Informing Curricula and Resource Development
“You should look at this section if you have only a limited idea of how assessment data can inform curricula and resource development.”
Assessment plays a vital role in informing improvements in education. It does this in a number of ways. Data collected from school and classroom level assessment can help teachers better understand the skills and knowledge of students and adapt their teaching practices to meet students needs. Data from large scale assessment can also help support improvements in teaching, both by guiding the design of initial teacher training and by highlighting the professional learning needs of teachers.
High quality education is not only a reflection of what happens in the classroom, however, and data from assessment can also help drive improvements in two other key elements of the education system – curricula and teaching resources.
A curriculum defines the knowledge and skills that students are expected to gain as well as the components – such as units and lessons – that are used to help support students to achieve these outcomes. It may be standardised at a large scale, with teachers in many schools following exactly the same approach, or it may be developed by teachers within a school with reference to guidance documents and legislative requirements.
A curriculum often expresses the philosophy underlying an education system, provides information on expected standards and may include resources to help students learn. Teaching resources vary from being highly structured, such as when certain textbooks are prescribed and teachers are expected to follow them, or may be very loose, simply comprising a set of activities that teachers may use if they wish to.
A curriculum may be highly prescriptive, for example identifying exactly which units or textbook chapters teachers should use in which order, or may give teachers the autonomy to interpret it in their own way, and to develop their own resources. A curriculum may be set at a national, state, district or school level and there is often pressure from policy makers to ensure curriculum standardisation and consistency, such as across different states.
Whether a curriculum or teaching resources are developed and applied centrally (for example in a state or country) or locally (for example by individual schools or teachers), assessment data can play an important role in shaping them. One of the key elements that assessment data can provide information on is the scope and sequence of curriculum content. For example, assessment data can help to identify which components of a subject students find easier to learn and which are more difficult, hence identifying the logical sequence in which they should be learnt.
Assessment data can also help to identify which types of resources are likely to help students expand their skills. For example, if assessment data indicates that students perform well on assessment items that focus on the recall of knowledge, but struggle to apply their skills and knowledge to novel situations, this can indicate that teaching resources should give students the opportunity to practice the application of skills, not just their reproduction.
To find out more about how assessment data can inform curricula and resource development, go to #Intermediate.
“You should look at this section if you already know that assessment data is important in informing curricula and resource development and would like to know how it can be used.”
Most people realise that assessment data is an important source of evidence to improve teaching and learning. What may be overlooked, however, is that the insights collected from assessment programmes are also important in informing the development – and revision – of curricula and teaching resources.
A curriculum can be considered to be the intersection of content, pedagogy and assessment, and hence assessment inevitably plays a role in how curricula are conceptualised and designed. Curricula may be developed centrally – for example by exam boards or governments – or locally – for example by schools and teachers. Similarly, teaching resources may be prescriptive – such as the close adherence to set textbooks – or developed by teachers using their own autonomy and professional judgement.
Regardless of who designs and develops curricula and teaching resources, data from assessment can play an important part in key decisions about them.
Using empirically driven decision making in curriculum review ensures that the review goes beyond superficial changes. Data from assessment provides the opportunity for curriculum developers to critically evaluate the effectiveness of the current curriculum in helping students achieve defined learning outcomes.
Where the achievement of certain learning outcomes is less than hoped for, curriculum developers have the opportunity to look deeply into the patterns within assessment data that are available to them in order to identify what elements of the curriculum could be adapted to enhance learning. This is inevitably an iterative process as there is a degree of uncertainty involved but as curriculum developers become increasingly adept at using assessment data they will be able to more accurately diagnose what needs to change.
Curriculum revisions do need to take into account that the underlying problem may be a combination of curriculum, resource allocation, teacher skills or student backgrounds, and that curriculum revisions may not be able to achieve improvements without tackling a range of other factors.
Concrete examples of how assessment data can help inform curriculum revisions include placing greater emphasis on topics or concepts that students have performed least well in and less on those that they have performed better in. In addition, assessment data may identify how to align subject content from one grade to another, how to structure the scope and sequence of learning and where there are gaps that need to be filled.
When assessment data is based on assessment items that are designed to identify common misconceptions among students that have led to errors, this information can also be used to rethink the ways in which concepts should be introduced. Assessment can also help to identify how students make connections between previous and more recent topics and this can inform the way in which building blocks are built into the curriculum.
Assessment data can also help education professionals to determine how best to differentiate learning and teaching, identifying cohorts of students who need additional assistance and those who require extension activities, and to develop learning resources to facilitate both of these processes.
To find out more about how assessment data can support improvements in curricula and teaching resources, go to #Advanced.
” You should look at this section if you are already familiar with how assessment data can help support improvements in curricula and teaching resources and would like to extend your understanding . “
Empirically driven decision making has come to define high quality education systems. This not only means that data needs to be collected (through developing and implementing high quality assessments) but also that it needs to be used to inform improvements. Assessment data is often seen as particularly important in informing teaching practice, but it also plays an important role in informing revisions to curricula and teaching resources.
Characteristics of good curriculum design include that a curriculum has both breadth and depth, that it is coherent and relevant, that it is challenging and enjoyable and that it gives students the opportunity for choice and to personalise their learning. In addition, contemporary curricula are increasingly expected to be multidisciplinary and to give students opportunities to apply what they have studied to real world challenges.
Determining many of these factors requires considering evidence on what is appropriate at different levels of study and for students of different age groups and with particular characteristics. A key consideration is the ways in which students progress along their learning pathways as they build on what they have studied previously in order to develop new skills and knowledge. This is somewhere where evidence from assessment data is able to clearly identify the progress that students are making. Equally, assessment data can help with standard setting – determining the expected level of achievement at particular points in time.
While curricula are often considered as subject-focused, they can also be student-focused. Subject-focused curriculum identify the elements that are to be studied, how they should be studied and the sequence in which they should be studied. These are the traditional type of curricula but their effectiveness in stimulating student learning are increasingly being questioned as the one-size-fits-all approach does not take into account student differences.
Student-focused curricula are quite different. Student-focused curricula enable factors such as preferred styles of learning, interests, needs and objectives for each individual student to be considered. This approach offers personalised learning and differentiation and are becoming increasingly regarded as the best way to support all students to achieve their learning goals but the workload for teachers can be immense.
For both types of curricula, assessment data can provide a strong foundation for design decisions, focusing either on student cohorts and/or on individual students. Data can indicate what strengths and weaknesses students have, what types of tasks they are most comfortable with, where gaps in their learning lies and which misconceptions underlie errors that they are making.
Assessment data can also help identify what resources will be most appropriate to use, either to revisit conceptual misunderstandings, expand on solid understandings or provide students with opportunities to use higher order thinking. A further use of assessment data is to pinpoint how much time needs to be focused on particular skills or areas of knowledge.
The design of curriculum and resources are iterative – there is inevitably a back and forth process of trying something out, evaluating its effectiveness with assessment data and then tweaking it accordingly. As standards, expectations and contexts change over time, assessment data can further be used to revise and update curriculum and resources to meet contemporary demands.
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