George Lucas Educational Foundation

Personalised Learning vs Standardised Assessment

Personalised Learning vs Standardised Assessment

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We so often hear about the benefits of personalised learning. We are told by our respective Departments of Education to respect students and teach them where they are up to. We are told to be mindful of each child's stage of development and champion the cause of natural and contextualised learning. As a teacher of children aged 5 - 8 I wholeheartedly support this style of teaching and learning and find joy in seeing children comfortable and engaged in their everyday learning environment. I celebrate the small victories that come together to create larger achievements and these moments touch my heart even more considering that the children I teach are typically at least 3 years behind their mainstream counterparts. Remote Indigenous students in Australia are indeed a group left behind. For my students English is only spoken at school. Literacy and numeracy are generally not experienced outside the classroom and for many just getting to school each day is an exercise in extraordinary resilience.

For most of the semester, we happily go along working with students at their own pace and in ways that connect with their preferred method of learning. We excitedly share examples of independently written sentences or number recognition in 7 year olds and rightly so. Our work has its challenges but is also greatly rewarding. The glow is, however, diminished when it comes time to write reports. We are approaching this time of year with heavy hearts knowing that regardless of our students progress and achievement we must fail each and every one of them. The 8 year old who only one year ago knew not a single letter sound or sight word, but now writes independently and legibly will be given an E. The best reader in the school will also be given an E.

There is a great inequity in judging our Remote students based on the 'expected achievement' of English speaking, middle and upper class students who live in the city. There is great inequity in comparing our students to children from prestigious private schools and being required to deem them failures. Of course, some kind of benchmarking is required to ensure consistency across our education system, but surely common sense should prevail in these matters.

So, I approach our formal assessment and report writing time as I would the removal of a stubborn Band-Aid. Quickly, and knowing that it will soon be over so that I can continue to personalise learning for my students and wait for our Department of Education to wake up and realise that personalised assessment should be developed to catch up with the gains that personalised learning have helped our children to make.

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Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Jocelyn, thank you so much for sharing your story. We value diverse perspectives at Edutopia and yours is one we don't see very often.

Can I ask--how does the grading impact the children? Do they recognize that they're learning and keep pressing on, or does it set them back and you have to fight through the self-esteem issues?

I apologize if this is naive question, but I'm genuinely curious.

Jocelyn Seamer's picture
Jocelyn Seamer
Transition to Year 2 teacher in remote Northern Territory Indigenous School

Hi Samer,

I am more than happy to share my experience and answer questions! In terms of Assessment and Reporting, the Federal government mandated A-E report is generated by us and placed in the students' 'Evidence of Learning' folder. We have made the decision in our school to not distribute this to parents unless they specifically request it. Instead, we produce a 2nd report all about what the students CAN do. We develop a Personal Learning Plan outlining their progress and we work with the students to develop goals for the future. This report has input from the students about their likes and personal achievements as well as academic monitoring. There would be those who say that we are being condescending to the parents, but felt that in the broader scheme of things it was of no benefit to anyone to send home a report that reinforced the hopeless position of the Remote Indigenous Australians. The system in the Northern Territory used to allow us assess against what we had taught, rather than a national benchmark, but the Federal Government regulated assessment and reporting last year.

You are right about the self-esteem issues though. The students in my class (5y/o=8y/o) aren't aware that they are behind their mainstream counterparts. They are just excited to be learning. This is, however not the case for older students who know on some level that they are being expected to do work that they are not skilled enough to complete. Before our current Principal and 3 classroom teachers there were 27 teachers through our school in 3 years. The issues of educational lag are partly attributed to home factors (substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty etc), partly due to the ESL nature of our students and (I believe) in larger part due to poor quality teaching and teacher turnover. It is an excuse to say that our children cannot learn because of their home lives and their background as non-English speakers and one that I reject.

The good news for us is that the expectations of achievement are so low from the system as a whole that we can truly teach the students at their level, without too much pressure to be demanding age appropriate work. I really feel for kids who go from Community to the city in mainstream classes.

I apologise that my answer is really long, but it's a complicated issue. I just hold on to my deeply held belief that ALL children can learn. We just need to find out what they need and give it to them!

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Jocelyn, you certainly have my respect. The situation you, your colleagues, and your students are in is a challenging one. Thank you again for sharing.

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