Reflecting on and refining assessment tasks

It's important educators understand where students are in their learning, and there are lots of ways to monitor this progress that can inform meaningful feedback and next steps.

One example is an end of semester or end of unit assignment or portfolio task developed by the subject or classroom teacher. If you've designed one of these tasks, think about the process you undertook. Did the task hit the mark, in terms of quality and differentiation?

At Canberra College, in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), staff use an evidence-informed framework to reflect on and improve the quality of their set assessment tasks.

Deputy Principal Peter Clayden says it was introduced following a simple request to executive staff from a 'grassroots level' of teachers: ‘Help us make our tasks better'.

‘When you unpack the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, it basically tells you to do better,' Clayden tells Teacher. ‘But in terms of providing a framework in which to help you improve the quality of the task, it doesn't do that, and it tells you it's not going to do that - it says you need a pedagogical framework to work from.

‘We [three schools] went out looking and found the Quality Teaching model (developed by Professor Jenny Gore and colleagues at the University of Newcastle). Then the ACT, at a very similar time, engaged Jenny Gore to create the Quality Teaching model for ACT schools. All the ducks aligned for us, if you like.'

The model covers elements such as deep understanding, explicit quality criteria, high expectations and higher order thinking. At Canberra College, Clayden says the QT framework for improving the quality of assessment tasks operates very much like QT Rounds for classroom observation.

‘Using the QT model and, in particular, looking at the higher order thinking and explicit quality criteria, requires you to think about how much higher order thinking you've asked students to do in the task, how you've valued it and how you've transmitted that knowledge to students.'

Teachers prepare their task and give it to a professional learning community, generally made up of three or four people. Members of the community, and the teacher, code the task, scoring the elements on a scale of 1 to 5. '... It's a snapshot of that particular task at that particular time,' Clayden says. 'We then sit down and have a professional conversation, and the coding prompts that.'

Summative comments and recommendations are fed back to the teacher so they can reflect on and, if needed, refine the task. ‘It's up to the teacher to go away with their head of faculty and go “Okay, how am I going to review this?”, “Do I want to incorporate the changes these people have recommended, or was it actually set in the process that I wanted it to be?” He says 99 times out of 100 the process results in a ‘slight tweaking' of the task.

He adds the model is improving the clarity of tasks for students. 'I'm a science teacher, and I'm best when I'm reviewing a task that isn't science, because I have so much pre-conceived knowledge ... I know what the teacher's trying to write and I don't realise what's implied.

'I was reviewing a drama task two days ago and I picked out so many things that were implied, [that] the teacher thought they'd said but they hadn't - because ... I'm able to work like a 'D grade' student and say "what do you mean?", "I don't understand".

Tasks from every KLA within the senior college are being reviewed using the process, which is part of a wider staff development program informed by the research of Gore and colleagues.

'It's not every task every year, because that's just too monumental a task - but it's every teacher reviewing a task and also having QT rounds of their classroom and being observed using the Quality Teaching Framework.'

Peter Clayden was one of the presenters at the 2015 EPPC (Excellence in Professional Practice Conference). EPPC 2016 will be held in Melbourne on 19-20 May. The theme is Collaboration for school improvement.

Think about the last time you designed an end-of term assessment task. What process did you go through? Did the task hit the mark, in terms of quality and differentiation?