Building the evidence base
The partners involved in the New Metrics Project are collaborating on ground-breaking research into the development of transformative approaches to the teaching, learning, and assessment of complex competencies in our schools. A key goal for the project is to build an evidence base to support our understanding of how competencies such as communication, collaboration, and citizenship can be developed and assessed in our classrooms. Critically, it also seeks to provide proof that authentic performance tasks can be designed to validly demonstrate this type of competence across age and stage, and that teacher and learner agency can take a central place in this approach to assessment. In this way, the project seeks to move the education system beyond its outdated, narrow fixation with standardised test results towards a more holistic, evidence-informed, and human-centred assessment model by supporting schools to integrate the use of research evidence alongside of teacher expertise and the student learning experience.
A common competency framework
The New Metrics Project is part of a growing national movement focused on the creation of a more personalised, holistic, and equitable education system in Australia. Other leaders in this space include the South Australian Certificate of Education Board, Learning Creates Australia, Big Picture Learning, Mastery Transcript Consortium, and the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning network of schools. This national movement is characterised by its interest in supporting the articulation of new learning ambitions by our young people, the growth of localised innovation in school communities, the nurturing of learner agency and identity, and the development of innovative learning and assessment designs. Significantly, this diverse collection of young people, teachers, parents, school administrators, academics, First Nations leaders, policy leaders, social entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and employers are also unified by a common understanding that wider systemic change is dependent on our ability to develop a broader, deeper, and more equitable systems for recognising learner success.
One of the most promising proposals to emerge from this movement in relation to the development of our recognition system is the call for a significant redesign of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). The AQF incorporates the qualifications from across the education and training sectors into a single, national framework and serves an important purpose in providing a set of comparable standards that are useful for learners, educators, and employers. However, the AQF has so far played a limited role in the design of senior secondary certificates as they are significantly different to university qualifications – for example, senior secondary certificates need to cater for a cohort that can vary in its standard of attainment from entry level vocational certification to undergraduate degree level. The list of suggested reforms to the AQF include a move away from single level descriptions of attainment towards the articulation of a banded hierarchy of knowledge outcomes, a taxonomy of skills, and a set of progressions for complex competencies.
The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration sets out the national vision for education and the commitment of Australian Governments to improving educational outcomes. In terms of goals, the declaration states that our education system must have a specific interest in ensuring that all students develop strong literacy and numeracy skills, as well as broad and deep knowledge across a range of curriculum areas. Significantly, the declaration also states that our education system should prepare young people to thrive in a time of rapid change that is distinguished by complex social, environmental, and economic challenges. In their statement, our education ministers describe the important role that social-emotional learning, and the development of complex competencies must play if we are to achieve our goal of preparing young people to thrive.
While there is a universal appeal in the ambitions of the declaration, it also serves to promote cognitive dissonance when comparing its lofty aspirations for our education system to the measures we utilise to measure success at a student, school, and system level. At a national level, the current dominant measures of success are NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) and the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank, a single number that is used by universities to select which students will be offered places in particular courses. While serving a limited purpose in relation to the first goal set out in the statement, it is clear that these measure are a useful, but not adequate way of assessing learner success. In this way, the current ground-breaking work on the assessment of complex competencies should be seen not as an edgy progressive movement, but rather a deep, rigorous effort to address what has been recognised by Australia’s education ministers as a national imperative.
Against the backdrop of this reform, many schools in Australia are exploring or adopting learner profiles as a supplement or replacement for more traditional senior secondary certification. In line with an emerging global interest in learner profiling, this new method of recognising learning commonly places an emphasis on student progress in relation to the development of complex competencies and the application of skills and knowledge to real world settings. A frequent criticism of efforts to adopt competency-based learner profiles is that they lack validity and reliability as student attainment has not been measured in a consistent way against a widely accepted capability framework. The partnerships between the Assessment Research Centre at the University of Melbourne and groups like Big Picture Learning and the Mastery Transcript Consortium are directly this requirement through their research, resulting in learner profiles that can provide utility and trust for the transition into work and further education. Most significant, however, is the opportunity presented by learner profiles for the education system to start measuring the full breadth of what we say we value as a nation in relation to the learning of our young people.