Contravenes democratic schools’ constitutions where such constitutions explicitly state that competitive measurement of learning outcomes is incompatible with student-centred learning development.