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John Hattie
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Australia needs to change its priorities to improve student learning outcomes, according to leading education researcher Professor John Hattie.

Rather than focusing on standards such as NAPLAN, educators need to focus on student growth, he will argue in a Melbourne Graduate School of Education lecture on Wednesday December 7.

Professor Hattie, who joined the University of Melbourne earlier this year as Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, argues there is too much focus on standards in the national education debate, which distracts from the key issue.

“What we should be focusing on is whether students have experienced a year’s growth from the start of the school year, to the end of the year,” he said. “Of course, that will be different for every student, so external standards are not a very useful indicator of their learning growth.”

According to Professor Hattie, teachers should be using assessment to understand students’ current level of understanding, and what growth can be expected from each student.

“We know that when we let students set their own learning goals, they are very achievable” he said. “It is the teacher’s role to stretch their students, so they exceed their own expectations.”

According to Professor Hattie, assessment is for teachers, not students.

“Most parents and teachers think assessment is about kids,” he said. “But that’s not the case at all. Actually, assessment is vital feedback for teachers. It provides the information they need to determine the appropriate learning targets and learning growth for each individual student.”

Professor Hattie’s software package, which is used in the Northern Territory, New Zealand and New York government schools, allows teachers to create tests that produce rich information about who they have an impact on, about what, and whether it is sufficient.

“Our system uses a backward design, which means the starting point is the information required by the teacher. In this way, assessment becomes an integrated part of their teaching, and they no longer have to ‘teach to the test’”, he said.

“Technology is now so advanced we can measure how a student solves a problem, not just measure the answer they provide.”

Professor Hattie and his team have also discovered that the feedback provided by the software is preferred by both students and teachers.