How teachers are helping to design an online network for formative assessment

How teachers are helping to design an online network for formative assessment

This piece was originally published by ACEL in their May 19 newsletter.

By Deb Efthymiades
Board Chair of Online Formative Assessment Initiative
Deputy Director-General, System Policy and Reform, ACT Education Directorate


The Online Formative Assessment Initiative is aiming to provide Australian teachers with tools, flexibility and professional learning to plan teaching that will work best for the students in their classroom. The work so far has been developed by AITSL, ESA and ACARA; in collaboration with the teaching profession, school leaders, parents/carers and students.


I have been excited to be involved in the early stages of the Online Formative Assessment Initiative, a project that is being co-designed with teachers to streamline and enhance their efforts to meet the learning needs of their students. For the vast majority of my education career, this is something I have hoped for but could only dream about as a genuine value-add to the daily work of teachers.

The Initiative is working towards a future where teachers across Australia can access a network of tools to help them easily identify where students are in their learning and monitor their progress. The network is planned to give opt-in, on-demand access to high quality, evidence-based tools, enabling teachers to find quality resources, use formative assessments and work with data.

We’re all familiar with assessment. It is likely that the average member of the public thinks of end- of-year exams as the main experience. End of year exams are an example of summative assessment: a way of understanding what a student has learned at the end of a period of learning. Formative assessment, in contrast, seeks to understand a student’s progress while they are still making it. Teachers undertake formative assessment in many ways, often on a daily basis to check students’ understanding, so they can better tailor their teaching.

In classrooms, formative assessment has many forms, such as teachers asking students to answer a question, demonstrate an action, or complete a task. The Online Formative Assessment Initiative seeks to value-add to teachers’ daily efforts to assess, monitor and respond to student learning.

At this point in time, the initiative is in the final part of an ‘alpha’ phase, which has focused on building prototypes of an online network of teacher tools. The network is designed so teachers can dip in where they need to — to save them time in creating targeted formative assessments, finding quality resources for their students that are linked to the Australian Curriculum, accessing professional learning to improve their formative assessment practice, or collecting data on student progress. The network is aimed at further supporting teachers at the critical point of ‘what’s next’.

Within the network, formative assessment tasks are linked to the Australian Curriculum through the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLPs), which describe the skills, understandings and capabilities that students typically acquire as their proficiency increases over time. The NLNLPs are designed to help teachers ascertain the stage of learning demonstrated, identify any gaps in skills and knowledge, and plan for the next step to progress learning.

Aligning the Australian Curriculum with formative assessment will mean teachers can get immediate feedback on a student’s learning trajectory, and in the longer term, a common scale should save teachers time when using online formative assessments.

Throughout this initiative it has been absolutely critical to involve teachers in the design of tools that are intended to assist their work. Key to that has been the Teacher Practice Reference Group (TPRG), a group of teachers and school leaders from all sectors and all over the country that was set up in 2019 and further expanded in 2020 to collaborate on this project. The input and insights from TPRG members illustrate how important the co-design process has been.

When surveyed anonymously, 96% of the TPRG agreed the network will be able to help identify where students are in their learning. One member said, “I am happy that you are streamlining the process and making the process easier and more accessible to everyone”, and another commented “I really enjoy seeing the developments that we discuss being combined into the project each time we meet”.

The prototypes that we are working on are not final products and will continue to evolve based on teacher feedback.

Jurisdictions were invited to nominate schools for testing the prototypes, to make sure all contexts have been considered, from small rural schools with internet connectivity issues, to large metropolitan schools who already use formative assessment software, to special schools who need unique resources.

Christine Cawsey has been Principal of Rooty Hill High School in NSW for the last 24 years and is on the Project Management Board for the initiative. She says,

“As a secondary principal, I see opportunities for schools to target students and groups of students for whom it will make the most difference.

“The online nature of this work with access to high quality shared resources and iterative assessment means that secondary students and teachers across Australia — even in the most remote and most disadvantaged schools — will have equity of access to understanding their own learning progress at any time.”

“The professional learning and networking embedded in the design of OFAI recognises the high quality of teacher work in Australia and builds on the best practices in professional learning including collective efficacy, collaboration and adaptation.”

Testing and further development of the network is continuing. Education Ministers will decide on next steps for this initiative in the coming months. In the meantime, if you would like to become one of the teachers or schools contributing your voice and experience to the project, you can volunteer to participate.