Understanding factors that influence academic performance in senior secondary VCE Physical Education

Whittle, R 2016, Understanding factors that influence academic performance in senior secondary VCE Physical Education, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Understanding factors that influence academic performance in senior secondary VCE Physical Education
Author(s) Whittle, R
Year 2016
Abstract Physical education is offered in courses for certification at the senior-secondary level nationally and internationally. Student academic performance at this level can determine access to further educational, vocational or employment opportunities. Research has shown the strong influence of the teacher on student academic achievement. However, a one-size-fits-all model for teacher effectiveness is unrealistic and fails to acknowledge that every subject in every school, in every classroom has unique differences. Teacher-related factors that influence student academic achievement in the specific context of senior secondary physical education are unknown. Teacher-related factors that influence academic performance in senior-secondary physical education, specifically in the context of Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) Physical Education were investigated in a series of qualitative and quantitative studies.

A review of literature suggests that teacher-related factors are the greatest influences on student academic achievement (over which teachers have some control). Teacher-related factors including personal qualities such as self-efficacy, instructional strategies and classroom management have been associated with teacher effectiveness. The recommendation from this review is that teacher effectiveness is context specific and taking a generic approach to improving teacher effectiveness is counter-intuitive. Teacher-related factors that influence student academic achievement are likely to be different depending on the curriculum area and content, the student and the teaching context.

A document analysis of 15 senior-secondary physical education courses nationally and internationally was conducted to establish the context for the research. The document analysis provided information on student enrolment, aims, objectives, content and assessment in the context of senior-secondary physical education. The number of students electing to undertake senior-secondary physical education in Australia, New Zealand and Scotland are increasing. Content in senior-secondary physical education was firmly based in both the biophysical and sociocultural fields of study and draws on a broad range of disciplines from which to study human movement. More similarities than differences in content and assessment practices in senior-secondary physical education were found, and written examinations were used by 10 of the 15 courses as the main form of external assessment. The subject is well entrenched in high-stakes senior-secondary accredited courses for certification where academic performance is partially determined through an external written examination.

VCE Physical Education is one of the 10 courses that use an external written examination. A secondary data analysis of student performance on the 2011 and 2012 external VCE Physical Education examination was conducted to establish the influence of question type (multiple-choice or short answer) and cognitive level on student examination performance. Student performance on the external VCE Physical Education examination was not consistent across all content areas (Areas of Study), question types or cognitive level. Students had difficulties in answering questions based on curriculum content in ‘planning, implementing and evaluating a training program’, suggesting that content difficulty rather than process or question difficulty was responsible. Students performed significantly better on multiple-choice questions compared with short answer questions. However, short answer performance better predicted overall examination performance and low achieving students performed well below the examination mean regardless of question type.

A survey of VCE Physical Education teachers was conducted to investigate teacher-related factors that may influence student academic performance. Survey items addressed teacher and teaching characteristics, school context and teachers’ sense of efficacy. Teachers’ sense of efficacy has been shown to increase academic achievement so was an important influence to consider. The earlier findings of this thesis established that the teacher-related factors that may influence student academic performance are likely to be context specific and this study sought to determine the levels of efficacy of VCE Physical Education teachers. VCE Physical Education teachers were found to be efficacious in their ability to manage their classrooms, their use of instructional strategies and student engagement. Teacher self-efficacy was not associated with years of teaching experience or specifically VCE Physical Education experience. The study did not reveal a set of teacher characteristics that predicted levels of efficacy.

Student and teacher perspectives of teacher-related influences on academic performance were explored through the use of focus groups that employed a semi-structured interview schedule. Students in this study clearly articulated their perception of the ‘perfect’ VCE Physical Education teacher as caring, enthusiastic, knowledgeable (of subject matter), able to communicate clearly and accessible to students beyond the classroom. Teacher attitudes, attributes and student-teacher relationships were found to be perceived influences on student academic performance. The teacher focus groups revealed a number of emergent themes that were categorised based on a social-ecological framework. Teacher-related factors that teachers perceived to influence student academic performance included content knowledge, expectations, passion and enthusiasm, pedagogical content knowledge and use of reflective practices to inform teaching. Furthermore, interpersonal level influences identified were positive student-teacher relationships and student access to the teacher outside of class time. The emergent themes highlight the teacher perceptions of the key factors of effective teaching in this context and draw some similarities with those identified by the students themselves.

In conclusion, senior-secondary physical education features prominently in courses for certification nationally and internationally with similar content and assessment practices. Student performance data showed that questions that required higher order thinking skills, and knowledge in some areas of content, were answered poorly by some students. VCE Physical Education teachers were found to be efficacious in their management, instruction and engagement of students. Student and teacher perceptions of the teacher-related factors that influence academic performance in this context were found to be similar, with knowledge (of content and pedagogical approaches), connecting content to student experiences and the real-world, passion, enthusiasm and positive student-teacher relationships identified as important aspects of effective teaching in this context. Additionally, both students and teachers acknowledged the importance of students having access to the teacher outside of class time as a key factor that influenced academic achievement. Further research to determine if actual teaching practices of senior-secondary physical education teachers aligns with curricula intent is warranted. Additionally, further research is needed to determine if the teacher-related factors identified by students and teachers are indeed those that influence student academic performance.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre School of Health and Biomedical Sciences
Subjects Human Movement and Sports Science not elsewhere classified
Keyword(s) Physical education
Senior secondary education
High-stakes assessment
Student voice
Teacher effectiveness
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Created: Mon, 24 Apr 2017, 13:54:29 EST by Adam Rivett
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