Teachers union right to ban NAPLAN tests

Teaching unions around the country have pledged to ban upcoming national testing after newspapers in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne used information from the “My School” website to publish damaging and misleading league tables late in January.

“Julia Gillard says league tables ‘create a misleading picture and make the job of principals and teachers that much harder’ and yet she has done nothing to protect students and school communities from them,” said AEU President Angelo Gavrielatos.

Parents and Citizens groups, principals as well as teachers and their union representatives had repeatedly warned that league tables would be created from the My School data.

“It is a sad day for education in Australia. Without action we are headed down the path of England and the United States where rankings and league tables have had a profound negative impact on education and school communities”, continued Gavrielatos.

“League tables damage students and school communities. Branding schools as the worst in the state or failing on the basis of inaccurate data from snapshot tests gives them a reputation they don’t deserve and makes it harder to deliver the education children in these schools desperately need.

Both of these nations fare worse in international education measures than Australia.

The like school comparisons on the My School website show how fatally flawed the methodology used by the Federal Government is, even before newspapers construct misleading tables. The site displays “like” schools, however, one of the wealthiest schools in Australia, The Kings School is compared with both Concord West Primary School 5 suburbs away in Sydney and even a public primary school in the small village of Gundaroo near Canberra.

“The NAPLAN tests were never designed for this purpose and are too inaccurate. The fine print on the My School website states that the test scores have a margin of error up to 34 points. Whether a school is at the top, middle or bottom of the list, public or private, the ranking is invalid.

The rankings do not reveal how effective teachers are in particular schools, regardless of whether or not the school is near the top or bottom of the rankings”, said Bob Lipscombe, President of the NSW teachers union at a national media conference following the publication of ranks.

Governments already have all the information they need to be able to direct resources to the schools that need them. Not properly meeting the resource needs of schools is a failing of governments, not schools or teachers.

The publishing of data is part of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard’s agenda of making teachers take the rap for years of inadequate funding and ongoing social disadvantage. Similar to the NT intervention, Labor chooses to place blame on the victims—school communities and their teachers.

The overlap is most clearly shown in Labor‘s recent cut to benefits for students who leave school before year 12 without employment. Rudd, who campaigned for the federal election on a prominent education platform, stated his intent to take on the teacher unions, a traditional left power base, and said he would be happy with “a bit of argy bargy”. Rudd’s full package includes performance pay for teachers, school rankings as well as local hire and fire. This free market based approach is hypocritical given his condemnation of neo-liberalism’s role in the global financial crisis.

The national tests (NAPLAN) are scheduled for May and bans will be voted on at further teacher union meetings across the nation.
John Morris


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