I have been working with teachers for more than 20 years, and I would say that all this time the idea of ‘closing the gap’ has been a common reflection when teachers’ goals and the challenges in education are analysed. There is, however, some compelling research evidence that may challenge the way in which this ‘closing the gap’ purpose is being approached within the classroom.
I am part of the research team of the Assessment and Learning Partnerships Project (ALP) since July 2010. The ALP project is designed and executed by the Assessment Research Centre of the University of Melbourne, in collaboration with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development of Victoria and the Catholic Education Office (Melbourne). The project is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) with the purpose of examining teachers’ collaborative use of assessment data to inform differentiated teaching decisions in a developmental learning framework (Griffin, 2007, 2009; Griffin & Care, 2009; Griffin, Murray, Care, Thomas, & Perri, 2010). As part of this research project, sustained improvement in student learning has been observed (Griffin, Care, Francis, Hutchinson, & Pavlovic, 2012) largely exceeding the benchmark of 0.4 for effect size per year proposed by Hattie (2009). The analysis of the progress’ pattern for students at different ability level reveals, however, that the improvement is not homogeneous for all the groups (Griffin et al., 2012). In fact, the major improvement is observed for the group of students at the lower ability level. In contrast, the higher ability students remain stable and in same cases even decrease in their achievement. These findings have informed the public debate in Australia, where The Age ('Results flatline for top students', Jewel Topsfield, 10 January 2013) published an article talking about these worrying results (if you want to have a look to this article, it is available on http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/results-flatline-for-to...) The following image from that article is quite illustrative to describe the results we are obtaining:
The blue lines show the progress from testing period 1 to testing period 2 for years 3, 4, 5 and 6. As it can be observed, in the four years the bottom quartile has a clear learning improvement during the six months period. In contrast, the top quartile remains somewhat stable for years 3, 4 and 5, and even tend to decrease in year 6. Additional investigation about this trend is being conducted aiming to analyse teacher strategies to promote learning at all the skills levels. The report of this project should be available shortly and as soon as it is uploaded on the ARC website, I will add the link for those of you who may be interested on it.
This evidence challenges our understanding of closing the gap, as it may indicate that what we are really closing is the gap of learning opportunities. Questions as “are we providing students at the top levels with challenging learning experiences?” or “are we concerned about all the ability groups within the classroom, or do we tend to focus only on the ‘struggling’ students?” became extremely significative facing this data.
In the next post, we will try to link this research data with some challenges for teacher profesional learning.
Alejandra Arratia-Martinez is an Educational Psychologist with over 18 years of experience in the educational field in Chile. She has contributed to different evaluation studies including investigations of the impact of different programs aimed at improving teacher learning and students’ achievements. She coordinated the Curriculum Area at the Curriculum and Assessment Unit of the Chilean Ministry of Education and was part of the team in charge of developing the learning standards associated with the national curriculum. Alejandra was the responsible for teacher training in curricular instruments and use of content standards. As part of this function she worked with teachers and principals in the use of assessment data to better understand students’ learning growth and inform teaching.
Alejandra has over 6 years of experience as a University teacher at the Psychology Faculty in "Universidad Catolica de Chile". In this institution, she taught the subject “Design and Evaluation of Psycho-educational Programmes”, a specialisation subject for Educational Psychology students. Currently, she is part of the Research team of the Assessment and Learning Partnership (ALP) Project, at the Assessment Research Centre, University of Melbourne. She works with different government schools in Victoria as facilitator of the ALP Professional Development program, supporting the implementation of evidence-informed instructional practice within a developmental model of learning. She is pursuing her Doctorate of Education, investigating teachers’ metacognition regarding differentiated teaching and professional learning, in the context of ALP.
Griffin, P. (2007). The comfort of competence and the uncertainty of assessment. Studies in Educational Evaluation 33 12. doi: doi:10.1016/j.stueduc.2007.01.007
Griffin, P. (2009). Teachers' Use of Assessment Data: Springer Science+Business Media.
Griffin, P., & Care, E. (2009). Assessment is for teaching. Independence, 34(2), 56-59.
Griffin, P., Care, E., Francis, M., Hutchinson, D., & Pavlovic, M. (2012). The influence of teaching strategies on student achievement in higher order skills. Paper presented at the Research Conference 2012: School Improvement: What does research tell us about effective estrategies?, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre. Darling Harbour, NSW.
Griffin, P., Murray, L., Care, E., Thomas, A., & Perri, P. (2010). Developmental assessment: lifting literacy through professional learning teams. [Article]. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 17(4), 383-397. doi: 10.1080/0969594x.2010.516628
Hattie, J. (2008). Visible Learning [electronic resource] : A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-analyses Relating to Achievement: Hoboken : Taylor & Francis, 2008.
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