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Central West Community College Inc

After a rigorous trial of the National Reporting System, HELP teachers at Central West Community College concluded that this framework for assessing literacy and numeracy skills was not appropriate for assessing and reporting on progress made by participants in HELP programs. Though a valuable tool for teachers, it was too complex for the kind of activities that characterise HELP programs.

Background

Central West Community College offers adult and community education programs, employment services and community based vocational education and training programs in centres throughout central western NSW. College teachers are involved in a number of HELP programs.

As a Registered Training Organisation, the College was interested in providing graduates of HELP programs with a portable and meaningful record of achievement, for example, a statement of achievement that identified their literacy and numeracy skill levels within a national framework. Staff believed this would help identify further study options and facilitate articulation arrangements.

Project Objectives

The aim of the Strategic Pilot Project was to investigate the feasibility of incorporating the National Reporting System (NRS) into the initial and ongoing assessment of participants in non-accredited HELP courses.

The NRS is a generic set of reference points for measuring language, literacy and numeracy against five levels of competence. It provides a consistent framework for reporting the outcomes of adult English language, literacy and numeracy provision in the vocational education and training system, labour market programs and in the adult and community education sector.

Project Activities

The 12 Central West Community College HELP teachers involved in the Strategic Pilot Project were all experienced in developing assessment tasks and strategies, moderating assessments and using assessment resources. They were familiar with the NRS but had had no opportunity to apply it in a practical context. To address this gap, a short professional development program was offered at the beginning of the project.

In moderation sessions, teachers shared information on successful strategies and techniques and then tried them with students on an informal basis. They looked at how to gather examples of behaviours and competencies that could be used to describe gains made in social skills and personal development. They also examined the feasibilility of using the NRS to report on progress made by the whole group, rather than by each individual.
Student responses were discussed during the moderation sessions to determine whether the response indicated competent or not yet competent. This approach led to a consistent understanding by all teachers of the requirements and standards expected from each of the assessment tasks.

Teachers created folders of common moderated assessment tasks that were NRS specific for each centre in the College. These can easily be tailored to individual and classroom programs without losing their reliability as a testing tool. These folders support the assessment tasks and have information about the assessment activity, expected performance, conditions and learning context as well as NRS indicators, levels and aspects. An assessment task cover sheet provides a quick guide to choosing an assessment task that matches the level and learning outcomes a teacher has been working towards.

Project Outcomes

After trialing key aspects of the NRS with HELP students, the teachers concluded that the NRS reporting formats were inappropriate in this environment. Students do not understand the NRS codes and find a plain English progress report far more useful. Furthermore, HELP courses are generally too short to demonstrate movement from one NRS level to another, and the indicators are too large for the type of competencies developed in HELP programs.

The NRS is a common language for teachers and literacy practitioners, but less so for other community and government agency staff involved in HELP programs. Comprehensive professional development training would, therefore, be required across TAFE and Centrelink staff before the system could provide the portability envisaged during the initial phase of the Strategic Pilot Project. Teachers felt that rigorous application of the NRS would result in the program becoming assessment driven and ultimately, less effective for the target group.

The Strategic Pilot Project provided sound professional development for the teachers. They are now more aware of literacy and numeracy developmental needs and have training materials on assessment and the NRS. The project also allowed the College to fast track the introduction of accredited curriculum for HELP programs.

Research during the project showed that the type of activities usually undertaken in HELP programs can easily be located within the framework of accredited general education, communications and office technology modules. Therefore, if individual candidates want to be assessed, nationally recognised credentials could be issued.

Success Factors

Teachers had a forum in which to discuss assessment issues. They were encouraged to grapple with challenging ideas and new concepts, resulting in a more informed approach to assessing participants in HELP programs. Other personnel in the College were a great resource during the project and contributed to the enthusiastic involvement of staff.

Possible Improvements

Project staff believe their approach to the research and feasibility study yielded meaningful outcomes and would not have done anything differently.

 

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