Australia’s Developmental Assessment

The Australian Council for Educational Research has developed the Developmental Assessment program, which is being used in several states in Australia. As discussed and illustrated in Chapter 4, central to the program are models of learning known as progress maps, intended to serve as a basis for the design of both large-scale and classroom assessments. Progress maps provide a description of skills, understandings, and knowledge in the sequence in which they typically develop—a picture of what it means to improve over time in an area of learning. Australia’s Developmental Assessment is used as an example throughout this report, not because the progress maps are particularly reflective of recent advances in cognitive research, but because the Developmental Assessment approach represents a notable attempt to measure growth in competence and to convey the nature of student achievement in ways that can benefit teaching and learning.

These maps can serve as the basis for assessments for both large-scale and classroom purposes. “Progress is monitored in much the same way as a child’s physical growth is monitored: from time to time an estimate is made of a student’s location on a developmental continuum, and changes in location provide measures of growth over time” (Masters and Forster, 1996, p. 1). Progress maps have been developed for a variety of areas of the curriculum, and several states in Australia use them as a basis for reporting assessment results back to schools and parents (Meiers and Culican, 2000). Box 5–4 presents a sample progress map for counting and ordering (for additional examples of progress maps see Chapter 4).

The progress maps are based on a combination of expert experience and research. Developers talked with teachers and curriculum experts about what kinds of understandings they typically see in children by the end of particular grade levels. They also reviewed available research on learning in the subject domain. Once an initial map had been drafted, it was validated or tested. Teachers were interviewed and probed about whether the map was consistent with their experience and whether it covered the kinds of skills and understandings they viewed as important in the domain.

In addition, more empirical evidence was often collected by constructing tasks designed to tap specific performances on the map, having students respond, analyzing the responses, and looking at whether the statistical analyses produced patterns of performance consistent with the progressions on the maps. Areas of discrepancy were pointed out to the developers so they could refine the maps. This process is a good example of the assessment triangle at work: the process moves back and forth between the cognition, observation, and interpretation corners of the triangle so that each informs the others.

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