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Objective or Subjective? Can the arts be assessed? June 13, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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By Rachael Jacobs

 As with any subject area arts education must conform to curriculum policies and procedures, including those related to assessment. In subjects such as Dance, Drama, Music and Visual Arts, students’ creative work is assessed formatively and summatively through a range of assessable instruments. However, the assessment of artistic work presents unique challenges, as the processes used are highly dependent on a wide range of interrelated contributions. This leads to wide speculation that the arts cannot be assessed, as all judgements are merely subjective.

 Arts learning is multifaceted in that it connects to the human experience, engages learners in imaginative and aesthetic growth, accesses technical skills and allows for vocationally orientated experiences. It is also creative and dynamic, using assessment tasks to gauge artistic responses upon the learning trajectory. It is arguable that ongoing and regular assessments are critical components of the arts classroom. Students’ creative work is assessed formatively and summatively through a range of assessable instruments, including individual and group performances, journals and logbooks, design portfolios, director folios, script development, improvisation tasks, video production, self-reflection, theatre reviews and interviews. Performance assessments in particular can be complex because of the variations between performance sites, the requirement for ensemble or group work, the nature of the ensemble or group, the access to technical equipment and the composition and reactions of any audience that might be in attendance (Oreck et al. 2003).

But these problems can be addressed through effective assessment task design. The larger issue is the perception that the formal and widespread assessment of artistic creations can result in a stifling of individual expression, imagination, creativity and originality, while not allowing for the fresh pursuit of ideas (Hanley 2003). A wide range of responses are also plausible to a particular task. Despite these challenges, system-wide assessment in the arts is achievable and necessary to establish the credibility of the field and to provide systems for identifying student achievement within the formal school curricula.

One of the biggest challenges identified by Harris (2008) is that ‘creativity’ is not easily defined and is therefore difficult to assess. Assessment in aesthetic domains also utilises personal responses to stimuli, which can be unfamiliar to those more accustomed to assessment tasks with previously defined answers. This is where the duality of objective and subjective constructs comes into play. Haynes (2008) and Ross (1993) describe traditional assessment methods, as identified by Hyde (2013), as being focussed on objectivity, whereby assessors are expected to discard their own feelings in favour of strictly set criteria in which interpretations are not required.

A focus on objective judgments is contrary to arts education, and indeed, the broader aims of education. O’Toole et al. (2009) remind us, “Knowledge and learning are of course never objective nor value-neutral, much though ultraconservative groups and politicians might wish them to be seen as such” (p. 108). Jackson (2006) justifies the validity of creative assessment tasks, arguing that “it should be possible to separate subjective judgments of creativity from judgments of technical goodness and from judgments of aesthetic appeal” (p. 169). Tomlinson (2001) argues for a healthy balance between subjective and objective judgments in order to create informed judgments on performance assessment that provide the most ‘individually sensitive, accurate and comprehensive evidence’ (p. 15) of student learning. Misson (1996) goes so far as to identify arts education as a site for the construction of subjectivity, which he argues operates at the nexus of intelligence and emotion: “thought is charged with feeling, while feeling is refined and strengthened by thought” (p. 11). In this respect, it has long been argued that subjects such as Drama teach empathy (Holland 2009; Trinder 1977). Similarly, Bolton (1984) describes Drama as a process of ‘unselfing’, which makes subjective and alternative responses a valid part of the dramatic response.

The assessor is concurrently an arts consumer, but is more active than other audience members. The ability of the assessor to capture their thoughts on the quality of work as it occurs is vital to the integrity of the assessment process. For example, during a performance, the assessor is required to make judgments about the quality of the work and physically notate their thoughts in relation to given criteria. The assessor makes cognitive links between student choices based on the assessment criteria, balancing their judgements with their own implicit criteria, which are necessarily based on their personal experiences (Baptiste 2008). While an audience member is permitted to make purely subjective judgments, the assessor aims to make informed judgments, which may result in marks or grades being recorded. Teachers in the arts develop expertise in assessing the outcome of the aesthetic process or the manifestation of the individual aesthetic experience. The product is therefore viewed from a number of perspectives and informed judgments are made by the assessor based on set criteria and personal discretionary judgements in relation to, and the quality of, what is produced (Ross 1993).

Leach et al. (2000) argue that assessors are consciously and unconsciously biased by their own values, preferences and dispositions. In this respect, personal responses from both the assessor and the student can widen the possibilities for interpretation (Ross 1993). Rather than command that assessors discard these personal responses, it is preferable for students to be taught to use individuals’ insights to reflect upon, and if necessary, make adjustments to their performances (Soep 2005). Students do not create art solely for the purpose of being assessed; rather they engage in arts education to pursue their own artistic expression. Therefore, students should be encouraged to assess feedback and apply their own artistic decisions to their work. Both students and teacher-assessors should be aware that subjective responses are natural, as they are rooted in “culturally authorised criteria” for judgment of the level of achievement (Ross 1993, p. 164). However, the assessor’s judgement is recorded in quantifiable terms such as grades or marks; therefore, the student has a heightened awareness of the assessor’s responses in the high-stakes assessment environment.

The literature suggests that subjective judgements are endemic in the arts assessment environment and can never be divorced from the process. At the same time, the ‘healthy balance’ (Tomlinson 2001, p. 15) between subjective and objective judgments are ideally what the teacher-assessor should deliver. Subjective and objective perspectives combine to create informed judgements that broaden interpretations on the students’ art. This can be somewhat challenging to those not accustomed to assessment in affective domains, using aesthetically charged mediums. Academic work is traditionally associated with rational and quantifiable modes of thinking, therefore arts educators should take care to make their language accessible and their assessment processes transparent. Arts educators’ challenge to traditional learning and assessment paradigms is also important because it broadens the educational community’s understanding of the nature of learning. Discussing the merits of creative assessment tasks is also important as it allows for the rigour and complexities of the tasks to become visible to those outside of artistic fields.

The challenges associated with arts assessment, like the arts themselves, are heavily nuanced. Teachers and students do not engage in arts assessment to have a complete and full understanding of all its nuances. They engage in the arts to experience the joy of creative expression and artistic creation, to play ‘pretend’ in a range of roles and to build a more comprehensive understanding of the human experience through an array of lenses. There is also joy within challenge; Arts performance assessment contains areas of ambiguity and subtleties that lack definitive answers. The subtleties add to the richness of the field, challenging educators to engage in meaningful discussions in order to find ways to enhance fairness and equity amid the ambiguity.


Baptiste, L. (2007). Managing subjectivity in arts assessments. In: L. Quamina-Aiyejina, ed., Reconceptualising the Agenda for Education in the Caribbean, 1st ed. [online] St. Augustine: School of Education, UWI., pp.503-509. Available at: http://uwispace.sta.uwi.edu/dspace/bitstream/ handle/2139/6714/Cross-Campus%20Conference%20Proceedings%202007. pdf?sequence=1. [Accessed 17 Jul. 2012].

Bolton, G. (1984). Drama as education. Harlow, England: Longman.

Hanley, B. (2003). Policy issues in arts assessment in Canada: “Let’s get real”. Arts Education Policy Review, 105(1), pp.33-38.

Harris, J. (2008). Developing a language for assessing creativity: A taxonomy to support student learning and assessment. Investigations in University Teaching and Learning, 5(1), pp.http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/ fms/MRSite/psd/hr/capd/investigations/vol5/INV%205_013%20-%20Harris.pdf.

Haynes, F. (2008). What counts as a competency in the arts?. In: Australian Association for Research in Education Conference. [online] Brisbane. Available at: http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/1993/haynf93103.pdf [Accessed 29 Mar. 2016].

Holland, C. (2009). Reading and acting in the world: conversations about empathy. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 14(4), pp.529-544.

Hyde, D. (2013). What makes a good secondary assessment? On achieving the aims of assessment. Journal of Education and Practice, 4(13), pp.188-197.

Jackson, N. (2006). Developing creativity in higher education. London: Routledge.

Leach, L., Neutze, G. and Zepke, N. (2015). Learners’ perceptions of assessment: Tensions between philosophy and practice. Studies in the Education of Adults, 32(1), pp.107-119.

Misson, R. (1996). Dangerous lessons: sexuality issues in the drama classroom. NADIE Journal, 20, pp.11-21.

Oreck, B., Baum, S. and Owen, S. (2004). Assessment of potential theater arts talent in young people: The Development of a New Research-Based Assessment Process. Youth Theatre Journal, 18(1), pp.146-163.

O’Toole, J., Stinson, M. and Moore, T. (2009). Drama and curriculum. Dordrecht: Springer.

Ross, M. (1993). Assessing achievement in the arts. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Soep, E. (2005). Critique: Where art meets assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(1), pp.38-63.

Tomlinson, C. (2001). Grading for success. Educational Leadership, 58(6), pp.12-15.

Trinder, J. (1977). Drama and social development. NADIE Journal, June, pp.33-43.


Dr Rachael Jacobs is a lecturer in arts education in the School of Education at Western Sydney University.  She is a former secondary teacher (Dance, Drama and Music) and primary Arts specialist.




Are we stifling creativity at the start of the teaching-learning process? December 1, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Mary Southall

With an ever increasing focus upon the need to develop graduates with high level creative, risk-taking, and entrepreneurial skills, it is more important than ever to explore our approaches to the teaching-learning process. Graduate teachers need to be able to design, plan and deliver exciting, engaging and innovative learning opportunities. This article argues that the approach to planning, whether formal or informal, needs to be considered in relation to developing creative learning activities and creative learning environments. We need to start questioning the processes we use to plan the types of learning environments and activities that encourage the development of creativity. This article explores different approaches to planning and asks, ‘are we using the most effective approaches to planning to ensure creative skills are developed?’

Rationalistic, technical curriculum planning has been the dominant model underpinning planning for teaching and learning for a generation or more in England and Wales (Parkay and Hass, 2000) and involves the use of a linear approach to planning, which begins with the specification of objectives and ends with a lesson evaluation. This dominant or ‘rational’ approach to planning is based on Tyler’s (1949) model of curriculum theory and practice, comprising a systematic approach based upon the formulation of behavioural objectives. This approach provides a clear notion of outcome, so that content and method may be organised and the results evaluated. It considers education to be a technical exercise of organising the outcomes or products of learning, whereby objectives are set, a plan drawn up and applied and the outcomes (products) measured. Snape (2013) provides an example of what he defines as ‘quality learning’ through such a technical, sequenced linear pathway, including: the intended learning; teaching episodes; opportunities for tangibly evidenced student work; and criteria for successful achievement.

Several alternative and adapted planning approaches are present in the current literature, which are particularly pertinent to when requiring a more creative, risk-taking approach to teaching and learning, for example in Technology education. The ‘naturalistic’ or ‘organic’ model, based on the work of Stenhouse (1975) and Egan (1992; 1997), was developed from the apparent conflict between the need to carefully specify learning intentions and the dynamic nature of classrooms, and was an attempt to emulate a realistic planning process based on the ‘natural’ interactions in a classroom. Naturalistic planning involves starting with activities and the ideas that flow from them before assigning learning objectives (John, 2006). Although lacking detail in terms of pedagogical requirements and consideration, this model does resonate with Perkins, Tishman, Ritchart, Donis and Andrade’s (2000) notion of ‘learning in the wild’, when learning settings are recognized as ‘messy and complex’ (Carr, 2008: 36). Perkins and Saloman (1992) argue for the need for learners to experience more ‘natural’ learning environments, with teachers’ planning procedures supporting this notion.

Within a creative or problem-solving learning space – for example, in a Technology education context – ‘wicked problems or tasks’ (Rittel and Webber, 1973) can be set. These are described as ‘problems of deciding what is better when the situation is ambiguous at best’ (Marback, 2009: 399), and support the ‘naturalistic’ model, as wicked problems are not solvable. These problems are contingent problems of deciding what to do. They require continual evolution and, as such, are based upon the continual morphing of ideas and idea development, through a problem- solving process (Kimbell, Saxton and Miller, 2000). Such a ‘naturalistic’ model requires teachers to plan and create realistic design scenarios in order for students to learn the authentic nature of design activity, thus allowing students to experience environments where experimentation and exploration are dominant approaches.

The ‘interactional method’ of planning, another alternative to the dominant model, stresses the interactive nature of learning and, therefore, learning objectives (Brady, 1995; Bell and Lofoe,1998). Whilst the ‘interaction’ model specifies the same design elements as the linear objectives model, the ‘interactional method’ planning process can begin with any of the elements. Based on this model, all curriculum elements interact with each other throughout the design/planning process and, therefore, the design of one element will influence and possibly change the design decisions for other elements. For example, method might be specified first, but altered later as a result of an assessment decision. From a practical perspective, this model makes it possible to specify learning objectives after all other elements have been decided (Bell and Lefoe, 1998).

The ‘articulated curriculum’ (Hussey and Smith, 2003: 360) provides a similar approach to the ‘interactional model’, where the respective elements exist in a state of mutual interaction and influence. Alexander (2000) compares this ‘articulated curriculum’ approach to planning to the structure of a musical performance, where the composition is analogous to the lesson plan, and the performance shifts according to interpretation and improvisation. This ‘responsive’ approach to planning requires the teacher to be vigilant of the learning progression within the class and respond accordingly, and is synonymous with the formative assessment principles of ‘feedback’ (Ramaprasad, 1983). Biggs’s (1999) notion of constructive alignment also supports this way of approaching planning for teaching and learning.

To allow students to develop creative, risk-taking, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, we as educators need to provide authentic opportunities for students to develop such skills. By using different approaches to planning, teaching and learning, a greater range of ideas are produced and consequently new and innovative teaching and learning environments are potentially developed. Arguably by generating a creative input into the initial stages of the teaching-learning process, we are more likely to not only produce a creative output, but maintain creativity and innovation throughout the process. I believe it is important for pre-service teachers to have the opportunity to explore different approaches to planning, to develop their own approaches and styles, and to identify planning approaches that support the nature of the subject being taught.



Alexander, R. (2000). Culture and Pedagogy. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Bell, M., and Lofoe, G. (1998). Curriculum Design for Flexible Delivery- Massaging the Model.  In R. Corderoy (ed), Flexibility: The Next Wave. Wollongong, Australia: Australian Society for Computers in Tertiary Education.

Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press.

Brady, L. (1995). Curriculum Development. Australia: Prentice Hall.

Carr, M. (2008). Can assessment unlock and open the doors to resourcefulness and agency? In S. Swaffield (ed.), Unlocking Assessment, 36-54, Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Egan, K. (1992). Imagination in Teaching and Learning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Egan, K. (1997). The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago.

John, P. (2006). Lesson planning and the student teacher: re-thinking the dominant model. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 38 (4), 483-498.

Hussey, T., and Smith, P. (2003). The Uses of Learning Outcomes.  Teaching in Higher Education, 8 (3), 357-368.

Kimbell, R., Saxton, J., and Miller, S. (2000).  Distinctive Skills and Implicit Practices. In J. Eggleston (ed.), Teaching and Learning Design and Technology, 116-133. UK: Continuum.

Marback, R. (2009). Embracing Wicked Problems: The Turn to Design in Composition Studies.  National Council of Teachers of English, 61 (2).

Parkay, F. W., and Hass, G. (2000). Curriculum Planning. (7th, Ed.) Needham Heights, MA, USA: Allyn and Bacon.

Perkins, D. N., and Salomon, G. (1992).  Transfer of learning.  International Encyclopedia of Education, Second Edition. Oxford, UK. Pergamon Press.  [online]. Available at: http://www.cdtl.nus.edu.sg/Ideas/iot18.htm [Accessed on 31 March, 2013]

Perkins, D., Tishman, S., Ritchart, R., Donis, K., and Andrade, A. (2000). ‘Intelligence in the wild: a dispositional view of intellectual traits’. Educational Psychology Review, 12 (3), 269-93.

Ramaprasad, A. (1983). On the definition of feedback. Behavioural Science, 28, 4-13.

Rittel, H. J., and Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in General Theory of Planning.  Policy Sciences, 4, 155-169.

Snape, P. (2013). Quality Learning for Technology Education: An Effective Approach to Target Achievement and Deeper Learning. PATT conference, 137-145. Canterbury: University of Canterbury.

Stenhouse, L. (1975). An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development. London: Heinemann.

Tyler, R. (1949). “How Can Learning Experiences be Organised for Effective Instructon?” Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press.


Dr Mary Southall is currently the Curriculum Advisor for the School of Education, having worked in the UK as an independent education consultant for over ten years.  Prior to this, she worked as a design and technology teacher in a range of school contexts and was involved in the development of the National Strategies embedded in all secondary schools in England and Wales.

What can education do in response to fear of strangers? July 19, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Carol Reid

Today we hear growing anti-Islamic slogans related to dress practices, religion and citizenship. Saying it is wrong to do this is only part of the struggle to resist this simple rhetoric. Examining why it is wrong might be marginally better, but where that leads us is often into a tricky path of us/them and a focus on difference. Better still might be a focus on the values of a civil, cosmopolitan society that we want to sustain.

While we have been a successful multicultural society this is often understood in demographic terms, in simple numbers. For others it means celebrating different ways of being – food, lifestyle, customs, dances, languages and so on. In education in particular, the approach has often failed to respond adequately to a fear of strangers. The approach has been called liberal plural multiculturalism, a celebration of difference, which is much better than assimilation but isn’t helping us deal with the global reach of ideas, instant communication of terror and increasing mobilities of people.

I argue, as do others in Europe, Canada and elsewhere who are thinking about new ways to live in this globalising world, that we need more than a return to the old model of multiculturalism. We need what has been called an ‘agonistic’ approach or cosmopolitan thinking (Todd, 2010), the idea that to deal with difference at a deeper level might mean that we don’t end up with consensus. We see this anyway in our election result, in the politics around Brexit in the UK and Trump in the USA. It is the way of the world, this expression of difference. But how do we live with it?

The model of multiculturalism we have built our success on was about one-way integration, helping people to integrate, recognising their unique languages and cultures while committing to the nation. In practice the mainstream culture did change, and has become what has been called everyday multiculturalism, but just under the surface there are cracks.

Our nation, Australia, like many other nations, is now more open, whether we like it or not, and thus the call for a return to closed borders, a singular national identity on the part of citizens, and backward-looking protectionism is not achievable. Just listen to the fallout of Brexit. Teachers know that young people in our classrooms come and go (Reid and Watson, 2016). They return to countries where relatives still live, and they come back. Connections are global. For Aboriginal students this has always been the case so in many ways they are our first cosmopolitans, transforming their lives through trade and mobility (Forte, 2010). They have done so through what has been called ‘cultural translation’ – comprehending, connecting and evaluating to create new ways of living (Papastergiadis, 2011).

What to do in schools then? The first step is to offer no recipes, no prescriptions about practice that remove the judgement of teachers in often complex situations. This also means that applying universal principles of what constitutes human rights might not be a simple thing to do. Applying and following rules without thinking leads to problems. Hannah Arendt has argued it was one explanation for the rise of fascism in Germany (Arendt, 1994 cited in Todd, 2010). Human rights, for example, can be about listening to all the explanations about why cultural practices are valued while accepting that some will be shared and others not. Appiah has called this being ‘partial cosmopolitans’ (2007).  The point is that we cannot really know our students through a set of cultural attributes that are static because the practice of living is a dynamic process that teachers engage in every second of the day. This cannot be prescribed in professional knowledge lists as a set of competencies to be measured. It is practiced through the development of reflexivity; the idea that all our viewpoints are culturally conditioned, yet keeping an eye on inequality.

A call to a set of rules about how to live, such as those currently being trumpeted across the globe, are a reflection of where we are today. It is a wakeup call for those of us involved in teacher education to engage with how teachers’ judgement is being taken away with increasing lists of competencies. Facing the complexities of the world we live in will require more than rules. It will require a cosmopolitan disposition and thinking.



Appiah, A. (2007). Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers. New York London W. W. Norton.

Arendt, H. (1994) Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York. Harcourt.

Forte, M. C. (Ed.). (2010). Indigenous Cosmopolitans: Transnational and Transcultural Indigeneity in the Twenty-First Century (First ed.). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Papastergiadis, N. (2011). Cultural translation and cosmopolitanism. In K. Jacobs & J. Malpas (Eds.), Ocean to outback: cosmopolitanism in contemporary Australia (pp. 68-95). Crawley, W.A.: UWA Pub.

Reid, C. & Watson, K.  (2016).  Compulsory schooling in Australia : perspectives from students, parents, and educators.  Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, NY:  Palgrave Macmillan.

Todd, S. (2010). Living in a Dissonant World: Toward an Agonistic Cosmopolitics for Education. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 29(2), 213-228.

Professor Carol Reid is a member of the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia, and a senior researcher in the university’s Centre for Educational Research.


Primary Mathematics: Engaged Teachers = Engaged Students June 29, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Primary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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by Catherine Attard

“The first job of a teacher is to make the student fall in love with the subject. That doesn’t have to be done by waving your arms and prancing around the classroom; there’s all sorts of ways to go at it, but no matter what, you are a symbol of the subject in the students’ minds” (Teller, 2016).

A few months ago I published a post about the issue of teacher engagement and mathematics. The following is an updated version of that post. The issue of student engagement with mathematics is a constant topic of discussion and concern within and beyond the classroom and the school, yet how much attention is given to the engagement of teachers? I am a firm believer that one of the foundational requirements for engaging our students with mathematics is a teacher who is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, confident, and passionate about mathematics teaching and learning – that is, a teacher who is engaged with mathematics. Research has proven that the biggest influence on student engagement with mathematics is the teacher, and the pedagogical relationships and practices that are developed and implemented in day to day teaching (Attard, 2013).

A regular challenge for me as a pre-service and in-service teacher educator is to re-engage teachers who have ‘switched off’ mathematics, or worse still, never had a passion for teaching mathematics to begin with. Now, more than ever, we need teachers who are highly competent in teaching primary mathematics and numeracy. The release of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TMAG) (2014) report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, included a recommendation that pre-service primary teachers graduate with a subject specialisation prioritising science, mathematics, or a language (Recommendation 18). In the government’s response (Australian Government: Department of Education and Training, 2015), they agree “greater emphasis must be given to core subjects of literacy and numeracy” and will be instructing AITSL to “require universities to make sure that every new primary teacher graduates with a subject specialisation” (p.8). While this is very welcome news, we need to keep in mind that we have a substantial existing teaching workforce, many of whom should consider becoming subject specialists. It is now time for providers of professional development, including tertiary institutions, to provide more opportunities for all teachers, regardless of experience, to improve their knowledge and skills in mathematics teaching and learning, and re-engage with the subject.

So what professional learning can practicing teachers access in order to become ‘specialists’, and what models of professional learning/development are the most effective? Literature on professional learning (PL) describes two common models: the traditional type of activities that involve workshops, seminars and conferences, and reform type activities that incorporate study groups, networking, mentoring and meetings that occur in-situ during the process of classroom instruction or planning time (Lee, 2007). Although it is suggested that the reform types of PL are more likely to make connections to classroom teaching and may be easier to sustain over time, Lee (2007) argues there is a place for traditional PL or a combination of both, which may work well for teachers at various stages in their careers. An integrated approach to PD is supported by the NSW Institute of Teachers (2012).

Many teachers I meet are considering further study but lack the confidence to attempt a Masters degree or PhD. I am currently teaching a new, cutting edge on-line course at Western Sydney University, the Graduate Certificate of Primary Mathematics Education, aimed at producing specialist primary mathematics educators – a graduate certificate is definitely less intimidating than a Masters, and can be used as credit towards a higher degree. The fully online course is available to pre-service and in-service teachers. Graduates of the course develop deep mathematics pedagogical content knowledge, a strong understanding of the importance of research-based enquiry to inform teaching and skills in mentoring and coaching other teachers of mathematics.

In addition to continuing formal studies, I would encourage teachers to join a professional association. In New South Wales, the Mathematical Association of NSW (MANSW) (http://www.mansw.nsw.edu.au) provides many opportunities for the more traditional types of professional learning, casual TeachMeets, as well as networking through the many conferences offered. An additional source of PL provided by professional associations are their journals, which usually offer high quality, research-based teaching ideas. The national association, Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT) has a free, high quality resource, Top Drawer Teachers (http://topdrawer.aamt.edu.au), that all teachers have access to, regardless of whether you are a member of the organisation or not. Many more informal avenues for professional learning are also available through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as blogs such as this (engagingmaths.co).

Given that teachers have so much influence on the engagement of students, it makes sense to assume that when teachers themselves are disengaged and lack confidence or the appropriate pedagogical content knowledge for teaching mathematics, the likelihood of students becoming and remaining engaged is significantly decreased, in turn effecting academic achievement. The opportunities that are now emerging for pre-service and in-service teachers to increase their skills and become specialist mathematics teachers is an important and timely development in teacher education and will hopefully result in improved student engagement and academic achievement.


Attard, C. (2013). “If I had to pick any subject, it wouldn’t be maths”: Foundations for engagement with mathematics during the middle years. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 25(4), 569-587.

Australian Government: Department of Education and Training (2015). Teacher education ministerial advisory group. Action now: Classroom ready teachers. Australian Government Response.

Lee, H. (2007). Developing an effective professional development model to enhance teachers’ conceptual understanding and pedagogical strategies in mathematics. Journal of Educational Thought, 41(2), 125.

NSW Institute of Teachers. (2012). Continuing professional development policy – supporting the maintenance of accreditation at proficient teacher/professional competence. . Retrieved from file:///Users/Downloads/Continuing%20Professional%20Development%20Policy.pdf.

Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (2014). Action now: Classroom ready Teachers.

Teller. (2016) Teaching: Just like performing magic. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/what-classrooms-can-learn-from-magic/425100/?utm_source=SFTwitter


Dr Catherine Attard is an Associate Professor in the School of Education and a senior researcher in the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University, Australia. This article was first published in May 2016 by Catherine on her own blog site, Engaging Maths.

NAPLAN is only one measure of achievement May 16, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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by Katina Zammit

Recently I finished reading a publication from the Grattan Institute entitled Widening gaps: What NAPLAN tells us about student progress (Goss & Chisolm, 2016) and was reminded of the limitations of this Australian-wide test for students in years 3, 5, 7, & 9.

The main purpose of the publication was really to advocate for a new way of analyzing the data to show what they consider a better means of measuring student achievement, i.e. years of progress. It reports that high achieving and low achieving students are not improving their results. Despite this, their starting point in this report for considering a change is still based on certain assumptions about NAPLAN.

Now that NAPLAN testing has concluded for 2016, it is worth examining the assumptions about NAPLAN that pervade this document, as well as the general public and media discourse around NAPLAN. Included in these assumptions are that:

  • NAPLAN tests actually are a good indicator of overall achievement and success at school, in learning and seeing education as a positive. [But that is not conclusive.]
  • the NAPLAN test results are a good predictor of a student achieving or not achieving their potential. [Again not conclusive for all students across the range of abilities]
  • the same or similar test environment occurs across the years and the same or very similar items are included across the years in the tests have been administered.
  • data and results from the test should be used as a major input upon which to base educational decisions by policy makers.

I think it is timely to draw attention to the limitations of NAPLAN and to remind parents, and students, that it provides information about a child’s achievement based on that one day, at that time, completed under stressful test conditions.

NAPLAN does not take account of the development of students’ interests in learning, their passions, or engagement in learning. NAPLAN outcomes should be considered in the context of all the other measures teachers use to assess student achievement of learning outcomes, especially in the other key learning areas of Creative Arts, Health and Physical Education and so on. NAPLAN does not take into account the other value-added dispositions and community involvement provided by schools that are not measurable in a test. Interventions and pedagogical changes in classrooms at a school take time to demonstrate results, and again, many of these may not be measurable by the NAPLAN test.

Data from NAPLAN is still limited, no matter what approach to data analysis and reporting is undertaken – whether data are compared against benchmarks or measured by years of a student’s progress. It is not the results and reporting that is questionable, it is the basis upon which these data are used for system evaluation of schools, a school’s progress, and to drive policy.

Perhaps governments need to look at employment policies and other support mechanisms, not just school education, for students from low socio-economic backgrounds living in poverty. A multi-pronged approach is needed to improve the outcomes for students to break the cycle of inter-generational disadvantage.


Goss, P., and Chisholm, C., 2016, Widening gaps: what NAPLAN tells us about student progress. Technical Report, Grattan Institute.


Dr Katina Zammit is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. She is Director of the Master of Teaching (Primary) teacher education program at the university.

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