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
The countries that do not do nation testing – most notably the Scandanavian countries of Finland and Sweden- have for many years had the highest literacy and numeracy outcomes in the OECD. They do not have a narrow curriculum and give greater focus to the arts and sciences – both areas that are woefully neglected in Australia. They approach learning and teaching from a child focus perspective and acknowledge childrens individually learning styles. And theyencourage children are to actively explore and discover through a variety of teaching approaches. There is usually a variety of solutions and ways to solve a problem. I note that in Queensland the teacher still stands at the front of the class ( trhe students sit in rows facing the font of all knowledge). The teacher seems to still speak 70% of the time ) and students seem to be recipients of information and process. Learning is what is done to rather than done by students. Learning for children has become the equivalent of paint by numbers. One needs to only look at the English Year 9 Curriculum on “How to write an Essay ” to have this demonstrated. We are becoming experts at function stupidity.
It’s time we looked at the countries that are consistently getting high learning educational outcomes and adopted some of their principles rather focus on the countries like the UK and The US who perform poorly on levels.