Culture-Fair Assessment: Challenging Indigenous Students Through Effortful Mathematics Teaching

Year: 2010

Author: Klenowski, Val, Tobias, Steve, Funnell, Bob, Vance, Fiona, Kaesehagen, Colleen

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper is based on research that aims to develop a teaching model to build teachers’ assessment and pedagogical capacity to raise the achievement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in mathematics. The project has been funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage program and is being conducted in seven Catholic and Independent primary schools in regional Australia .  Our Industry Partners are Catholic Education and the Association of Independent Schools, Queensland. Years 4 and 6 teachers have been provided with analyses of NAPLAN numeracy data to be used to inform teaching decisions and the development of rich assessment tasks.  The aim is to build teachers’ assessment capacity so that they can use summative assessment data formatively to scaffold and extend Indigenous students’ mathematical understandings.  Each school principal and the Years 4 and 6 teachers involved in the project have received detailed summaries of each of their Indigenous student’s responses to the NAPLAN test.  An analysis of each question has also been provided so that teachers can check each student’s answers to the different mathematical strands.  The descriptive analysis of each answer aims to support a more comprehensive understanding of the underlying concept and to suggest the next steps to be taken to support the student’s development in the identified mathematical concept in need of improvement.  Follow-up interviews have been conducted with the Years 4 and 6 teachers concerning their pedagogical approach with Indigenous students, students’ reactions to challenging tasks and the support available for Indigenous students and for the teachers, themselves, in their schools.  Semi-structured interviews have also been carried out with the Years 4 and 6 Indigenous students, with principals and with Indigenous Education Workers (e.g. teacher aides and community liaison staff) to gain a broad view of cultural influences and values that effect the dispositions of Indigenous students’ learning, particularly in relation to mathematics. The background information from these interviews was then analysed further to augment data from the individual NAPLAN test results. The overall aim has been to identify homologies (‘resemblances with a difference’) between classroom interaction, school organisation designed for Indigenous students, their education and culture, and relationships with home and family in each regional setting. Attention to the variation that emerges in the results across a continuum of Indigenous learning is further analysed to explore the factors for culture-fair assessment. The research draws on research literature on present challenges in Indigenous education (Beresford and Partington, 2003) and on improving educational outcomes for Islander and Pacifica students (Kearney, 2008) to consider connections with Indigenous epistemologies.   Sociocultural theories of assessment and learning (Rogoff, 1995, 2001, 2003; Wertsch, 1991, 1995; Gutiérrez, 2009), authentic assessment (Wiggins, 1989, 1990, 1993; Stiggins, 1987, 2007) and assessment for learning (ARG, 1999; Stobart, 2008) underpin the theoretical and methodological approaches adopted. The research to date has found that culture-fair assessment requires an understanding of issues to do with the literacy demands and the validity and fairness of the assessment practices.  Sociocultural theories of learning and assessment have informed the analysis thus far.  In addition, expectancy value theory (Fishbein), rich assessment tasks (Clark, Sullivan; Luke, 2005) along with student centred inquiry based approaches to teaching and learning mathematics have been incorporated into the theoretical framework of this study. Combined, these theories provide a platform for analysis, understanding and explaining productive teaching and assessment practices that lead to improved learning opportunities for Indigenous students. The findings of this study have implications for pedagogy and for practice. Culture-fair assessment encourages teachers to engage students in appropriate levels of challenge through relevant and meaningful contexts for indentifying conceptual and procedural understanding in light of the student’s disposition and desire to learn mathematics. Underpinning the pedagogical approach is a broader view of how mathematics is taught in schools, one that encompasses students’ understandings, dispositions, self-beliefs and acknowledges their personal view of the value of learning mathematics. Rich tasks (Luke, 2005) and open-ended questioning (Sullivan and Lilburn, 200?) provide a basis for authentic problem solving to enhance personal and intrinsic motivation, perseverance and resilience. Expectancy value theory (Fischbein, )  suggests that students’ attitudes to learning is directly affected by the value they place on learning and the success they believe they might have in reaching a satisfactory goal. Subsequently, this research study has focused on improving learning through strategic and effortful teaching that encompasses a diagnostic and holistic view of the student’s background and demeanour for developing mathematical thinking skills. The paper will report on these findings related to culture fair assessment, the Indigenous mathematics program, the theoretical basis for the study along with the preliminary results as they pertain to Indigenous students’ mathematical learning using effortful teaching.