Making It Count: The Importance of Assessment and Feedback

NEWS 18 Oct 2021

Last year, as the pandemic disrupted daily classroom routines across Australia, a new report from The University of Melbourne recommended using this time as an opportunity to reshape how schools assess students.

The report, led by Professor Sandra Milligan, said that assessments need to evolve to ‘future-proof’ students and ensure they develop the skills they need for the 21st-century workplace.

“We are currently seeing assessment practices that lead to learners with dependence on instruction, who are being tested by recalling memory and solving problems in a basic, formula-driven way,” said Professor Milligan.

“The current system is off-kilter with what will be demanded of students when they leave school and try to find employment and face the issues life will throw at them…We’re not only talking about students’ fundamental capabilities with Numeracy, Literacy and Information Communication Technology, but also critical and creative thinking, intercultural understanding as well as ethical understanding.”

Prof Milligan advocated for assessments to be ‘fine grained’ and to embrace Learner Profiles that include detailed information about a student’s strengths, learning preferences and capabilities.

Assessments and Feedback Support A Student's Learning Journey

Ms Sabine Partington, Head of Teaching and Learning (Senior School) at Haileybury, says that assessments are vital tools in helping students to progress. She says assessments and the resulting feedback support teachers, students and the family to improve the student’s learning journey.

“We know that improving student outcomes critically hinges on quality feedback and you can’t give quality feedback if you don’t have quality formative assessment,” she says.

“But any assessment has the student in mind above all else. It has to improve student learning and provide information about where a student is at, so assessment is an endpoint but also a starting point because it identifies the next key element of learning that needs to happen to make progress. It identifies the needs of students at different stages.”

Haileybury has introduced a digital platform that records assessment results and feedback in detail and allows parents to view their child’s results and progress, too. Head of Digital, Ms Michelle Dennis, says this is an important part of Haileybury’s success.

“Parents are one of the most effective influencers on students so we involve parents in this learning conversation. The platform helps parents know what their children are studying, have conversations, and identify where improvements can be made. It provides open communication when assessments happen so students, teachers and families can react and move forward,” says Ms Dennis.

Ms Partington says assessments are a regular part of life for Haileybury students from Junior School to Year 12 and can range from a Friday afternoon spelling test to major exams and assignments.

“We believe in demystifying the skillset it takes to undergo an assessment. We think that takes away the nerves and anxiety around assessment,” she says.

News - The Importance of Feedback and Assessment

Continual Refinement of the Assessment and Feedback Process

Haileybury will continue refining its assessment and feedback process to further support student learning and progress.

“In the future, we will be able to do more ‘branching’ in assessments, so assessment tasks will change depending on where students are at in their learning. So, if students are two or three years ahead of the curriculum, their assessment will be different from students who aren’t as far ahead. We will be able to respond to where students are and where they need to go next,” says Ms Dennis.

Ms Partington says adaptive testing enabled by branching technology is a way forward for effective and valuable assessment.

“This testing takes a series of questions about a student, makes an assessment of where they are at, and changes the next set of questions the student gets to meet their level,” she says.

“So if you have a high-achieving student and a student who is mid-level, their first five assessment questions will be the same but then the students will branch into different sets of questions that challenge each of them. There may be several points in the branching to pinpoint exactly what a student knows and doesn’t know and what their teachers can work on with them.”

Ms Dennis emphasises the important role that families play in helping students respond to feedback from assessments.

“Read and explore the feedback with your child and have constructive conversations with them. Think about how you can help your child be their best and make good decisions based on feedback.”