Education tests – helping teachers help their charges
How do teachers use the results of the Basic Skills Test to help students’ learning? The Sydney Catholic Education Office’s Therese Spruhan
It was controversial Education Minister, Terry Metherell, who first introduced the Basic Skills Test (BST) to NSW state schools back in 1990.
Since then at least four more
state-wide tests have been added to the annual school calendar. This is partly due to an increased focus on outcomes-based education, assessment and the reporting of student achievement, and accountability of
As well, Federal Government funding of Catholic schools is now dependent on information being supplied on our students’ literacy and numeracy performances in Years 3, 5 and 7.
schools have been participating in the Basic Skills Test in literacy and numeracy since 1998. Last year an additional test called WrAP (Writing Assessment Program) was introduced to test Years 3 and 5 students’
Year 6 students in the Sydney archdiocese also participate annually in a religious education test introduced in 1998. This test includes multiple choice and open-ended questions on the Celebrating
Our Journey religious education syllabus, which students begin in kindergarten and continue until Year 6.
This test does not make any judgement about students’ faith. Its aim is to assess their knowledge and
understanding of the religious education curriculum in areas such as the sacraments, traditional prayers, the Bible, the Mass, liturgical seasons, and the Catholic Church in Australia.
It also ensures that
religious education is taught with the same demands and rigour as other subjects.
At the secondary level, apart from the School Certificate and the Higher School Certificate, the main state-wide test
conducted each year is the ELLA (English Language and Literacy Assessment) test. ELLA tests Year 7 students’ literacy. This year, Year 7 students will also undertake another test called SNAP (Secondary Numeracy
Assessment Program) that will test their numeracy skills.
Seamus O’Grady, director of the religious education curriculum at the Sydney CEO says all of these tests yield high-quality information on whole-class
and individual levels of attainment.
He says the results allow teachers to identify students who need specific, targeted assistance in literacy and numeracy, and to identify trends across the whole year.
Pamela Christie, principal of Blessed Sacrament Primary School, Clifton Gardens, says that, while you have to bear in mind how the children felt on the day they sat the test, and remember that it is only one
part of their assessment, the BST is a very good tool that can be used to plan and program, particularly if there is an area of weakness in an individual grade or school.
Mrs Christie sees the introd-uction
of the Year 6 religious education test as a positive move as it ensures the subject is taken seriously.
“We say we are here to teach the students about their Catholic faith: evangelisation is our goal. The RE
test is a very good way to see if we are being successful. But we also have to be aware that a child may have very good academic knowledge of their religion, but there are many other aspects involved in faith
development that can’t be tested.”
Mary Nixon, principal of St Mary’s Primary School, Georges Hall, says the results of the BST give teachers an outside opinion on what they are doing at school.
says there are no surprises in the BST results, so they also affirm what teachers are doing at school as regards their own assessments.
“It’s also good to see a much broader picture of where your students
stand in relation to the rest of the state, which is helpful to know and encourages you to strive harder.”
While the BST is only undertaken by Years 3 and 5 students, at St Mary’s, the teachers apply the
results to the teaching of all grades.
For instance, if the test results reveal that students need to do more work on grammar, vocabulary development, or mathematics, then activities and strategies will be
introduced from kindergarten to Year 6, not just in Years 3 and 5.
Mary Nixon says that, as the BST results give a detailed report on each child, teachers can also develop an individualised program for each
At Bethany College, Kogarah, Lyn Carter has the job of analysing the ELLA test results and then working with subject co-ordinators and teachers on ways in which they can incorporate literacy-building
initiatives and strategies into programs to improve students’ skills in different areas of literacy.
Mrs Carter says the results of the ELLA test are really useful for high schools because they provide an
awareness of the whole cohort’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of individual students.
“It is really a diagnostic roof that provides detailed analysis of student literacy
levels. This can be summarised and discussed with teachers and then used to inform good teaching practice, and help the students.”
Some of the areas the Bethany teachers targeted during 2000 were developing
students’ understanding of how to sequence information correctly, broadening their vocabulary, and developing skills in transferring and linking information from tables and diagrams to text.
introduced across KLAs to develop literacy skills included getting the students to do a cartoon sequencing stories or events; introducing a ‘word of the month’ displayed in a prominent position; a greater focus on
listing new words and technical terms on the board; and getting students to keep a glossary of words in their workbooks.
Mrs Carter says the Bethany program for lifting literacy levels is in its early stages.
“(But) the guiding principle has been one of ‘small beginnings’, where teachers try to target one or two weaknesses, work on remedying these first and then build on this.
“Further ELLA testing in Years 8 and
9 is seen as a method for mon-itoring progress.”
She adds that even if students have performed above the state average overall this does not mean they pack up their books and say, “great!”
still be areas of relative weakness or areas that can be improved!”