• iceberg
  • boy with flowers
  • checking water quality
  • planet eclipse
  • solarsystem model
  • rangitoto trees
  • kids with test tubes
  • kids with earth
  • snowy mountains
  • teens in physics class
  • Rainbow Clouds

    Refraction and diffraction of light through ice crystals in the clouds

  • Philippa On The Ice

    Philippa On The Ice Philippa Werry at an Antarctic research camp 2016

New Zealand Science Teacher


Does ERO expect science achievement to be reported by curriculum levels?

This question was asked by a secondary teacher during the workshop on how teachers assess and report on students’ progress in science – and specifically how they report against curriculum levels. The workshop was led by Mike Stone and Michal Denny and took place at SCICON in the July school break.

By Rosemary Hipkins, NZCER

A range of views were expressed but it would be fair to say the question raised a lot of uncertainty. I undertook to find out what I could.  My comments that follow are based on ERO’s published indicators for their school visits.

Screen Shot 2016 08 11 at 2.51.05 PMLooking over this document as a whole, the indicators send a clear message that ERO reviewers are looking for assessment and reporting practice that shows them that the teacher is aware of each student’s achievement and where their next learning challenges might be. In other words, the emphasis is assessment for learning, not summative assessment, as summed up the following expectation: “Effective assessment for learning develops students’ assessment and learning to learn capabilities” (p.37).

This is very high level so it’s useful to look at the indicative examples of what they might look. These sit alongside the indicator on the same page. For example “effective assessment” is elaborated as being “authentic and fit for purpose, providing relevant and meaningful evidence to evaluate the students’ achievement and progress and to develop next steps”.

Going back to the overarching question that sparked this note, the logical next question is: does reporting against New Zealand curriculum (NZC) levels provide “relevant and meaningful evidence” for students to think about and work on next learning steps?  I have my doubts, for several reasons. The NZC levels are broad and most students will stay within a level for some time – several years at the lower NZC levels. If we just went on this type of data they might appear to be making no progress at all! The measure on its own simply isn’t fine-grained enough to provide learning-to-learn information.    

For another thing, how is the relationship between achievement in a specific unit of work/topic and a specific NZC level to be established? For science, we don’t have assessment tools linked to curriculum levels like those for English and mathematics (asTTle, PATs). Science Thinking with Evidence can be used to show progress in a specific type of capability (at least in years 7-10) but it is not specifically linked to NZC levels.

Another example alongside this same ERO review indicator says that the data gathered will also be used for “effective, reciprocal communication with parents, family, whanau so that they can also contribute to the students’ learning journey”.

If all the information that parents and whānau get (at least via formal reporting) is a series of numbers that link the various course topics to NZC levels (presumably mainly or always the same level unless a student’s achievement is very variable), what sense could they make of that? The best they might be able to surmise is that their child is ‘on track’ – or not. What basis is that for a reciprocal conversation? And should parents seek such a conversation, how would you defend the process by which you arrived at the number(s)? Imagine how that conversation might play out with a data literate adult with a strong interest in what making progress in science actually means. It could happen – it might happen with an ERO reviewer, if this indicator is high on their priority list (they can’t focus on everything).

That’s all very well, I hear some of you say – we still have to do it because our BOT has to have that data. ERO will be asking them for it. Again, let’s look at what they actually expect. The relevant BOT indicator says: “The board of trustees scrutinises the work of the school in achieving valued student outcomes” (p. 21). You can check the detail for yourself but here too the challenge is to show how the outcomes you are reporting are meaningful and valued – which means all the caveats I have already outlined still apply.

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