The Role and Purpose of Standards in the Context of National Curriculum and Assessment Reform for Accountability

The Role and Purpose of Standards in the Context of National Curriculum and Assessment Reform for Accountability

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The Role and Purpose of Standards in the Context of National Curriculum and Assessment Reform for Accountability

There is an already strong and growing policy and public interest push at both national and international levels for public institutions, including corporations, hospitals, government agencies and schools, to be held accountable. In the case of education policy, this has led to heightened interest and considerable investment in implementing external accountability systems, tied in many cases to large-scale standardised testing and public reporting. As evident in several countries, including the UK and USA, the education reform moves associated with consistent curriculum (irrespective of whether at state or national levels), standardised testing and reporting for public accountability purposes has reinforced the oft-reported tension between information to improve teaching and learning, and information to inform the public of education quality. As Shavelson, Black, Wiliam, and Coffey warn,While polls show widespread support for the noble democratic concept of accountability, accountability can and does fall short in practice. When the stakes are high, as they are now in education accountability systems, and when the interpretations of large-scale assessment scores with ambiguous or narrow meaning are treated in league tables and funding decisions as unambiguous, and when single scores are generalised beyond justification as true characterisations of individuals and systems, the potential for mischief is enormous. (2004, p. 35)Our interest in this paper is not to fuel the tension around the longstanding distinction between assessment for improvement and assessment for measurement. Instead, it is to consider how interpretations of assessment scores, as referred to above, highlight the need to understand both the nature and purposes of standards. Of particular interest is the ‘,fit’, between how standards are formulated and how they are used in practice, by whom and for what purposes. Within the current context of the development of a national curriculum in Australia, while there is a focus on curriculum and achievement standards, what has been missing from the public articulation of developments, is the identification of the assessment evidence that will be used in the formation of the standards. In fact there has been limited information about how the national achievement standards will be developed, by whom and how they will be used in practice.Our starting proposition is that, if the unintended consequences of previous curriculum and assessment reforms are to be avoided then being clear about the role of standards in national curriculum and assessment reform for the purposes of accountability, improvement and equity is essential. This paper investigates the evidence relating to standards and the relationships to curriculum, accountability, improvement and equity. In particular the paper addresses the following questions: 2 From the research related to the functions and purposes of ‘,standards’, what evidence is there that supports teachers’, use of standards for system reporting as valid and reliable practice? ,What are the conditions required for standards to not only be used to measure improvement but also to inform all student learning and teaching of all students for improvement purposes in the context of national curriculum and assessment reform?

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