Students nationwide sat the National Assessment Program–Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests in May after the education unions called off their proposed moratorium on the tests. While representatives of the unions are now sitting on Julia Gillard’s My School Working Party, teacher activists need to be ready to restart action against NAPLAN if, as is likely, the working party fails to deliver.
The testing period revealed more evidence of the distorting effect standardised testing has on education. As the tests rolled out, Queensland Teachers Union president Steven Ryan reported that he was aware of students being “encouraged” to stay at home on test days. ABC News Online reported cases from Victoria and Queensland where parents were asked to keep students at home on testing days or at least approve their absence from the tests.
Schools have the right to keep students with intellectual or learning disabilities from completing the tests. However, The Australian reported several cases of students with C and D averages, who had no diagnosed disability, being asked to stay home.
“Unfortunately the emphasis put on the NAPLAN tests themselves, the nature of the high-stakes testing is dragging schools into what I would call unwanted practices,” Ryan said. There is substantial pressure on schools and teachers to return improving NAPLAN results in order to maintain funding levels. This then puts pressure on classroom teachers to return good results or risk losing their jobs.
Likewise, there was anecdotal evidence of schools requiring teachers, particularly in Maths and English, to spend significant time preparing students for NAPLAN tests.
The Australian Education Union (AEU) has begun participating in the My School Working Party to address “concerns about the misuse of student data”. A Senate Inquiry has also been called into the use of student data. Much of the AEU’s campaigning attention has turned to asking supporters to make submissions to the Inquiry.
The unions were wrong to back down when their memberships were ready to carry out the moratorium and cause a real political crisis for Gillard over NAPLAN.
The NSW Teachers Federation has talked of restarting action in October after this year’s NAPLAN results are released if the working party has not delivered an assurance league tables will be banned.
NAPLAN is symbolic of a broader neo-liberal push in education and will continue to be a political issue for the education unions and the Labor government. Teacher activists must be ready to pick up the fight where we left off earlier this year.
By Ernest Price