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Towards a growth mindset in assessment

15 October 2013

Assessment and reporting processes shape student, parent and community beliefs about learning – sometimes in unintended ways.

In an ACER Occasional Essay titled ‘Towards a growth mindset in assessment’, ACER Chief Executive Professor Geoff Masters describes three general approaches to evaluating and providing feedback on the outcomes of learning, each of which has implications for how students view themselves as learners and how they understand the relationship between effort and success.

‘The approaches we take to assessing learning, the kinds of tasks we assign and the way we report success or failure at school send powerful messages to students not only about their own learning, but also about the nature of learning itself,’ Professor Masters observes.

In the essay, Professor Masters argues that commonly used assessment and reporting approaches frequently send unhelpful messages.

According to Professor Masters, the practice of choosing assessment tasks because they are within students' capabilities and are likely to be completed successfully sends the message that success at school is an entitlement and can be achieved with minimal effort. The practice of reporting performances against year-level standards also distorts the relationship between effort and success, as A to E grades provide little or no sense of the learning progress that individuals actually make over time.

‘A student who receives a “D” year after year could be excused for concluding that they are making no progress at all when, in reality, they may be making as much annual improvement as a student who consistently receives an “A”. And worse, they may conclude that there is something stable about their capacity to learn – that is, they are a “D-student”,’ Professor Masters explains.

Rather than expecting all students of the same age to be at the same point in their learning at the same time, Professor Masters calls for an approach that expects every student to make excellent learning progress over the course of a school year, regardless of their starting point.

‘When students' performances are assessed from the perspective of a growth mindset, the focus is not so much on 'judging' as on understanding where individuals are in their learning at the time of assessment,’ Professor Masters observes.

Professor Masters explains that this approach clarifies the relationship between effort and success, and sets high expectations of every learner, including more advanced students who sometimes are not challenged or stretched and hardly improve at all.

‘Under a growth mindset, “failure” is defined not in terms of year-level expectations, but as inadequate learning progress,’ Professor Masters explains.■

Read the full paper:
‘Towards a growth mindset in assessment’, by Professor Geoff N Masters, is available to read in HTML or PDF format.

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