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Assessment for learning and curriculum-based performance standards: Case studies from the Northern Territory of Australia

Lisl Fenwick

Local and national governments in Australia claim that the inclusion of standards within official curriculum will support teachers to use assessment for and as learning. The provision of standards is presented as a way to help teachers to plan for learning, monitor the progress of each student and to intervene in learning when required (see for example Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], n.d.a, n.d.b, 2009). Standards-based reformers also assert that curriculum standards will help teachers to provide detailed descriptions of successful achievement. Teachers and students can then use these descriptions to monitor and reflect on progress (ACARA, n.d.a, n.d.b, 2009; Crafter et al., 2006). Through the provision of feedback based on the achievement standards, teachers can help ‘students to inform their learning’ (ACARA, n.d.b, n.p.).

Assessment for learning (AfL) involves the use of assessment ‘to assist students to take the next steps in their learning’ (Gardner, 2011, 2). Key processes of AfL involve teachers knowing where students need to go in their learning, identifying where students are up to and providing support that enables students to progress (Black, 2001; Gardner, 2011; Klenowski, 2009). Assessment as learning, or the capacity for students to reflect on their progress, is considered to be part of AfL (Gardner, 2011). AfL is achieved when students are able to take control of their learning and assessment becomes part of the ‘everyday practice’ of ‘students, teachers and peers’ (Klenowski, 2009, 264).

In 2006, the government of South Australia (SA) released a report on senior secondary schooling for SA and the NT. The report recommended that more rigorous standards be included within the curriculum for the senior years of schooling (Crafter et al., 2006). The standards would ensure that students had ‘the richest forms of information and feedback possible’ (Crafter et al., 2006, 133). The reformers hoped that the performance standards would help ‘students to monitor their own progress’ and teachers to provide feedback and plan for learning (Crafter et al., 2006, 134).

This research analysed how teachers working in the NT used the new standards as they planned their curriculum and whether the inclusion of subject-based standards resulted in greater emphasis on AfL. Six teachers working within a range of subject areas in the second to last year of schooling volunteered to participate in this study. Each teacher participated in two interviews and shared planning materials with the researcher. The subject areas represented included mathematics, music, science, visual arts, business studies and psychology.

there was no evidence that the teachers used the standards to promote social practices in the classroom that involved conversations about standards and progress towards them

The teachers involved struggled to use the new performance standards to develop practices associated with AfL. Within the teachers’ planning materials and the interviews, there was no evidence that the teachers used the standards to promote social practices in the classroom that involved conversations about standards and progress towards them. At no stage did the teachers demonstrate that they provided timely feedback to students, based on the standards, during the learning process. Two of the teachers, working in business studies and psychology, did use the performance standards to enhance task design, but learning and assessment remained an individual pursuit in these two classrooms and the extent of the scaffolding provided was limited.

The findings indicate that the inclusion of standards within official curriculum will do little to promote AfL. Capacity building for teachers, which involves information about the core beliefs associated with AfL, as well as associated practices, is also required. All of the teachers involved in this study expressed concerns about how to link subject-based curriculum standards with individual assessment tasks. Professional learning that begins with this key concern of educators, and then moves on to how task design can be used to engage students in the learning process, may help to ensure that curriculum standards become part of productive teaching and learning.



ACARA. (2009, November). Curriculum design. Retrieved March 4, 2011, from

ACARA. (n.d.a). Information sheet: Structure of the Australian curriculum. Retrieved March 4, 2011, from

ACARA. (n.d.b). Implications for teaching, assessing and reporting. Retrieved February 26, 2016, from

Black, P. (2001). Dreams, strategies and systems: Portraits of assessment past, present and future. Assessment in Education, 8(1), 65-85. doi: 10.1080/09695940120033261

Crafter, G., Crook, P., & Reid, A. (2006). Success for all: ministerial review of senior secondary education in South Australia. Adelaide: The State of South Australia.

Gardner, J.R. (2011). Assessment and learning: introduction. In J.R. Gardner (Ed.), Assessment and Learning (pp. 1-8). London: SAGE.

Klenowski, V. (2009). Assessment for learning revisited: an Asia-Pacific perspective. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 16(3), 263-268. doi: 10.1080/09695940903319646