Queensland, Australia, “Rich Tasks” Assessment Program

K-12 Testing

The state of Queensland, Australia, has implemented a voluntary new curriculum in grades 1-9 that focuses on the use of performance assessments (“Rich Tasks”). Schools can choose the “New Basics”–four thematic strands—as a replacement for the current state curriculum, which resembles a typical U.S. standards-based approach.


This project’s approach to school improvement relies on local schools, under central guidance, as the heart of reform efforts. It stands in stark contrast to state-mandated, high-stakes testing that is at the core of U.S. school change activities, particularly under the No Child Left Behind law. Together with other innovative approaches to assessment, such as in New Zealand (Examiner, Fall 2004) and the states of Nebraska and Maine (Examiner, Spring 2002), along with high quality classroom assessments such as the Learning Record (Examiner, Fall 2001), Queensland’s experience should help guide a rethinking of assessment and accountability.


The New Basics began in 2000 with 38 volunteer schools. After three years, only one dropped out and 22 more joined. In addition, many of the assessment tasks have begun to circulate into other schools.


According to the state’s description:
“The New Basics Framework is Queensland’s attempt to:
• empower and encourage teachers
• unclutter the curriculum
• up the ante intellectually
• deliver fewer alienated students
• prepare students for a future in an uncertain world
• position the classroom in the global village.”
“The set of Rich Tasks embodies curriculum, pedagogy and assessment for ‘new times’ [using] four curriculum organizers:
• Life pathways and social futures
• Multiliteracies and communications media
• Active citizenship
• Environments and technologies.”


Rich Tasks
The Rich Tasks are extended performance tasks that combine subject areas. Queensland says they enable identification of “mandated student knowledge, skills and practice outcomes at critical junctures [years 3, 6 and 9] of schooling.” Their use provides “conditions for local school-specific curriculum development in response to community needs.”


The Rich Tasks themselves are “specific activities that students undertake that have real-world value and use, and through which students are able to display their grasp and use of important ideas and skills.” One example:


“Years 7-9 Rich Task #1 - Science and Ethics Confer
“Students will identify, explore and make judgments on a biotechnological process to which there are ethical dimensions. They will identify scientific techniques used, along with significant recent contributions to the field. They will also research frameworks of ethical principles for coming to terms with an identified ethical issue or question. Using this information, they will prepare pre-conference materials for an international conference that will feature selected speakers who are leading lights in their respective fields.”
The tasks are centrally created. With this sample from their website come grading guidelines and other supportive information. Teachers “work backwards” from the tasks, using “their professional judgment to break them down into sequences of instruction.”


Extensive Research
Extensive research and evaluation of New Basics shows that, overall, it is progressing well. Studies found stronger student engagement in learning in schools using the Rich Tasks. On traditional tests, New Basics students scored about the same as students in the traditional program, but they performed notably better on assessments designed to gauge higher order thinking. While the students generally did well on the Rich Tasks, researchers found that the quality of teacher-made assessments leading up to the Rich Tasks was not good enough, indicating a need for more professional development.


The implementation of New Basics has been very demanding for teachers, who reported some burnout. However, teachers also reported finding great value in the process.


Overall, both teachers and administrators expressed strong support. By contrast, surveys in the U.S. find strong educator opposition to the imposition of high-stakes standardized testing.


In scoring the Rich Tasks, teachers judge student performance against pre-set standards. Because schools were to report results to parents beginning in 2004, Queensland initiated a “moderation” process that year in which teams of teachers review the completed Rich Tasks: “Equivalent performances (i.e. those of the same standard) must be awarded the same grade and reported results must be based on evidence of targeted learnings and informed by a common understanding of the standards.” Moderation also helps educators develop shared understandings about high-quality work, and it provides useful feedback for improving schools and teaching.


Schools assign student grades in collaboration with the Rich Task teams that participated in the moderation, which means there are some stakes attached for students. The expectation is that schools will learn to grade samples of Rich Tasks consistent with statewide standards. There are no mandated high-stakes uses of the results for schools.
• Substantial information about the program, including voluminous research reports, sample tasks, and a chart showing the moderation process are available on the web at http://education.qld.gov.au/corporate/newbasics/.