Westgarth Primary School's assessment overhaul

Westgarth Primary School has developed a streamlined approach to assessment across all year levels, a change welcomed by teachers and parents alike.

When Principal Jo-Ann Wheeler and Assistant Principal Donald Eddington commenced at Northcote's Westgarth Primary School in 2015, they noticed a few inconsistencies in assessment procedures.

'When we talk about assessment, we talk about fair, accurate and on-balance judgements,' explains Donald.

'And that fairness means that if I am in Year 3 and operating at, say, Level 6.5, you do not mark me as a 3 because you are worried about next year's teacher. That's not fair or accurate.'

'As a teacher, it's about knowing what I need to do in terms of my planning of teaching and learning to meet that specific point of need.'

With this in mind, and after extensive consultation with parents and teachers, Jo-Ann says the leadership team set in motion a process to change the school's approach to assessment.

'The process that we undertook with the assessment maps basically outlined a whole school ethos about how we make judgments, about student progress and achievement, and how we work as a team.'

Donald says the resulting new precision assessment model was largely teacher-led, and is a system that educators at the school are proud of and happy to use.

Observed assessment inconsistencies

The initial issues with assessment procedures observed by Jo-Ann and Donald included:

  • a documented high proportion of high-achieving, low growth students
  • discrepancies between NAPLAN results and teacher judgements in English and mathematics
  • some teachers being overly conservative in their judgements in the belief that it would motivate students to higher levels of performance.

Jo-Ann and Donald also noticed that teacher judgements seemed to be influenced by standardised tests such as PROBE, TORCH and CARS as well as non-standardised tests such as Essential assessment for mathematics.

In addition, school-generated assessments were not sufficiently tied to the curriculum achievement standards, being too reliant on the curriculum content descriptions.

Teachers and parents on board for a successful new system

Both teachers and parents supported the leadership team's commitment to improve assessment procedures.

The end result is an assessment portal featuring a series of plain language statements and rich assessment maps that are easy to navigate and incorporate into reports.

Teachers appreciate the clear way the new assessment portal helps them to unpack the curriculum achievement standards.

This is a key feature of the school's new model, as teachers had said that they wanted less repetition in report writing and assessment, believing this approach led to extra work and the use of unnecessary jargon.

Parent focus groups echoed this thought, and said they wanted clearer, more succinct  information about where their child was at in their learning. They also wanted reassurance that the teacher knows their child, as both a learner and a person.

'The power of the plain language statements is in the translation – in contextualising it. Teachers understand what the statements mean and now they have increased confidence to make judgements against the achievement standards for reporting purposes, both above and below the expected level,' Donald says.'The portal acts as a continuum and feels like a continuum, something that you can navigate.'

Teachers say the new system helps them ensure reports are tied to the assessment standards. The plain language statements help assess students in real time and they feel they are now truly engaging with the curriculum.

Working towards precision assessment in your own school

If your school is exploring ways to review your assessment practices to make them more precise, you can explore Westgarth Primary School's approach in greater detail and see if you can take some of the same actions as they too below, including:

  • critically engaging with and unpacking the Victorian Curriculum achievement standards
  • translating each achievement standard into plain language and making them accessible
  • developing rich assessment maps that illustrate the plain language statements and make them accessible
  • strengthening objectivity in judgements through quality moderation practices
  • planning for and continuously assessing learning along a continuum
  • building the assessment-capability of students.