Each year the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) assesses how students in Years 4 and 8 are achieving on different aspects of The New Zealand Curriculum by studying a nationally representative sample of about 5,000 students from 200 schools.

Teacher assessors (TAs) are classroom teachers who are specially trained to visit schools to administer assessments. The use of teacher assessors allows NMSSA to deploy a range of approaches to assessment, including the use of one-to-one interviews.

Operations Manager Lynette Jones is one of the facilitators who selects and trains between 11 to 24 TAs each year. The one-to-one interviews are both the most difficult part and where the richest responses come from, she says.

“Particularly around those more in-depth interviews, prompting well without teaching or guiding the student to a correct response, that’s actually a really difficult thing to do. So it’s to encourage students to perhaps think a bit more about their response or offer another idea.”

TAs need to be able to establish rapport quickly to allow students to feel comfortable while completing assessments with a stranger.

“It’s quite an unusual situation; these students are working with someone they don’t know. Normally at primary school or intermediate school it’s always with practitioners they know, so building rapport quickly with students and school staff is a really important part of the job,” Lynette says.

“Of course there’s a very robust system from our end to support TAs while they are out in schools, but it’s a different job to classroom teaching and if they’re working by themselves, they have to be resilient.”

The other role of a TA is to distribute questionnaires to principals and teachers.

By taking part when they are selected as part of the sample, schools support the information needs of the wider education system and reduce the need for higher stakes assessments. They also support a project that provides rich professional learning and development opportunities.

Teacher assessors are very positive about their NMSSA experience and mention several professional learning benefits, including the opportunity to think deeply about curriculum and assessment and to work with students from a range of schools.

“Teachers see it as a really strong professional development experience; they’re out of their class for a whole term, they visit a wide range of schools in relation to the relevant learning areas for the year and they have a chance to look at those learning areas through a different lens,” Lynette says.

“We’ve certainly had teachers come back in and say, for example, ‘look, I’ve been teaching social studies for a number of years and I thought I knew it all but this has really made me think about it differently’.

“Something that came really strongly back this year was the number of TAs who said actually stopping and talking directly to and listening to the students’ responses using interviews was a way of finding out what students know, they could absolutely see value in that. They made comments like ‘this is something I really want to take back into my own practice’.”

What teachers are saying…

Tania, TA 2018

“I really enjoyed working with a huge variety of different learners – I come from a decile 10 school with few Pasifika and Māori students. I especially loved working with the intermediate students – something I hadn’t done since training college. I loved talking to the students in between tasks – they were usually really chatty about their lives and I realised that as a teacher, we rarely get to sit with a child for a period of time and just talk about ‘stuff’.”

Kaye, TA 2018

“I like the interview as a form of assessment. The ability to go back and check out what happened is good. I think I might start using (video) in my class – particularly in group discussions where my focus cannot be on all that has happened.”

Tania, TA 2018

“Watching children working in a group activity was interesting to me – as a teacher when you give a group activity, you are often roaming between groups, just catching snippets of conversations, so it was great to see groups working well in a small context.”

Phil, TA 2017

“Talking about student voice, I enjoyed every single interview that I did. I thought it was going to be boring and repetitive and it wasn’t. Every student had a different perspective…  those interviews were a vehicle for them to tell us what was their opinion, what was their perspective on stuff like pollution, oil, important health messages, fair play in sport, a student starting in a new school… The students were all keen to participate in the activities.

Source: Education Gazette

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