It’s not just about the test…

Ms Margaret Gunn, Director of Mathematics and Accounting

With their final assessment now complete, our Year 12 students have just one week in which to embrace the ease of everyday friendships, reflect upon their Girls Grammar experience and anticipate the opportunities of the future from within the confines of the white picket fence. Reminiscing will include five years of curricular, co-curricular and social events, as different experiences will resonate with each girl. Undoubtedly, these precious memories of their days as Grammar girls will be recalled at reunions in the years to come.

Our Intent, inscribed on the wall of the Cherrell Hirst Creative Learning Centre, declares that a Brisbane Girls Grammar School education ‘establishes the educational foundation for young women to contribute confidently to their world with wisdom, imagination and integrity’. While it is the sum of all educational experiences that has equipped our girls for life beyond school, it is the academic learning component that provides the core of this preparation.


Learning is not confined by classroom walls. It does not cease upon graduation from secondary school, and thus it is a responsibility of schools to equip students with the necessary skills, dispositions and motives to continue to learn in the world beyond school. Eminent scholar and educationalist Sir Richard Livingstone stated in 1941 that, ‘the test of a successful education is not the amount of knowledge that pupils take away from school, but their appetite to know and their capacity to learn’ (cited in Claxton, 2007, p. 115). As teachers, the learning, development and wellbeing of our students is our core business, thus ‘in the grand scheme of things our chief and overriding purpose is the achievement of our students and success in instilling life-long learning skills’ (Helterbran, 2005, p. 263). Learning is a life-long and life-wide journey that should be enjoyable, stimulating and motivated by interest. As Ranson, Martin, Nixon, and McKeown (1996, p. 14) declared, ‘learning is becoming’.

Throughout their secondary school years, our students are expected to engage with their academic studies and are encouraged to pursue their particular interests as avenues for discovery and learning. Lessons explore curriculum content with rigour and detail, and our students frequently deliver astonishing insights for such young minds. In Girls Grammar classrooms, students collaborate, inquire, research, discuss, question, analyse, challenge and evaluate; and teachers aim to inspire in our students a systematic curiosity in research and learning. As Chickering and Ehrmann (1996, p. 3) assert, ‘learning is not a spectator sport’. Learning is a process of discovery that involves knowing, understanding, applying, and the challenge of grappling with difficult and unfamiliar problems.


Unsurprisingly, students often express an early and avid interest in clarifying the extent and manner in which curriculum content and dimensions will be included in assessment tasks. Questions such as ‘Will this be on the test?’ and ‘Could we be asked …?’ are frequently directed to teachers. Given the impact of Senior assessment results on tertiary options, it is understandable that students possess this preoccupation with acquiring a precise understanding of assessment requirements. Indeed, with the stakes of assessment outcomes so high for students, assessment has the potential to define and frame learning (Willis, 1993). Paradoxically, this can have a deleterious effect on student performance.

The danger of allowing impending assessment to motivate and direct student learning is that both breadth and depth of learning are diminished. Focusing on the desired outcome promotes rote learning and a fixation on process at the expense of understanding and exploration. When students pursue performance goals, they are motivated to complete tasks to obtain good results and to compare favourably with their peers (Dweck, 1986).

Conversely, when students establish academic learning goals, they are focused on understanding. Research has also indicated that students who establish goals related to learning or mastery generally display an increased level of engagement in their study, improved learning strategies and greater self-belief than those who set goals related to performance (Dweck, 1986). A focus on academic learning allows learning to be driven by curiosity and pursued with a sense of excitement. Our students need to be continually encouraged and supported to prioritise the process of learning. While ‘expanding the learning capacity’ of our students will result in higher achievement standards, authentic learning is not merely about assessment outcomes (Claxton, 2007, p. 124). Certainly, being a successful learner means much more than doing well in exams.


Despite our efforts to frame learning as an independently worthwhile activity and not undertaken only for the purposes of assessment, learning and assessment are inextricably linked. Whether assessment is formative or summative, it informs about learning; it is a necessary gauge of the progress or learning status of each student. Assessment evidence indicates the performance or achievement level of a student at that moment in time. For teachers, assessment outcomes inform and guide future teaching and learning practice. For students, it should inform subsequent learning endeavours. Often, it would seem that students receive the feedback provided by assessment as if it were an irrevocable judgment about ability, rather than as an indication of the ‘current state of their expandable learning capacity’ (Claxton, 2007, p. 124) and, thus, a launching pad for improvement. Learning is a continual process, and progress and rates of learning vary. While learning is life-long journey, assessment provides feedback and directions while engaged in the formal educational component.

For our Year 12 cohort of 2013, the school-based learning component of life is almost complete. Whether continuing their education through tertiary study, travel or work, we hope they continue to develop their intellectual curiosity and wish them inspiration and joy in limitless learning. We hope they continue to be creative, curious and critical thinkers who explore the unknown, search for answers and contribute to the world with wisdom, imagination and integrity. And we remind them that learning was, and never is, just about the test….


Chickering, A. W., & Ehrmann, S. C. (1996, October 3–6). Implementing the seven principles: Technology as a lever. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin. Retrieved November 1, 2013, from

Claxton, G. (2007). Young people’s capacity to learn. British Journal of Educational Studies, 55(2), 115–134. Retrieved November 2, 2013, from

Dweck, C. (1986). Motivational processes affecting learning. American Psychologist, 41, 1040–1048.

Helterbran, V. R. (2005). Life-long or school-long learning: A daily choice. The Clearing House, 78(9), 261–263. Retrieved November 2, 2013, from

Ranson, S., Martin, J., Nixon, J., & McKeown, P. (1996). Towards a theory of learning. British Journal of Educational Studies, 44(1), 9–26. Retrieved November 5, 2013, from

Willis, D. (1993). Learning and assessment: Exposing the inconsistencies of theory and practice. Oxford Review of Education, 19(3), 383–402. Retrieved November 2, 2013, from


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