Gary Carey

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (School of Education)

Schools and Centres


First Supervisor

Associate Professor Kevin Watson


Formative assessment practices hold the key to improving the quality of student learning in our educational institutions. Unfortunately, these formative practices are often not well understood by practitioners and opportunities to improve the learning outcomes for our students are lost. This study investigated whether the Catholic Education Office Sydney’s (CEO) commitment to the use of the Essential Secondary Science Assessment online (ESSAonline) was having an impact on the performance of subsequent cohorts of students sitting ESSAonline. The findings of the study clearly show that whilst the test is a powerful driver which can lead to improvement in the performance of subsequent cohorts of students its full potential as a formative test is being under-utilised.

Findings show that very few teachers make extensive use of ESSAonline test data or provide feedback to students about ‘the gap’ between what they know and can do and the expected achievement standard. Without feedback there can be no action by the teacher, students or parents to close ‘the gap’. The majority of teachers who have made extensive use of ESSAonline data have only made use of the data in one way. Teachers who have experienced positive growth in the performance of subsequent cohorts sitting ESSAonline have achieved this by engaging in reflective practice and reviewing their Stage 4 programming and pedagogy. Very few teachers across Sydney diocesan systemic schools have used the data to identify what Stage 5 students know and can / cannot do. Teachers do not use the data to provide feedback to students. Until 2013, there has been no effective tool to track the impact of individual learning plans developed for Stage 5 students from ESSAonline data.

With the current development of Year 10 ESSAonline test, the testing process has been expanded to comprehensively facilitate the tracking of student learning outcomes in Science as students move from Stage 4 through to Stage 5. This new test provides an excellent tool for teachers to measure the impact of individual learning plans developed for Stage 5 students based on data from the Year 8 test.

Within the context of the achievement-based learning conceptual framework the full potential of ESSAonline to systemic schools is being under-utilised and the potential for students to gain real and measurable improvements in their learning outcomes is not being realised.

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