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How NSW Department of Education set an academic health-check blueprint for schools disrupted by COVID-19

NSW Education

The pandemic is leaving no aspect of the Australian schools system untouched. Among the impacts of the closures of school buildings were disruptions to periodic assessments that indicate students’ learning progress, including the cancellation of NAPLAN in 2020. It meant that the periods for which students were unable to attend school in person are effectively an academic blind spot for educators.

The NSW Department of Education (NSW DoE) sought to address this by partnering with Janison to assist schools in identifying learning gaps for schoolchildren across the state who had had their schooling disrupted. It followed a successful previous collaboration between Janison and NSW DoE in delivering the diagnostic assessment Best Start Year 7.

The ongoing project, called Check-in assessment, and which began in 2020, resulted in a new blueprint being set for diagnostic testing at state level. Its success led to its expansion for 2021 and Ministerial praise as a “world-class diagnostic tool” that was set to transform how NSW schools measured student progress.

The Brief

The NSW DoE wanted to give schools the opportunity to check how their students were tracking in the key areas of literacy and numeracy via an optional diagnostic assessment. The on-demand online test would be delivered to Years 3, 5 and 9. As with Best Start Year 7, key to its effectiveness would be the ability to deliver results swiftly, giving immediate insights for teachers to address key areas of student weakness.

The Challenge

The lack of in-person teaching during the COVID-19 lockdowns meant that in some cases, as a result of weeks of school building closures, some students were experiencing a loss of learning and delays in their development. Principals and teachers also faced logistical limitations that affected their ability to deliver traditional pen-and-paper testing to identify who was falling behind. The challenge was to identify which students had missed out and by how much to help inform teachers’ approach to supporting their classes in catching up.

Our Solution

The NSW DoE Check-in assessment was central to providing data to pinpoint learning gaps to provide teachers with evidence for much-needed educational interventions during an extraordinary period of external disruption. The online assessment was multiple-choice, which meant that marking could be fully automated, delivering results within 48 hours.

It was offered to schools in a three-week window in Term 3, giving them the flexibility to run the assessment at a time that best suited them.

In a letter to staff, the NSW DoE said: “The Check-in assessments are designed to supplement existing school practices to identify how students are performing, and to help teachers tailor their teaching more specifically to student needs.”

The test were designed by the Department and delivered on the Janison Insights assessment platform, integrated with the NSW DoE’s reporting and analytics system, SCOUT. Students sat the online test, and at the end of the day the DoE Reporting team would extract daily results from Janison’s solution, feeding it through to their data warehouse and compiling a report for schools via SCOUT.

The Result

Take-up of the test was high, with a total of 1,775 schools and 157,000 students participating during the Term 3 testing window – more than 80 per cent of eligible schools.

Digital delivery and automated marking enabled detailed results to be in teachers’ hands within 48 hours. Delivery was smooth and efficient, with up to 21,000 completions per day for the Year 5 and 9 tests, and as many as 24,000 per day for Year 3. There were a total of 318,000 test completions.

Praise from teachers, ministers and teachers’ union

The 2020 Check-in assessment was applauded as a success by participating schools and stakeholders. One school principal said that the test provided much-needed data on student progress “in a year where we had limited opportunities for a formal assessment process”.

“This is of great benefit to our teachers, particularly in the alternate years to NAPLAN,” he said.

A teacher from another participating school said: “Yes! It’s been great to have results so quickly.”

Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said: “The response from schools to the Check-in package has been fantastic.” She added: “Feedback from the assessment tool will contribute to the NSW Government’s curriculum overhaul, which will see a renewed focus on literacy and numeracy.”

The NSW Teachers Federation union hailed the project as an “enlightened approach” to assessment, adding: “The Federation congratulates the Minister on the literacy and numeracy Check-in assessment package.”

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and is a great example for education ministers across the country. Schools said the major benefits were quick turnaround for results, diagnostic information at syllabus and learning progression level, and ability to use the results to inform their classroom practice.

NSW Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell

The Roadmap

The Check-in assessment was found to be so beneficial that it has expanded for 2021. Following strong demand, the NSW DoE expanded the assessment for 2021, to allow for comparison between school years. Other states, including Victoria, are understood to be watching the initiative closely.

At the 2021 SMH Schools Summit, The Grattan Institute praised the Check-in data set as the best post-COVID schools data to date.

Check-in expands for Term 2 2021

In April 2021, Check-in ran for Years 4, 6 and 8. This Term 2 testing will allow Years 4 and 6 to compare their results with last year’s, and set up Year 8 for a comparison at a later date. At the end of 2021, a Year 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 Check-in will also run, across 2,200 NSW Government schools.

“Due to the success of the rollout and how well it was received by schools and teachers, we are anticipating an even greater demand for the insights that these assessments provide” said Derek Welsh, Chief Operating Officer at Janison, adding that due to the continued COVID disruption, private and other non-government schools, were also keen to be part of this landmark initiative.

Speaking publicly, Ms Mitchell described Check-in as a “world-class ­diagnostic tool” that was set to transform how NSW schools tracked student progress. She said the take-up for 2021 had been “extraordinary”, with more than 90 per cent of primary schools opting in for the new Year 4 and 6 assessments and almost 70 per cent of secondary schools running the Year 8 Check-in.

“Feedback from last year’s ­assessments has been overwhelmingly positive and is a great example for education ministers across the country,” Ms Mitchell said.

“These assessments provide a snapshot of students’ strengths and weaknesses, and will help schools quickly identify the students with the greatest levels of need.”

She added: “Schools said the major benefits were quick turnaround for results, diagnostic information at syllabus and learning progression level, and ability to use the results to inform their classroom practice.”

David Caspari, Janison Chief Executive Officer, said: “We’re very proud of the role we played with the NSW Department of Education with the Check-in assessment and delighted by the positive outcomes and feedback from schools and teachers.

“We really see Check-in as a force for good. Amid the fallout of COVID-19, teachers and schools are desperate for knowledge and insights about how their students are progressing, and Check-in meets that critical need in a timely manner.”


Statistics and Key Milestones

650,000+

test completions in 2020 and 2021 Check-in

+80%

of eligible schools took part

48hrs

time within which teachers received results

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