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Post date: Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Trusting the evidence

Teachers making decisions about their students’ achievements based on a range of sources of evidence is the cornerstone of an effective cycle of inquiry in any school. The evidence-based cycle of inquiry is the engine that drives improvement to teaching and learning in classrooms and in school-wide initiatives (Timperley et al, 2010).  Research says this is how you make a difference.

The expectation is that it is the professional responsibility of teachers to decide what the students can and can’t do, using multiple sources of evidence. That evidence will inform the decisions schools make to meet the needs of their students. Isn’t that what we’ve always done and continue to do?

In the National Standards: School Sample Monitoring and Evaluation Project 2010-2012  (Ward & Thomas, 2013) teachers were asked to identify the measures they use to systematically track student progress in reading, writing, and maths.The use of the OTJ was consistently high across the three curriculum areas: 85% in reading, 90% in writing and 72% in maths with  teachers citing using children’s work, Ministry documents  and standardised testing to support their decisions.

Perhaps the question we need to ask is how well are we doing in making those decisions? Is there consistency across schools in  teacher judgements? Making good judgements requires really sound curriculum knowledge, knowing exactly what the learning is, and being sure that the evidence you’ve gathered matches it. To be really robust, once you’ve made those decisions it is important to moderate them, i.e. discuss them with someone else to reinforce that your judgement is valid and reliable.  What do those terms mean?

  • Reliability: Would you come to this conclusion if you moderated other examples of student’s work?

  • Validity: Is the evidence adequate and appropriate for the uses and interpretations being made from the results? In other words, does the evidence show that it has measured what you intended  it to measure?

If you can answer both those questions, you can be confident that the evidence and the decision is on track. But they are big questions which require some good professional learning to understand exactly what they mean. Effective schools are planning time in their assessment practices to include sessions for learning about assessment results and interpreting them accurately. However, in the National Survey of primary schools, only 55% of the teachers surveyed said the professional learning around these areas had increased over 2011- 2012 in their schools (Wylie & Berg, 2013). Only 53% teachers reported that there was increased moderation between teachers of the same year level, and 47% have increased moderation between teachers of different year levels.

Teachers require support to make changes to their practice. Any change requires time to discuss and understand why it’s needed, and then time to practice and receive feedback on how you’re going. TIME–the thing most schools don’t have a lot of, but, when it is important, you have to plan to make the time. Accurate teacher judgements of their students’ achievement is absolutely vital, so the decisions a school makes to improve teachers’ teaching and students’ learning will make a difference. Make the time.

If you would like to discuss any of these points further, please don’t hesitate to call or email our education adviser Cathie Johnson on (04) 802 1386 or


Ward, J., and G Thomas. (2013). National Standards: School Sample Monitoring and Evaluation Project, 2010 -2012. Report to the Ministry of Education. Ministry of Education.

Timperley, H., and J. Parr. (2010) Weaving Evidence, Inquiry and Standards to Build Better Schools. NZCER Press, Wellington.

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