This report for Australia forms part of the OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes (see Annex A for further details). The purpose of the Review is to explore how systems of evaluation and assessment can be used to improve the quality, equity and efficiency of school education. The Review looks at the various components of assessment and evaluation frameworks that countries use with the objective of improving student outcomes. These include student assessment, teacher appraisal, school evaluation and system evaluation.
Acronyms and abbreviations
In 2008 a major national agenda was established with a common framework for reform in education agreed between the Australian Government and the state and territory governments through the National Education Agreement (NEA). The clear and widely supported national education goals, articulated in the NEA and the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, provide a solid reference point on which to build evaluation and assessment strategies to achieve accountability and improvement in student learning. The Australian approach combines the development of goals, monitoring and reporting at the national level with local evaluation and assessment practices shaped by jurisdiction-level school improvement frameworks. While the key elements of evaluation and assessment are well established at student, teacher, school and system levels, challenges remain in determining what constitutes a desirable measure of national consistency as against legitimate cross-jurisdiction diversity, and in articulating the different elements of the overall evaluation and assessment framework to ensure consistency and complementarity.
School education in Australia
Australia has a federal school system with primary responsibility for school education granted to state and territory governments. Student learning outcomes in Australia are very good by international standards even if there is evidence of some decline in the last decade. In 2008 a major national agenda was established with a common framework for reform in education agreed between the Australian Government and the state and territory governments through the National Education Agreement (NEA). It developed from the National Productivity Agenda agreed by the Council of Australian Governments and is supported by the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, which articulates future directions and aspirations for Australian schooling. The main components of the national reform agenda are the development of the Australian Curriculum, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan, the National Partnerships, the National Assessment Program and the leadership of national-level entities such as the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). For the first time in Australia at the national level, the management of curriculum, assessment and reporting are brought together (through ACARA) and there is national leadership in the profession of teaching and school leadership (through AITSL). The NEA also brings an obligation to meet a common set of national school performance and reporting requirements. In this context, evaluation and assessment are key tools to monitor whether goals for quality and equity in education are being achieved.
The evaluation and assessment framework
Evaluation and assessment in Australia operates at four key levels: (i) National and systemic (state, territory or non-government system) – namely through the National Assessment Program and state- and territory-based assessments; (ii) School – a variety of forms of school evaluation typically in the context of a School Performance Improvement Framework; (iii) Teacher – through registration processes, performance management, and Advanced Skills Teaching positions; and (iv) Student – with instruments ranging from national standardised tests to ongoing daily formative assessment in the classroom. The overall evaluation and assessment framework appears as highly sophisticated and well conceptualised, especially at its top level (national and systemic levels). Particularly positive characteristics of the framework include the national educational goals as a solid reference point; the strong capability at the national level to steer evaluation and assessment; a focus on student outcomes; a coherent system of assessments for learning; a good structure to integrate accountability and improvement; and the commitment to transparency. Priorities for future policy development include establishing national strategies for strengthening the linkages to classroom practice; promoting greater national consistency while giving room for local diversity; improving the integration of the non-governmental sector in the overall framework; further developing some articulations within the overall framework and sustaining efforts to improve capacity for evaluation and assessment.
Student performance in Australia is assessed by a wide range of instruments, ranging from national standardised tests to ongoing daily formative assessment in the classroom. At the national level, both full-cohort and national sample assessments of Australian students are conducted, the results from which are used as key performance measures towards national goals. At the system level, many state and territory governments administer testing with both diagnostic and monitoring purposes. States and territories are also responsible for externally-based summative assessment, in particular in view of assessing students for secondary education certification. At the school level, student assessment plays the key role in informing schools and teachers about students’ individual achievement through teacher-based summative and formative assessments. A major asset is that a coherent framework for the assessment of student learning is in place in Australia. Other strengths include the credibility of NAPLAN results among school agents; the moderation processes and dedicated tools to support student assessment; the existence of consolidated assessment practices for secondary school qualifications; good practices of formative assessment; and the reliance on teacher-based summative assessment. Priorities for future policy development include developing national consistency while respecting state and territory assessment strengths and cultures; reinforcing the assessment validity of NAPLAN; establishing safeguards against overemphasis on NAPLAN; strengthening teachers’ capacity to assess student performance against the Australian Curriculum; building teachers’ competence to use student assessment data; maintaining the centrality of teacher-based assessment; and increasing the visibility of the Australian Government’s goals for formative assessment.
Teacher appraisal varies across states and territories but typically occurs in three specific instances: (i) To gain registration to teach within the state or territory; (ii) As part of the employer’s performance management processes; and (iii) To gain promotion positions in schools in recognition of quality teaching performance (Advanced Skills Teaching positions). Particularly positive features of teacher appraisal include the existence of teaching standards; registration processes which are consolidated; performance management processes which provide a good basis for developmental teacher appraisal; and Advanced Skills Teaching positions which grant opportunities for recognition of skills and competencies. Priorities for future policy development include aligning teaching standards with a competency-based career structure for teachers; conceiving teacher registration as career-progression evaluation; performing developmental evaluation through teacher appraisal as part of performance management processes; reinforcing linkages between teacher appraisal, professional development and school development; and strengthening competencies for teacher appraisal. These policies seek to render teacher appraisal more systematic and meaningful across the system; provide teachers with more opportunities for feedback; better address cases of underperformance; better align competencies at different stages of the career and the roles and responsibilities of teachers in schools; and improve the recognition of teachers’ work.
Australia has a variety of forms of school evaluation in place, each of which derives from the particular circumstances and traditions of the state, territory and school sector within which it has developed. There are two main forms of evaluation: school self-evaluation and school external performance review. This is represented as a sequence of activities which begins with self-evaluation and proceeds through a planning, reporting and review process which both satisfies external requirements and is an engine of school improvement. External school reviews vary widely across jurisdictions and in government schools work within a clear state or territory policy – typically a School Performance Improvement Framework – and are organised and staffed by relevant state government departments. Particularly positive features of school evaluation include the fact that accountability and transparency are well embedded as national principles guiding school evaluation, the good integration of performance data and survey results into school evaluation processes, the clear rules for school reporting, the recognition of the key role of school self-evaluation, and the existence of well-consolidated external school review processes. Priorities for future policy development include developing a set of national principles and protocols for school evaluation; strengthening the alignment between selfevaluation and external evaluation; defining the nature of externality; ensuring a broad scope for external school evaluation; ensuring a focus on the quality of teaching and learning in both internal and external school evaluation; building expertise among evaluators and improving data handling skills of school agents; and publishing externally validated school evaluation reports to complement the publication of national test data.
Education system evaluation
Monitoring progress towards educational goals is a priority both at the national and systemic levels. This is accomplished namely through the National Assessment Program and state- and territory-based assessments. The monitoring system also includes a Measurement Framework for National Key Performance Measures as well as data and surveys at the systemic level. The strategy draws considerably on public reporting of the progress and performance of Australian students and schools through instruments such as the My School website, the National Report on Schooling in Australia, COAG Reform Council Reports, Report on Government Services in addition to system-level analyses organised through independent reviews. System evaluation builds on a considerable number of strengths: there are clear standard frameworks both for reporting key performance measures and for general government sector reporting; the comparability and coverage of national data are continuously improving; there are strong procedures for system monitoring at the state and territory level; there is transparency in reporting results of national monitoring; and there is extensive use of results from the national monitoring system. Priorities for future policy development include continuing and prioritising efforts to meet information needs for national monitoring; clarifying the role of the National Assessment Program in relation to the Australian Curriculum; further exploiting results from jurisdiction and national monitoring systems for systemic school improvement; and supporting and promoting greater monitoring in the non-government sector.
Conclusions and recommendations
Student learning outcomes in Australia are very good by international standards even if there is evidence of some decline in the last decade. In 2009, achievement levels of Australian students in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were significantly above the OECD average in each of the assessment domains – reading, mathematics and science. However, trend analyses of PISA results have raised concerns about a decline in student learning outcomes – for example, Australia is among the five OECD countries for which student performance in reading declined significantly between 2000 and 2009. The variation in performance between high- and low-performing students in Australia was higher than the OECD average in reading and science, and similar to that found for the OECD as a whole in mathematics in PISA 2009. However, no statistically significant difference was observed in variation in student performance in reading between 2000 and 2009.
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