Case study of ARB use at Takapuna Normal Intermediate School

ARBs in the Assessment Mix: Using ARBs for both Classroom and school-wide Purposes
(June 2003)

Introducing Takapuna Normal Intermediate School

Established in 1970 in the North Shore of Auckland, Takapuna Normal Intermediate School (TNIS) is a decile 10 school with approximately 620 students, 21 classroom teachers, and 6 specialist art and technology teachers. The school has a strong commitment to the development of a community of student and staff learners. This commitment is supported by the parent community and teachers (the majority of whom are currently undertaking post-graduate study). The school also has close links with Auckland College of Education.

Two key elements of TNIS's teaching and learning programme, which impact on classroom practice and assessment are:

  1. An emphasis on cross-curricula integrated learning. Each class is in one of three groups. One group of classes are engaged in an integrated programme, another group combines year 7 and 8 classes, and the third group is engaged in "traditional" classes.

  2. A pilot programme examining how to better meet the emotional, social, and learning needs of the emerging adolescent running in conjunction with Auckland College of Education. For continuity, students are kept in teams with the same group of teachers for the two years they are at TNIS, and as teachers plan units, they closely examine the types of activities undertaken by students to ensure that they will engage emerging adolescents.

Recent developments in assessment at TNIS

The teachers and school management at TNIS discussed how they felt they were "over-assessing" students and they are currently engaged in a process that will refine the assessment programme and ultimately decrease the emphasis on formal testing. In 2002, as part of this process, staff began a school-wide Assess to Learn (AtoL) contract with Evaluation Associates which includes:

  • a review of the school's assessment focus,

  • the further development of formative assessment practices,

  • the development of more child-centred classroom practices, and

  • a move towards electronic reporting to enable more systematic use of classroom data to meet school-wide reporting needs.

As a result of this contract some teachers have changed their practice while others have affirmed their beliefs about teaching.

The formative assessment contract made a huge difference to me personally – it's altered the way I plan as a teacher. I used to go to the resource room and select resources.now I look at the resources and ask, "Do they teach the children what I want them to learn?"

The contract has given that [formative assessment] a real emphasis. Before it was ad hoc – now it is really formalised [teachers are aware of when they are using formative assessment practices] .It fitted in really well with my philosophy and affirmed the notions [I had about] children negotiating criteria, reflecting, and recognising the next steps for their learning.

Plans for the future include the development of new electronic reporting forms. School management also plans to use the ARBs and other resources to provide curriculum levels for students' portfolio work to enable a clearer understanding of students' achievements and clearer reporting to parents.

For similar reasons staff are planning to use the exemplars from the National Exemplars Project to write their own exemplars in key learning areas.

Current school-wide assessment practices

As well as an increasing commitment to formative assessment in their day to day practice, TNIS has a strong school-wide assessment programme. The science and mathematics teams make extensive use of ARB resources in this programme. Other tools used for assessments in other curriculum areas include STAR and PAT tests, the Essential Skills Assessments, and NEMP and National Exemplars tasks.

As part of the school-wide assessment programme, year 7 entry and year 8 exit assessments are completed by students in a number of key areas including mathematics, science, and English. In the second week of term one, the new cohort of year 7 students complete science and mathematics entry tests. Later in term one students complete STAR and PAT tests to give information about their development of reading and listening skills. Students also complete exit assessments at the end of year 8.

Use of the ARBs for school-wide science teaching and assessment

At TNIS, ARB science resources are used in two main ways in the school-wide science programme: to develop entry and exit tests, and as performance-based tasks. The HOD Science noted that before the use of the entry and exit assessments there was no collation of school-wide data on achievement in science and little information about how or what science was being taught at the school.

Science entry and exit tests

ARB tasks are used by the HOD Science to develop the year 7 entry and year 8 exit tests (which have been completed by all students for the last two years). The criteria used to select resources are that they:

  • fit within the key science areas selected by the school and with the National Exemplars project "Science Matrices";

  • cover contexts used in the school programme, for example, students at TNIS have been engaged in a cross-curricula unit on bicycles, therefore, the science context chosen covered wheels, cogs, and motion;

  • use New Zealand contexts, for example, native bush;

  • have diagnostic information (see the Diagnostic Information box);

  • include level 3 resources for the year 7 test and level 4 resources for the year 8 test;

  • include questions that have a range of difficulty levels, with the bulk having a difficulty level of "moderate"; and

  • include a range of resource types, that is, SR, BCR, and a few LCR resources (see the Resource Type information box).

This year will be the first time students have completed the same science test at the start and end of the year. Teachers plan to report the end of year results by each year cohort, strand, gender, and ethnicity. Summaries will also be produced for teachers and school management by class, gender, and curriculum strand (within each class).

Performance-based science initiatives

The science curriculum team reviews their school-wide science plan each year and has instigated a number of other school-wide initiatives within the science programme which use ARB resources.

"Fair testing" has been identified as a key area in the science plan. To support teachers in teaching and assessing this area, the science curriculum team have produced a "fair testing" kit which includes ARB tasks as well as tasks designed by teachers. Each kit contains these tasks and the necessary equipment. Students complete at least five pen and paper or performance tasks. Some of the tasks provide scaffolding for students, for example the resource numbered MW5673, which requires students to test different makes of paper towels to see which is the best at mopping up spills. Other tasks require students to design their own "fair test", for example MW5670, part of which is shown below.

Some of the tasks in the "fair testing" kit are used as teaching and learning activities and others as assessment tasks. The results of the assessment tasks are recorded and students' work is included in their portfolio.

As part of the integrated studies programme students are given the opportunity to suggest areas of interest which are then included in the teaching programme. In 2003 students identified "the future" and "genetics" as areas they wanted to learn more about. The science curriculum team then used the ARBs to find resources that matched students' interests and their teaching priorities. To provide teachers with resources about "the future" a set of three ARB tasks about rockets: testing the fuel, designing rockets, and rocket flight (MW6338, PW3665, PW3666), have been made into a booklet and given to all teachers.

Use of the ARBs for school-wide mathematics assessment

For the last three years ARB and NEMP tasks have been used by the HOD Mathematics to develop year 7 and 8 entry and exit tests which are completed by all students. These tests have been refined each year. In 2003, students in the two year levels will complete the same test at the start and end of the year. The tests include resources that are assessing the same skills but at different levels, for example, the year 7 test uses level 3 resources and the year 8 test, level 4 resources to assess students' ability to calculate the mean, median, and mode of a distribution.

The first two sections of the tests (basic facts and the four operations) are NEMP tasks. The third section includes two number, one statistics, one algebra, and one measurement word problem from the ARBs. The ARB word problems that are selected incorporate diagnostic information, are mostly short answer, and have a range of different layouts and contexts.

The average score for each year cohort is recorded and summary graphs are produced for the three main sections of the test to enable trends to be more visible. Summaries are also produced for teachers and school management by class, gender (within each class), and ethnicity.

The HOD Mathematics noted that each year the tests have provided information to improve programmes, for example, previous test results highlighted that both year 7 and 8 students were having difficulties with division. As a result the HOD suggested some changes to the teaching programme and sourced resources to support the teaching of division.

Use of the information gained from the school-wide programme

The main purpose of the year 7 entry tests is to quickly gather information about the new cohort of year 7 students so teachers can group students according to their learning needs, as well as identify those who need extension or extra support. TNIS is currently using, or has plans to use, information from the school-wide entry and exit assessments in mathematics and science for a variety of other purposes to contribute to the improvement of the teaching programme, resourcing, and reporting as outlined below.

The results from the school-wide assessment programme are used in a cyclical way to improve teaching and learning programmes as shown below.

Other uses of ARB resources in the school

ARB resources from all three curriculum areas are used by teachers in a range of other ways, such as:

  • Formative and diagnostic assessment tasks throughout the year;
  • Group tasks and general teaching tasks, for example, as starter activities or as worksheets or homework;
  • Models for practical tasks and new contexts in science and mathematics, for example, teachers sourced the equipment and materials used in the task PW4035 so students can do the resource as a performance task;
  • Professional development for teachers who have limited science knowledge;
  • Extension tasks, for example, level 5 resources are used by year 8 students;
  • Tasks which are included in students' portfolios and are used to discuss students' progress with parents; and
  • General teaching resources to support students working at level 2. This is important for TNIS staff as the school is not resourced for level 2. For example, level 2 and level 3 word problems are used to support students identified as having difficulties in mathematics, and resources such as PW3651 (which assesses observational skills) are used with the ESOL reception class as integrated science and written language tasks.

Accessing and using the ARBs

At TNIS all teachers have access to an Internet connected computer in their classrooms, and a set of laptops which can be booked and taken home. In the future teachers will also have access to the new library and research centre computers. Many teachers prefer to access the banks at home or in the school holidays when they do their planning.

Use of the ARBs by staff at TNIS varies; some teachers use the banks every couple of weeks, others have browsed through them once or twice. One teacher had used the banks since their inception in 1997. Most of the high users are HODs, or recent College of Education graduates who were introduced to the banks as part of their College programme. Although teachers use ARB resources in all three curriculum areas, they make the most use of the science and mathematics banks.

The frequent users noted that they look at the banks every time they plan units of work. Some teachers have a group of on-line resources that they browse to get resources or ideas when they are planning (the ARBs, English Online, New Zealand Maths: problem-solving, and TKI.)

These teachers usually have a particular area in mind when they access the ARBs and therefore use a search that combines strand, level, and keyword to find resources directly related to this area. Teachers outlined how the search menus made it very easy for them to find the resources they wanted.

[Using the ARB search screen] I can search specifically for a level, and I like the way the fields are set up for searching so I can narrow it down – like the strand or whatever I am interested in.

They are so accessible. and really easy to narrow down. by level, strand, AO [achievement objective], and keyword.

Benefits of ARB use

The main benefit teachers derived from using the ARBs was access to resources that are used to develop and refine their school-wide and classroom assessment programmes. Teachers discussed how the ARB site gives them access to new resources which would have been time-consuming to develop, and provides new and novel ideas for activities and contexts to use in the classroom.

It has simplified it [school-wide assessment] and standardised it, and given me a huge amount of confidence that it is reliable, valid, and at the right level. I couldn't have done it [develop the school-wide assessments] otherwise.it would have taken ages!

They are so handy, they are ready made and so easily accessible...they are already in levels for our curriculum.the fact that they have next steps – diagnostics. .You know it is a valid site and you are using valid information which is going to assist in learning.

They come up with heaps better ideas than I could!.I like the way they are presented [with the graphics].

Summary

At TNIS teachers use ARB resources for multiple purposes in the teaching and assessment of mathematics, science, and English. Use of the ARBs is a key part of the school's assessment strategy in mathematics and science, and is also part of individual teaching programmes. ARB resources provide an important role in assisting teachers to gather information on new cohorts of students. Teachers are very positive about the confidence ARBs use gives them in regard to their school-wide programme, and the way the diagnostic information included on many resources assists them in targeting their next teaching steps and priorities for resourcing.

A concern with "over-assessing" is part of the debate at TNIS as teachers carefully consider the role assessment plays in their programmes. At TNIS the search for a balance between assessment for further learning, and for reporting, is ongoing.

Staff at TNIS have a deep interest in the complexities of assessment and a strong desire to use a range of assessment strategies and tools available to improve teaching and learning at their school. To this end TNIS staff are engaged in a continuous review cycle to improve their programmes and are clear about the contribution ARB tasks make to this process.

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