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Idiom Volume 52 Number 3 - Demands of Data

Testing, testing, testing...to what end?

The following two Opinion pieces were published in The Age. VATE thanks the authors and The Age for permission to reprint them. The first, by Emily Frawley, VATE President, was published on 11 May 2015. The second by Alan Reid, Professor Emeritus in Education at the University of South Australia was published on 16 January 2017. Together they raise questions about the value of the ‘data’ garnered by system wide tests such as NAPLAN and PISA.  

'NAPLAN does not have the write stuff' 
Emily Frawley

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'International tests don’t tell us about our schools'
Alan Reid

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‘Give me a “burnyshd griffyn” any day.’ Why I think the NAPLAN test has value.

Mary Mason, VATE Council and Life Member

When I tell my colleagues and friends that I don’t think NAPLAN is all bad, they look at me with amazement. 'How could I say that?' Their faces express that anyone who believes in progressive education cannot agree that standardised testing is a good thing; such a person must be ‘right’ of Cory Bernardi. 

Whilst I think there are many things wrong with NAPLAN, I think some of the assessment offers us insights, and the publication of NAPLAN data offers us opportunities for change in our schools. In my experience, there are many deeply reflective teachers who think carefully about how they design their curriculum, and seek feedback from their students, but there are also many teachers who teach as they have always done, do not question their practice, their students do not question them as teachers.  There are, also, many schools who support the status quo because they haven’t really thought about doing anything differently. And anyway, they argue, there is no time.

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Data and the multi–layered nature of learning: getting the balance right

Anne Gamble, Mentone Girls’ Secondary College

Once upon a time, when teachers contemplated data, it might have been in connection with science, analysing experiments, with mathematics in the domain of statistics and its applications, or the teaching of economics, conflating current trends with political considerations. In the perennially fluid world of education and its attendant terminology (jargon), it is hardly surprising that the notion of data is, in the contemporary climate, synonymous with something a bit different. There is a powerful drive for teachers and administrators to focus on data derived from myriad formats to inform evidenced-based practice.

The data imperative dominates the current educational landscape in terms of accountability and teachers acknowledge the role it plays in guiding pedagogy. Nonetheless there also should be an awareness of the need to strive for balance between an overreliance on data in its assorted forms and the importance of determining  curriculum, in a manner which also considers the multi-layered nature of learning and the intangibles inherent here.

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Embedding meaningful data in the Performance and Development Process

Philip Tascone, Ave Maria College

Data is certainly in demand these days. Any leader worthy of their position will espouse a myriad of reasons as to why we need to use data to drive our decisions and directions. It was not that long ago at all, in fact, that people were surprised by the DEECD Signposts report (Signposts: Paper No. 16, May 2009) that found the most frequent practice of schools who improved student learning was the use of data. It should be a no-brainer, but surprisingly, ‘What does the data tell us?’ is not always the first question asked by many practitioners. Having said that, my experience tells me that we have made in-roads into this understanding over recent years. I find that many teachers and leaders accept and understand the need to use data in guiding their practice. They are in the zone that change theory researchers describe as the first step to successful change. They use terms such as: having a sense of urgency, dissatisfied with the current situation, they have been triggered, they have bought-in, are unfrozen or awakened. They are ready to move! The challenge we face, though, is how we use the virtual tsunami of data we have at our disposal. The volume of data and our ability to interpret or even connect with it can make any change to this way of operating overwhelming. Add to this the constraints of time and we are faced with solid resistant forces to the effective use of data. 

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Excel(ling) in Data

Luke Francis, Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School

The demands on us to use data in the teaching profession seem to be growing and growing, with Performance and Development Plans, Annual Implementation and the ever increasing call for greater accountability. English is a subject in which we use data all the time, however, often don’t think about it as such – instead we think of it as just knowing our students and their needs. To formalise this knowledge, I enjoy working with Excel or Excel style sheets to map out what students know, areas for improvement, but also to track how I am performing in terms of assessment development and course delivery. In this article, I aim to show a snippet of how I do this.

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Utilising Student Agency for Curriculum and Pedagogical Improvement

Elizabeth Loke and students (Rocky Jian Luo Liang, Mahek Shah, Prineeka Sharma, and Alfred Mochen Tang), Glen Waverley Secondary College

The Glen Waverley Secondary College Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC) English Curriculum Project was conducted in 2016. The project worked to obtain Years 7-10 data on the English curriculum and teacher pedagogy. As a student-led and driven project, the students developed a survey for Years 7-10 English students exploring their interest and preferences on the curriculum. Students then ran year-level specific focus groups to further interpret these results. The student leaders then reported their findings to staff at the end-of-year English meeting, providing input for staff members as they worked on improving the curriculum for 2017. 

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Big Data: Middle School Wider Reading in your School

Margaret Lawson, Mater Christi College Belgrave

Traditionally, the school library has been the epicentre of the wider reading program in schools. But with the ease of access to reading materials and the role of tablet devices in our classrooms, things are changing.

Data that we once used from the school library, as evidence of reading engagement, is now no longer accurate or relevant. The way in which students are using our learning spaces is changing and our data gathering methods need to change as well.

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Using Yammer for formative assessment of reading in Year 7 English 

Nerissa Marcon, St Helena Secondary College 

Contemporary education has shifted towards greater emphasis on targeted teaching of individual learners’ needs, and frequent, accurate, formative assessment of student data is integral to this process (Goss, Hunter, 2015). One of the challenges English teachers face is how to use and also incorporate digital software into teaching for both the enhancement of student learning and formative assessment.

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Using data as a Leader of Learning

Rebecca Fernandes, St Margaret’s School Berwick

'I get magic (sometimes I get more than I bargain for) but I don’t get numbers.' 
Dorothy Porter, Numbers, 2009

As an English teacher, I can empathise with Porter’s sentiments. I certainly don’t wish to perpetuate a stereotype about English teachers and their supposedly poor mathematical skills, but in my case, it’s not my strength nor my passion. I have often felt overwhelmed by how much data is available to me and uncertain as to how, as a Leader of Learning for English, I can most effectively use it to improve the teaching and learning within my department. I don’t think that I’m alone here.

Talking about data is not only an important conversation, but a challenging one for many of us. It is a growing area of interest (hence an issue of Idiom devoted to the topic) reflecting the recent trend in education of focussing more and more on the measureable aspects of teaching and learning and the persistent drive for improving student performance. We are all under pressure to make effective use of the data provided to us. Schools are striving to ‘value-add’ when it comes to student progress and this responsibility filters down to Learning Leaders and classroom teachers. The expectation that we use data is further emphasised in the AITSL standards of practice, which now form part of the VIT registration and performance development of teachers. 

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‘M’ and ‘R’ rated: Conversations with the ‘data’ generation

Terry Hayes, VATE Council and LIfe Member

This is essentially an argument about the potency of anecdotes as data, despite what Markus Manmheim says about ‘anecdata’ (quoted in Mary Mason’s earlier article). So I’d like to begin with some anecdotes involving children I know well and have observed over several years: Claudia (now thirteen) and Ellen (now eight).

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