National Education Findings of Assess to Learn (AtoL) Report Publications
This report describes the impact that the Ministry of Education’s professional development Assess to Learn Project has had on teachers, students and schools in New Zealand.
Author(s): Dr Jenny Poskitt (Massey University) & Kerry Taylor (Education Group Limited).
Date Published: July 2008
The New Zealand Ministry of Education is committed to providing professional learning opportunities through a range of national projects, one of which is the Assess to Learn Professional Development Project (AtoL). AtoL offers in-depth professional learning for teachers and school leaders throughout New Zealand in the use of assessment for learning principles.
In the contract period 2005 to 2007 AtoL was delivered across New Zealand by eight providers, including five colleges of education and three private providers. Each provider appointed a director for the project, supported by a team of facilitators. Although there have been some variations, the majority of participating schools responded to advertisements or invitations to be involved in the project and typically participated for two years. Some schools (approximately fifteen to twenty per cent) enrolled in AtoL as a result of an Education Review Office (ERO) recommendation. Approximately 200 schools were involved, covering a range of variables that included decile, school size, rural and urban location, state and integrated schools, contributing and full primary, intermediate and secondary schools. Primary schools formed the largest proportion of participating schools.
The focus of the project was on professional development of teachers in assessment towards four key outcomes which were to:
- improve student learning and achievement
- shift teachers’ knowledge and assessment practice
- develop coherence between assessment processes, practices and systems in classrooms and in schools so that they promote better learning, and
- demonstrate a culture of continuous school improvement.
A summary of the key findings for each of these outcomes follows.
Key outcome 1
Students whose teachers had focused their professional learning on reading and writing showed achievement shifts that were greater than the national expectations predicted by Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning (asTTle V4)1. This was shown through the results of pre and post assessment using asTTle V4. Achievement shifts were typically at least twice those described in similar professional development interventions (for example, in Wiliam, Lee, Harrison and Black 2004).
Students became more confident in understanding what they were learning and why. They were able to articulate learning intentions and success criteria. In many classes, students were also becoming more aware of self and peer assessment.
Key outcome 2
Most teachers participating in AtoL focused their professional learning on:
- developing their skills in giving feedback and feed forward
- developing and co-constructing learning intentions and success criteria with students
- using student achievement information to adjust programmes
- encouraging students to use self and peer assessment
- using assessment tools such as the curriculum exemplars2 and asTTle V4 effectively and using samples of student work as a basis for discussion.
Teachers gave targeted feedback to students. They relied less on praise alone and increased their emphasis on giving feedback that focused on the learning and next steps. Teachers became more focused on differentiating learning for individual students.
Key outcome 3
Schools often experienced improved recording and reporting systems, particularly in terms of consistency across teams or departments, and more coherent teacher philosophy and practice in assessment. By the end of 2007 most teachers were clearer and more precise about what they were teaching and regularly reflected with students about their learning and progress. Teacher feedback to students specified achievement related to criteria, next steps and why the learning was relevant and worthwhile. Teachers demonstrated clear links between planning, learning and formative assessment.
Key outcome 4
Studies of 38 schools in 2006 showed that eighty per cent of the schools were able to continue improvements after their involvement in AtoL had finished. Only five per cent of the schools had not been able to maintain development after completing the AtoL programme. Schools that continued to improve their practices in assessment demonstrated a variety of examples of how AtoL principles and strategies were incorporated into their ongoing work.
Overall, participating teachers were very clear about the value of their involvement in AtoL. Teachers appreciated the way in which facilitators worked to meet the needs of individual teachers and schools. The flexibility of approaches to the professional development allowed schools to move at a pace that best met the needs of each school. The combination of staff meetings, team meetings, classroom observation and one to one support, along with input from professional readings, ensured that schools were able to make significant shifts in teacher knowledge and confidence in the use of formative assessment practices.
- asTTle V4: Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning, version four
- New Zealand Curriculum Exemplars.
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