Reclaiming intelligent accountability: Lessons learned from teachers designing senior assessment for validity and equity

Year: 2017

Author: Willis, Jill, McGraw, Kelli, Graham, Linda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Intelligent accountability in assessment systems occurs when there is a public trust in teachers, underpinned by collective responsibility and systems of self-governance where professionals provide an account of their practice to experienced others (O'Neill, 2002; Sahlberg, 2010). Supporting the work of teachers as assessment designers is therefore critical in maintaining intelligent approaches to accountability in an era of increasing conformity, audit and system change. This presentation analyses the lessons learned through trialling new processes of localised intelligent accountability where Queensland Senior English teachers engaged in dialogic feedback about their assessment design work with peers, university experts and with students.

New systems of senior assessment, including the introduction of prescriptive curriculum, high stakes external assessment, and the removal of a longstanding system of social moderation will commence in 2019 in Queensland. It is well established that systems that design high stakes assessments that are "worth teaching to", in the hope of serving both learning and system accountability purposes, instead often lead to a narrowed curriculum and diminished development of students' agency, creative and critical thinking (Shepard, Penuel, Davidson, 2017, p. 52; Stobart, 2009; Klenowski, 2010). In this study, Senior English teachers designed curriculum, pedagogy and assessment that sought to prioritise validity, equity and student critical and creative agency. Through a sequential-phase qualitative action research design, the teachers from two schools engaged in professional conversations about assessment principles such as validity, equity and agency, before seeking feedback on their assessment designs from tertiary partners. Students then provided feedback on their pedagogic experiences, before teachers participated in a final reflexive feedback loop with peers from the partner school. Interview data was analysed to answer two research questions; How do teachers design curriculum, pedagogy and assessment that enhance learner agency and equitable outcomes?, and How can feedback from students, researchers and colleagues enhance the reflexive assessment literacy of teachers? The research was funded by the 2016 Queensland Government Education Horizon research grant scheme.

Designing valid and ethical assessment is intellectual teacher work that is often invisible, as along-the-way design decisions are often not shared, recorded or scrutinised and occur as part of the everyday/night work of teachers. Through local dialogic feedback loops, teachers were able to make visible some of their design thinking and critically explore how they could balance their sense of accountability to their students, their subject discipline, to their school, to one another, and to the systems in which they worked.