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Standards for standards: The development of Australian professional standards for teaching.

Professional standards for teaching have been developed in many countries during the 1990s. In Australia, the first wave of standards development has been dominated by the large state government school systems, and influenced by competency-based conceptions of standards. This paper provides a review of the first wave standards, concluding that these standards are characterised by long lists of duties, opaque language, generic skills, decontextualised performances, an expanded range of duties and weak assessments. As a second wave of standards development begins, led by teachers professional associations and deeply influenced by the methods of the American National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the paper proposes a set of standards for development of professional standards in Australia. Standards, it is argued, should be brief, transparent, specialised, contextualised, focused on teaching and learning, and matched by strong assessments.


During the last decade, the standards metaphor has been applied widely to programs of educational change in the English-speaking world. Curriculum content standards have been developed to describe what students should know and be able to do, performance standards to describe how much of this content they should master at particular ages or stages, and opportunity to learn standards to underwrite the equity of system-level provision of resources to schools (Darling-Hammond, 1997). In the professional domain, performance standards have been developed to describe what beginning teachers, experienced teachers and school leaders need to know and be able to do. This standards-based reform movement has reached its apogee in the United States, where a multitude of state and national standards map curriculum content and performance (Tucker & Codding, 1998) and three major national projects have attempted to identify and assess professional standards for beginning teachers (INTASC, 1991), standards for experienced teachers (NBPTS, 1989) and standards for school principals (ISLLC, 1996).

Since the publication of Teachers' work (Education Department, 1992) professional standards, in one form or another, have been developed in many Australian contexts. Unlike the United States (US) professional standards, which have been developed by national consortiums and professional associations, most of the Australian professional standards have been the product of state government education agencies. Compared with the US professional standards, Australian standards frameworks have been more quickly developed, more closely aligned to the needs of state education departments, with less involvement of professional associations and other stakeholder groups, with less attention to assessment strategies, and at considerably less expense. One significant exception to this rule is the National Standards and Guidelines for Initial Teacher Education produced by the Australian Council of Deans of Education after extensive consultation with universities, teacher education organisations, school authorities and professional standards organisations (Adey, 1998).

The purpose of this paper is to review the first wave of work on performance standards developed by employers and to suggest some directions for the coming second wave of development by teachers professional associations and their academic colleagues. The paper begins with an analysis of four first-wave Australian standards frameworks: the National Competency Framework for Beginning Teachers developed by the National Project on the Quality of Teaching and Learning (NPQTL) (1996) and published by the Australian Teaching Council, the Professional Standards for Teaching produced in Victoria by the Standards Council for the Teaching Profession (1996), the Standards Framework for Teachers prepared in Queensland by the Centre for Teaching Excellence (1997) and the Level 3 Competency Standards developed by consultants for the Education Department of WA (1997).

Four Australian standards frameworks

The NPQTL standards, the Queensland standards, the Victorian standards and the Western Australian standards all divide the territory of teaching into five areas or dimensions. These are listed in Figure 1. Although the detail of each set of dimensions varies, the common ground includes teaching, learning, assessment, communication with stakeholders, and professional learning. Three of the four sets of standards unpack the dimensions into a second hierarchy of items, what might be called the elements of each dimension. Only the Western Australian standards depart from this pattern. Figure 1 contains the complete text of the five `competencies' required of Level 3 teachers in Western Australia.
Standards Dimensions

NPQTL 1 Using and developing professional knowledge and values
 2 Communicating, interacting and working with students
 and others
 3 Planning and managing the learning process
 4 Monitoring and assessing student progress and learning
 5 Reflecting, evaluating and planning for continuous

Queensland 1 Teaching involves understanding the learner, learning
 and what is learnt
 2 Teaching involves achieving learning outcomes through
 focused practice
 3 Teaching involves building worthwhile learning
 4 Teaching involves being accountable and professional
 5 Teaching involves being a leader of learning

Victoria 1 Content of teaching and learning
 2 Teaching practice
 3 Assessment and reporting of student learning
 4 Interaction with the school community
 5 Professional requirements

Western 1 Utilise innovative and/or exemplary teaching strategies
Australia and techniques in order to more effectively meet
 the learning needs of individual children,
 groups and/or classes of children.
 2 Employ consistent exemplary practice in developing and
 implementing student assessment and reporting processes.
 3 Engage in a variety of self-development activities,
 including a consistently high level of critical
 reflection on one's own teaching practice and teacher
 leadership, to sustain a high level of ongoing
 professional growth.
 4 Enhance teachers' professional knowledge and skills
 through employing effective development strategies.
 5 Provide high level leadership in the school community
 through assuming a key role in school development
 processes including curriculum planning and
 management and school policy formulation.

Figure 1 Four frameworks, dimensions compared

Figure 2 lists the elements for one selected dimension from each set of standards. Although the territory mapped in each dimension varies, all four include items concerning assessment of students' work. The NPQTL and Victorian lists are quite similar, identifying elements of assessment concerning a range of assessment strategies, feedback to students, record keeping, and reporting to parents. The Queensland standards compress these into a summary item, `Monitor, assess, record and report student achievement'. Finally, the Western Australian standards provide a summary item concerning `exemplary practice in developing and implementing student assessment and reporting', but do not unpack the assessment and monitoring dimension into a further level of detail.
Standards Elements

NPQTL Monitoring and assessing student progress and learning
 1 Knows the educational basis and role of assessment in
 2 Uses assessment strategies to take account of
 relationships between teaching, learning and assessment
 3 Monitors student progress and provides feedback on
 4 Maintains records of student progress
 5 Reports on student progress to parents and others
 responsible for the care of students

Queensland Teaching involves achieving learning outcomes through
 focused practice
 1 Plan for high student learning outcomes utilising all
 relevant data.
 2 Coordinate learning experiences which engage learners
 in authentic processes to achieve outcomes.
 3 Facilitate learning environments that are focused on
 achieving outcomes.
 4 Maximise student learning outcomes using learning
 5 Monitor, assess, record and report student achievement.

Victoria Assessment and reporting of student learning
 1 Use of assessment and reporting strategies that
 complement and support the learning process
 2 Maintaining accurate and comprehensive records of
 student progress and achievement
 3 Providing feedback to the student on performance in a
 way that builds confidence and encourages continued
 4 Providing meaningful reports on student performance
 to the student and parents or guardians
Western Employ consistent exemplary practice in developing and
Australia implementing student assessment and reporting processes

Figure 2 Four frameworks, monitoring and assessment compared

These four sets of standards use different strategies to set the level of performance implied in their lists. In the case of the NPQTL standards, the standard is specified as that of a `beginning teacher': what teachers ought to know and be able to do at the beginning of their career. The Western Australian standards set a high level of performance for experienced teachers using high-level verbal descriptors, and using descriptions of duties that extend beyond the minimum traditional job requirements of planning, teaching and assessment. The verbal descriptors include intensifiers such as `exemplary' and `consistently'. Two of the competencies concern classroom teaching and assessment, and the other three expand the teachers' role to include personal professional development, contributions to others' professional development and participation in school development planning. The Victorian standards map variation in relation to the generic set of dimensions, at four levels of performance: Beginning Teacher, Experienced Teacher Level 1, Leading Teacher Level 2 and Leading Teacher Level 3. The method of mapping variation involves the same two strategies used in the Western Australian standards. Higher levels of performance in duties common to all teachers are mapped in terms of verbal discriminators, such as teaching skills that should be `high quality' at Level 1, `excellent' at Level 2, and `exemplary' at Level 3. Secondly, higher levels of performance are mapped in terms of additional duties. Level 1 teachers `respond effectively to emerging educational initiatives and priorities'. Level 2 teachers `undertake leading roles in the development, implementation and evaluation of curriculum programs and policy, and respond to initiatives that enhance student learning'. At the highest level, Level 3 teachers `initiate, plan and manage significant change in response to new educational directions, and manage the planning, development, implementation and evaluation of curriculum policy and programs'.

The Queensland standards use a similar but more elaborate method of specifying variation in performance. For each of the twenty-one elements of performance listed under the five dimensions of teaching, a further set of `indicators' is provided at three `developmental phases': Level A (beginning) teachers, Level B (established teachers, typically with three or more years experience) and Level C (highly proficient teachers in leadership roles in schools). For example, eleven indicators are identified in element 2.5 at the Level A standard; nine indicators are identified at Level B and six indicators are identified at Level C. Figure 3 lists the indicators at each phase, for one of the twenty-one elements. Like the Victorian standards and Western Australian standards, the Queensland standards map variation in performance according to verbal discriminators for duties common at all levels (Level A `uses', Level B `implements', and Level C `initiates' assessment strategies), and distinctions about duties at different levels. Whereas a Level A teacher `plans and conducts assessment in accordance with school policies' a Level B teacher `engages in challenging and supportive dialogue with critical friends' and a Level C teacher `initiates ... dialogue ... to examine monitoring, assessment, recording and reporting'.
2.5 Monitor, assess, record and report student achievement

A Beginning 1 Uses both formative and summative assessment
 2 Implements a variety of assessment tools to validate
 judgements about student learning.
 3 Interprets assessment data for future planning.
 4 Ensures that assessment tasks are purposeful and
 relevant to students.
 5 Assesses on an ongoing basis throughout units of
 6 Develops a range of assessment tasks which cover
 student knowledge, skills and attitudes.
 7 Meets state and national assessment and reporting
 8 Provides appropriately detailed and accurate reports
 on student achievement of outcomes to students,
 parents or others responsible for care of students.
 9 Adheres to principles of confidentiality.
 10 Plans and conducts assessment in accordance with
 school policies.
 11 Builds into work units, processes for effectively
 monitoring student learning.

B Established 1 Implements a range of strategies for assessing and
 monitoring and share these with colleagues.
 2 Reports on student achievement to a variety of
 3 Understands and implements outcomes of focused
 assessment strategies.
 4 Models strategies for reporting student progress to
 a variety of audiences.
 5 Interprets student data and demonstrates the
 inclusion of data in subsequent planning.
 6 Engages in challenging and supportive dialogue with
 critical friends and/or mentors to examine own
 monitoring, assessment, recording and reporting of
 student achievement.
 7 Identifies implications of the findings of state and
 national assessment and reporting accountabilities.
 8 Articulates the importance of gathering data which
 reflect holistic development and achievement
 (knowledge, skills and attitudes).
 9 Shares with colleagues formats for recording
 student data.

Highly 1 Initiates school-wide reflection and review of
proficient approaches for monitoring and assessing student
 2 Initiates and participates in school-wide or
 team-wide dialogue as or with critical friends
 and/or mentors to examine own and others' monitoring,
 assessment, recording and reporting of student
 3 Analyses school data gathered from state and national
 assessment and reporting accountabilities.
 4 Assists others in the interpretation of data.
 5 Reviews and refines existing school record keeping
 and reporting structures.
 6 Uses professional judgement to assess students
 against stated criteria and standards.

Figure 3 Queensland standards: Indicators at three developmental phases

Strengths and weaknesses in the Australian standards

Taken together, these standards frameworks offer a reassuringly similar image of the work of teachers in different parts of the country. All four conceptualise teaching in terms of duties, all four identify five major dimensions, and three of the four identify a larger number of sub-sets of elements and indicators of performance. Two of the four sets of standards attempt to describe standards at several career stages. These both use the same methods to account for the variation: a set of duties common to all teachers, with levels of performance pegged by verbal discriminators, and a set of additional duties at each career stage. Although the notorious inability of Australian educational authorities to sustain collaboration across state borders and among rival stakeholder groups (Angus & Louden, 1998) has led to the NPQTL's `national' standards having no national currency, the four sets of standards share common content and a common conceptual heritage. The conceptual heritage owes more to the competency-based occupational standards promoted for all occupations by Australia's now defunct National Training Board than to the authentic assessment-based approaches developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and other agencies in the United States.

Against this strength of a common approach and mutually interchangeable results, the conceptual heritage of the Australian standards leads also to a series of the weaknesses common to all of the Australian standards. In the section that follows, these weaknesses are identified as:

1 Long lists of duties

2 Opaque language

3 Generic skills

4 Decontextualised performances

5 Expanded duties

6 Weak assessments.

1 Long lists of duties

In all four of the examples cited here, the focus has been on identifying the duties to be performed at a particular level. In most cases, a hierarchy of lists has been produced in an attempt to elaborate all of the duties in all of their aspects. In a complex and varied activity such as school teaching, this approach may lead to very long lists of items appearing in a standards framework. For example, although the Queensland standards begin in a parsimonious fashion with five dimensions, these five dimensions are unpacked to twenty-one critical elements, each of which is exemplified by a set of between two and twelve indicators. This leads to a total of 105 indicators at the Beginning Teacher standard and to more than 300 different indicators across all three levels.

At least three objections may be raised against this approach. The first concerns the length of the lists; the second concerns the implication of separate skills, and the third concerns the content of the lists. First, 105 indicators is too long a list of items for anyone to remember or hold in their head at one time, even if the list is distributed across a set of elements (at the middle level of the hierarchy) or dimensions (at the top level of the hierarchy). Second, division of teaching into so many dimensions, elements and indicators conflicts with teachers' practical sense that teaching is a holistic task. Standards writers can position `learning environments that are focused on achieving outcomes' as separate from `partnerships with and among students', but teachers know that their partnerships with students are inextricably linked to the quality of learning. Separating such items in long lists under different headings harks back to the competency-based teaching standards that were discarded in the United States during 1970s and trivialises the complexity of the teachers' role (Houston, 1985). The third concern is with the domination of duties in the descriptions. Although the competency-based tradition in which most of these Australian standards have been written favours observable behaviour over moral dispositions or tacit knowledge, reducing teaching to a list of duties requires putting aside decades of research on the knowledge base (Shulman, 1987) and craft of teaching (Grimmett & McKinnon, 1992).

2 Opaque language

A second weakness in these Australian standards frameworks concerns the language they use. Although they vary somewhat, none of the standards are written in plain English. Compared with the relatively straightforward expression of `Maintains records of student progress' which appears in the NPQTL standards, an element such as `Facilitate learning environments that are focused on achieving outcomes' seems opaque. What does it mean? `Outcomes' is recognisable as late 1990s jargon for student learning, `learning environments' are classrooms with unstated positive characteristics favoured by the writers, and to `facilitate' is to teach in a way favoured by the writers. At the risk of parody, the element `Facilitate learning environments that are focused on achieving outcomes' could be translated as `teach in classrooms where children learn'. Although this would clearly be a good thing, the form of expression obscures the plain English meaning and does little to help a teacher distinguish between behaviour that would count as meeting the standards and behaviour which would not meet the standard.

The obscurity of educational jargon is not the only problem with the language of the Australian standards. Some dimensions and elements describe a field of knowledge as if it were unproblematic, when the field is complex and contradictory. What, for example, would be the content of the NPQTL standards' element `Knows the educational basis and role of assessment in teaching'? Behind this plausible and technical sounding phrase stands a field of disagreement, not a field of agreement. Is there just one role for assessment? If there is more than one role, what balance should there be among the various roles of assessment? Consider the tensions in the role of assessment in providing feedback to the student, for example, compared with the role of assessment in sorting and sifting for access to higher education. Although `Knows the educational basis and role of assessment in teaching' appears at first sight to specify or delimit the field of knowledge, it functions equally to mask an area of substantive conflict among teachers about what counts as good teaching.

3 Generic skills

The Australian standards are all generic standards, standards expected to apply equally to all subject areas and to teachers of children of all ages. Compared with the age- and subject-specific standards developed for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (Ingvarson, in press), generic standards have been quick and inexpensive to produce. Instead of the $50 million start up grants and $20 million annual budget of the National Board, the production and national consultation phases of the NPQTL standards were completed for less than $0.4 million. Against this important benefit, generic standards have several disadvantages. The first is that the standards inevitably leave out the subject specific knowledge and skills that make most sense to teachers. Compare the generic element `Coordinate learning experiences which engage learners in authentic processes to achieve outcomes' with the elaboration of Standard VII, Science inquiry:
 Teachers know that the processes of science are underpinned by habits of
 mind and attitudes that both describe the ethos and represent the core
 values of the scientific community. Ideally, these include such qualities
 as curiosity, openness to new ideas, scepticism, the demand for evidence,
 respect for reason, honesty and objectivity, the rejection of dogma or
 authority as arbiters of whose position prevails, the acceptance of
 ambiguity, the willingness to modify expectations in the light of new
 evidence, and teamwork. Teachers work to incorporate these values in their
 classrooms so that students acquire a sense of how science communities
 function by being in one. (Ingvarson, in press)

In place of the Queensland standards' generic educational jargon, the elaboration of Standard VII calls on enduring values held by the science education community, and uses language and concepts specific to science education. For this reason, the National Board standards are much more likely to be acceptable to teachers. A second virtue of the age- or subject-specific standards is that they have typically been developed by or in consultation with the teachers' professional associations. Unlike the top-down, central office, human resources branch dominated development process most often used in the production of the Australian standards, age- or subject-specific standards connect directly to the teachers' life-world-- to the subjects and Children they teach, and the teaching resources, professional development activities and professional journals provided by their professional associations.

4 Decontextualised performances

Whether standards are elaborated discursively, as in the National Board science standard cited above, or through lists of elements and indicators, the performance to which the standard refers is separated from the contexts in which it occurs. Contexts, however, have great impact on what would count as reaching any of the standards described in this paper. Consider the performance `providing feedback to the student on performance in a way that builds confidence and encourages continued effort'. Providing feedback, say, to highly motivated and successful Year 12 physics students-- who have years of experience in sustaining academic effort and whose previous results have given them reserves of academic confidence-- is likely to be easier than providing feedback to reluctant learners, or very young learners, or learners who are recent immigrants, or learners in a school with low norms of academic effort. Context determines how easy or difficult it is for a teacher to provide feedback that meets the criterion `builds confidence and encourages continued effort' and the kinds of professional and interpersonal skills required to give this level of quality feedback. Without contextual information, the `standard' of a standard is very difficult to determine.

Two of the Australian sets of standards have made some attempt to include contextual information in the form of brief vignettes of teachers at work. The NPQTL standards are illustrated by several sets of vignettes approximately 200 words long (NPQTL, 1996). Different sets were produced for teachers of young children, children in the middle years and secondary school students. The Queensland standards include a commitment to produce some similar illustrations of the standards in context but, at the time of writing, only one sample had been published (Centre for Teaching Excellence, 1997). The limited contextual links provided by the NPQTL and Queensland standards may be contrasted with established practice in the description of student learning standards in Australia. The Australian National Statements and Profiles and their state-based derivatives support the descriptions of standards with two kinds of contextual exemplification: student work samples and commentaries on the work samples. This approach, which has also been followed in the American Performance standards (New Standards, 1996), sets the standard of students' learning in relation to extended examples of student work at the standard supported by detailed commentaries and annotations that draw attention to the ways in which the standards are demonstrated in the example.

5 Expanded duties

A feature common to the Victorian, Western Australian and Queensland standards is that the range of duties extends well beyond the core of teachers' classroom work. In addition to the predictable sequence of standards concerning planning, teaching, assessment, and reporting students' progress, at higher levels in these three sets of standards teachers are expected to undertake duties connected with the school reform programs of the three government school systems. For example, the Queensland standards include elements such as `Acknowledge and respond to emerging educational priorities and departmental policies and guidelines' and `Participate in and contribute to a range of school activities as a member of the school team'.

At the point of implementation of the Western Australian and Victorian standards, many teachers undergoing assessment rejected the expanded conception of the teachers' role. One difficulty concerns the clash between teachers' conception of their work and system expectations. In the case of the Western Australian Level 3 standards, teachers did not understand or agree with the decision to focus two of the five competencies on classroom responsibilities and three of the competencies on school-wide responsibilities. This focus on the school leadership and school development planning conflicted with many teachers' conception of teaching as an individual, personal activity (Wallace, Wildy, & Louden, 1999). The second related difficulty with the expanded work role in the Victorian context was that teachers rejected the ideological intentions of the Level 2 and Level 3 assessments. According to Chadbourne and Ingvarson's (1998) review of the assessment program, teachers rejected the connection between high teaching standards and willingness to do the school system's ideological work (p. 89). Although school system officials might well insist that support of the school system's reform agenda is a legitimate selection criterion in a process which leads to a significant pay rise, there is only a tenuous link between teachers' willingness to provide schoolwide leadership for system initiatives and the quality of classroom teaching. High teaching standards are one thing and enthusiasm for the system's reform agenda is another.

6 Weak assessments

Standards are one half of a conceptual pair: standards and assessments. Standards describe what is good or what is good enough in professional performance, and assessments guide judgements about whether individuals reach or exceed these standards. There are many more statements of professional standards in Australian education than those that have been discussed in this paper, but there are very few sets of standards that have been accompanied by assessment materials and procedures that reflect the standards. As Tucker and Codding (1998) have observed in the context of student performance standards:
 All over the United States we see new standards, but standards that are
 very weak; we see standards with no assessments (which are useless) or
 assessments that are not matched to the standards (which are worse than
 useless). (p. 248)

The same can be said about the first wave of performance standards for teachers that have been developed in Australia. In addition to the problems with the construction of the standards themselves, the Australian standards that have been produced are weak because they have either no assessments or assessments that do not match the standards.

The NPQTL standards and the Queensland standards are standards without assessments. Despite the careful attempt to array performance and duties across a continuum in the Queensland standards, the indicators that set the different standards are an unconvincing guide to judgement. For example, it is not immediately clear that an indicator such as `Implements a variety of assessment tools to validate judgements about student learning' sets a lower standard than `Uses their professional judgements to assess students against stated criteria and standards'. The first of these, however, is offered as an indicator of the beginning teacher (Level A) standard and the second is offered as an indicator of the highly proficient (Level C) standard. There may be some justifiable difference between `validating judgements' and `using professional judgements' but this difference is not clear in the absence of assessment materials, exemplars or scoring rubrics.

In the Victorian and Western Australian examples, it may be argued that the standards are not well matched to the assessments. Both of these standards frameworks have broken new ground in Australia by adopting more authentic assessment procedures than the traditional public service process of resumes, interviews and referees' reports. The early work on producing more authentic assessment measures has not been without its critics. One review of the assessments made against the Victorian standards (Chadbourne & Ingvarson, 1998) has argued that the assessment of teaching skills by principals and of leadership qualities by an assessment centre failed to distinguish between different levels of performance. The assessments against the Western Australian standards, based on a written portfolio and a small group `in-basket' activity, have also been controversial. A review of this process (Wallace, Wildy, & Louden, 1999) concluded that, although teachers found the preparation of the portfolio rewarding, unsuccessful candidates expressed concerns about feedback on their portfolios. The in-basket activity was less well regarded, especially among unsuccessful candidates. Although reports of the Level 3 selection process using these more complex assessments indicate that the process was carefully planned (Jasman & Barrera, 1998), the assessment strategies would need to be further strengthened before the assessments were regarded as a fair reflection of the standards.

Six standards for professional standards

So far, this paper has provided descriptions of some of the standards frameworks developed by Australian state government agencies in recent years, and a critique of this work. These standards frameworks have been part of a series of reforms to the career structure of teaching (Chadbourne & Ingvarson, 1994), developed in contested political environments, in a country where teaching is a highly unionised profession (Schools Council, 1990). Unions have seen changes in career structures as a means of delivering salary increases to their members, and employers have used changes in career structures as a means of securing the acceptance of sometimes unpopular reform agendas. The development of standards and assessment of professional performance has been the business of union and employer officials, rather than teachers, professional associations or academics. This is likely to change during the next three years. Four of the largest teacher professional associations have entered into partnerships with university colleagues to develop three subjectspecific sets of professional standards. A substantial portion of the funding for all three standards development projects has been provided by the national university research funding agency, the Australian Research Council, which has no substantive interest in the outcome of the research. Although state government agencies have contributed modest funds and support for these three projects, the leadership of the projects has come from academics and from the national associations of science, mathematics, literacy and English teachers. Unlike previous Australian state standards, and more like the American National Board standards, these national standards will be developed at arm's length from the industrial concerns of any particular employer or teachers' union.

If Australia is to have a second wave of standards development, the standards ought to be of a higher standard this time. A set of six standards for the development of professional standards is offered in response to the six critiques of the first wave Australian standards:
1 Brief
2 Transparent
3 Specialised
4 Contextualised
5 Focused on teaching and learning, and
6 Matched by strong assessments

1 Brief standards Brevity is a virtue, especially in the production of standards. As Darling-Hammond (1997) has argued in the context of curriculum standards, `Standards and frameworks are likely to be most useful when they focus on a relatively small set of truly important core ideas' (p. 232). Not only should the lists be short and the hierarchies be few, but developers should ensure that the lists contain the knowledge, skills and dispositions that are essential to high quality performance. Complete coverage of the range of duties is much less important than identification of what matters most. A framework as brief as three short one-word or two-word lists may be adequate, provided it captures the duties, moral dispositions and interpersonal skills regarded as essential (Louden & Wildy, 1999a).

2 Transparent standards Brevity is, however, insufficient if the expression of the standards is unclear, inappropriate or ideologically unacceptable to the people whose work is to be described by the standards. The Western Australian Level 3 standards, for example, are brief but they are no more transparent than the long lists of the Queensland standards. As the second wave of standards projects move away from the first wave's competency-based conceptual heritage, there will be opportunities to simplify the language. Without the competency-based pressure to tie performance to a set of behavioural descriptors, the standards will require fewer modifying and intensifying words and fewer conditional phrases. With less direct involvement of state school system officials responsible for compliance with system initiatives, there may be fewer ideologically contested terms. The involvement of academics and professional associations in the production of standards, however, will bring new subject specialist jargon and other threats to transparency of the language. Moreover the extended consultation programs likely to be favoured by professional associations may make transparency more difficult to achieve. The process of reaching agreement with stakeholders over the text of a standard always carries the temptation to add one more word, phrase or concept to every standard.

3 Specialised standards Instead of the generic skills approach which has characterised previous Australian standards, the second wave of standards development will be managed by people already committed to age- and subject-specific standards. The work already completed by the National Board and subject specialist associations in the US is likely to be influential in this process. In view of the considerable expense and intellectual capital developed in the production of the National Board standards, one strategy is to build directly on the American standards and assessment strategies. Investigation of Australian teachers' reactions to the National Board standards has already begun in the context of secondary school English (Chadbourne & Brown, 1998). Although teachers identified differences in emphasis between Australian and American English teaching, the authors concluded the US standards could be adapted for use in Australia.

4 Contextualised standards Standards developed within a competency-based conceptual heritage attempt to remove context, to characterise the details of context as less important than the more general knowledge or skills thought to underlie teachers' work in particular contexts. In this conception of standards, context is the background not the foreground. In development of professional standards, however, attention needs to be paid to both the background and the foreground. As Masters (1998) argues, one of the lessons from the development of standards frameworks for student learning has been that a combination of what he calls `top-down' and `bottom-up' approaches works best. Top-down or expert approaches to developing standards focus on expert knowledge and the general case; bottom-up or contextual knowledge focuses on collection of data about behaviour in particular instances. In professional standards for teachers, there is a place for teachers' and academics' opinions about what is essential in the imagined general case, but this should be tested against actual observations of performance in context.

5 Focus on teaching and learning Teachers who have participated in assessment programs related to the Victorian and Western Australian standards have expressed concern that the assessments are too focused on teachers' willingness to lead school-wide activities or support the systems' reform agenda. In a period of intensification of teachers' work, standards that appear to extend the work of the profession beyond the core will be harder to implement and to defend. Standards and assessments that focus directly on classroom teaching and learning activities have more face validity for teachers. Difficult though it may be to describe and assess, it has long been observed that teachers' face-to-face work with children is the domain that brings most of their professional identity and personal satisfaction (Jackson, 1968).

A focus on teaching and learning in the production of standards requires a hard-headed reconsideration of the taken-for-granted contents of standards frameworks. Consider, for example, the conventional references to teachers' reflective practice. Is capacity to talk well about teaching deeply linked to capacity to teach well, or is it another thing? Research on restructuring in the classroom reform has found some links between teachers' capacity to articulate complex ideas about teaching and their capacity to implement these ideas in the classroom (Elmore, Peterson, & McCarthy, 1996), but in teaching there is a difference between talking a good game and playing a good game (Wildy & Louden, 1998). Presumably parents and students are more concerned about what happens in classrooms and what the consequences are for children's learning and development than they are about what teachers can say about teaching. It may be that the connection between quality talk and quality teaching is strong, but it is important that assessment strategies such as portfolios and in-tray assessments do not focus entirely on performances that take place outside the classroom. The risk is that too much emphasis on talk about teaching may mean that standards identify and honour those whom professors and staff developers admire, not those whom parents and students admire.

6 Strong assessments The first wave of standards development in Australia has focused on the production of standards framework at the expense of assessment strategies and materials. Except in the jurisdictions where the standards have been linked to high stakes assessments, the development of standards has not been controversial. In the second wave of Australian standards development, it is essential that equal effort is put into the more contentious half of the standards/assessment conceptual pair. Like student assessments, assessments of professional standards need to be clear, fair, equitable and defensible.

In particular, it is essential that the standards themselves, not just the assessment results, demonstrate the difference between higher and lower performance. Research on the reactions of unsuccessful candidates in Australia (Chadbourne & Ingvarson, 1998; Wallace, Wildy, & Louden, 1999) and America (Chittenden & Jones, 1997) suggests that current forms of professional standards leave unsuccessful candidates unclear about the difference between their performance and the performance of successful candidates. It is not sufficient to develop scoring rubrics that help assessors distinguish between successful and unsuccessful candidates, if the candidates themselves cannot understand the distinction. Developers of second-wave Australian standards should take a lesson from students' standards such as the Australian National Statements and Profiles or the American New Standards, and provide annotated exemplars of higher and lower performance in the standards themselves, not just in the scoring rubrics confidential to assessors. Possible strategies for including exemplars in the standards include narrative vignettes and commentaries linked to the standards framework (Louden & Wallace, 1996) or narrative vignettes ranked and rated by other professionals (Louden & Wildy, 1999b).


This paper has provided a review of the first wave of standards development in Australia and some suggestions to guide the second wave of standards development. Professional standards, it has been argued, ought to be brief, transparent, specialised, contextualised, focused on teaching and learning, and matched by strong assessments. There are, of course, other items that might claim a place on a set of standards for professional standards, and conflicts between the standards. For example, should there be a standard concerning consultation with teachers in the preparation of standards? If so, is consultation primarily about meeting with constituents or grounding the standards in observations of teachers' work? And what about the conflict between brevity and context, or about the conflict between strong assessments and a focus on notoriously hard to assess performances such as face-to-rice teaching? At the end of the first wave of standards development in Australia, as standards developed by employers and unions for the purpose of improving career progression are supplemented by standards developed by subject specialist professional associations, the questions are more obvious than their answers. As mathematics, science and English language teachers make progress towards the development of their own standards, they will want to pay attention to the standards developed in the United States, and also to wealth of local experience in developing high quality standards and assessment of students' learning. Although there are still many questions, some have already been answered in the national effort to develop developmental content and performance standards for school students.

competency based assessment professional development teacher
learning strategies standards teaching


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William Louden is Associate Dean in the Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences, Edith Cowan University, 2 Bradford Street, Mount Lawley, Western Australia 6050. email:
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Author:Louden, William
Publication:Australian Journal of Education
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Aug 1, 2000
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