Half yearly examinations and NAPLAN have just finished and this can be a daunting prospect for many students. In a wide variety of subjects mid-year assessment has been in the form of formal examinations. For other subjects this has been in-class tests or tasks of a different nature. Formal examinations can be a challenging experience for many students as they test knowledge and skills that have been taught across a significant time period, and to recall and apply that knowledge can’t be fudged; it comes only through good preparation. It is a NESA requirement that we assess how well students have achieved course outcomes, and it is this achievement that we seek to report to parents in the mid-year reporting process.
Some schools have reduced the formal examination process and don’t run half yearly exams. William Carey has retained them because we want to train our students in how to do them well and make them a “normal” part of schooling. This means that events like NAPLAN and the HSC aren’t too out of the ordinary and cause more stress than they might otherwise do. Parents may notice that not all subjects in all years have a half yearly examination. Exams are only one type of assessment strategy and NESA has indicated they don’t want us to over-assess our students. In more practical subjects particularly, other types of assessment are more valid as they try to assess a broader range of outcomes than can be tested in an examination.
Formal assessments are also not the only way teachers are gathering data on student achievement. Formative assessment is a less formal approach whereby information about student progress is determined and it is used to immediately inform a teacher about what to do next to effectively teach students at their point of need. Staff have been trained in recent years and are actively utilising these techniques in their classes.
Teaching is only one side of the coin in this process of outcome assessment. Students often don’t see their role in the teaching learning process. Each assessment task is an opportunity for staff to feed back to students what they are doing well and what they can work on to improve their areas of weakness. Too often, students look at the mark, but don’t act on the feedback provided to ensure future attempts have been modified based on that feedback to better display their knowledge or skills. This could include comments in the half yearly report or on the marked tasks that come back throughout the semester. Students asking for assistance or clarification is an important part of the process of engaging in their learning that some don’t employ nearly enough. In my Year 11 class, students are constantly called on to critically evaluate each other’s expression of ideas so they continually improve how well they can articulate concepts in Physics. We have tried to make it normal to not have a go at someone who can’t get an answer right, but to help them find the words to make it a better answer. As a teacher, it is really encouraging to watch students help each other with their learning.
In His service,
Deputy Principal Senior Studies.
(On behalf of the High School Deputies)