Gwen Gawith

Throughout the two cycles of NEMP testing, teachers’ frequent remarks about the difficulty many students experience completing certain tasks revealed an emerging pattern. This was that, irrespective of subject or skill area, students find it hard to perform well on tasks that are complex, cognitively challenging or multi-step, tasks requiring analysis, interpretation and inference, and tasks requiring the ability to apply knowledge with depth. This report outlines the first part of a two-phase probe study designed to confirm and explore this pattern, and to find ways of remedying it.

Comments made by teachers in the publication NEMP Forum Comments and other reports produced during the two NEMP cycles from 1995 to 2002 were analysed to determine the extent and nature of teachers’ concerns about student performance on cognitively challenging tasks. In an attempt to make these cognitive skills explicit, overseas literature was used to inform the design of a comprehensive cognitive skills framework that will be used during the second phase of the study.

• Teachers’ remarks in the Comments and other reports confirmed their widespread concern about students’ ability to process cognitively challenging tasks.


• Together, these comments produced a strong consensus observation that the pattern described above is pervasive.

• The skills framework analysis suggested that while some cognitive skills are being taught (and tested), other core cognitive skills are assumed rather than made explicit for students.

• Analysis of overseas literature indicated that teachers’ stated expectation of more depth of learning and application of cognitive skills is realistic and achievable at both NEMP levels but only if the skills required and the pedagogy needed to teach them are made explicit.

Overseas literature suggests that a wide range of cognitive skills underpins ‘depth’ of learning at all ages and stages, and that these skills do not arise by ‘osmosis’. They must be coached and practised regularly in curricular contexts. NEMP tasks have a key role to play in helping teachers teach, monitor and test the development of these skills. Accordingly, the second part of this study will use the cognitive skills framework to:
  i re-examine NEMP tasks used in 1997 so as to establish which tasks at both NEMP levels require which higher order/applied skills; and

ii develop additional tasks, which have embedded within them appropriate pedagogy, as exemplars to help NEMP task-setters incorporate these skills in assessment activities, help NEMP markers assess them, and help teachers teach them.
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Report pending. Once released, the full report of this probe study will be available on this website
or will be available from USEE.