Fighting for Equity in Education

The struggle is long but hope is longer

A Teacher's Comment on NAPLAN

Wednesday May 20, 2015

Earlier this week the ABC’s Life Matters program ran a segment on parents taking their children out of the NAPLAN tests. It generated considerable discussion. A listener who is a teacher sent SOS this response to the program.

School leaders and systems do use NAPLAN and recognise NAPLAN because it has now become the universal measure across the country because of its official status as a measure and not because it is valuable per se. It would be a concern if teachers relied on NAPLAN as a diagnostic tool and only relied on NAPLAN given the time lag between the test and the results. Good teachers are constantly assessing students in a number of ways but do not rely on a single standardised test but involve students in continual modes of improvement. Testing is not part of life, it is part of school life. How often does anyone who goes to work have to sit an exam to prove that they are learning, that they are doing their job, and demonstrating all they know in an hour or two? We would say as adults that would be unreasonable. Performance evaluation at work relies on continuous practice.

Not everyone does go on to university for example. In fact most people once they leave schools will probably not write anything of substance. That has been my experience in 30 years of working in trades. It was only when I went to university as a mature-age student that I had to learn and teach myself how to write. As a teacher, now it is a different matter. I am not against ‘testing’ and we do it all the time in different ways but not as a formal exam. A better way to take a snapshot of student, school and system performance would be a random sample. NAPLAN has become so politicised because, in part, it stands as detrimental pass/fail measure to evaluate and punish schools with league tables. A school which one year is a winner could, because any number of factors, slip way down the pole.

Some schools ask parents for NAPLAN results as part of their entry evaluation. NAPLAN is not a classroom spelling test, or some such thing; it is high stakes because of the way it is used as the universal measure and determiner of value, especially by those who have no involvement in teaching and schools. The argument that it helps schools and systems plan resourcing would be humorous if it were not so vexed. I have yet to see NAPLAN results being used to direct increased dollars to assist performance. School funding remains as inequitable as ever. Schools that are in need of support do not get it because of poor NAPLAN performance. Performance in NAPLAN does follow socio-economic patterns, but rich schools still get the lion’s share of money.

NAPLAN costs millions of dollars to administer and that is millions of dollars that could be so much more effectively used in redressing need and inequality of outcomes. It is true to say however that giant monopolising corporations such as Education publishers, computer software and hardware manufactures, and computer-driven marking of tests (Murdoch, Gates, Pearsons) are pushing the standardised testing agenda. They are set to make billions from this global regime. In the USA, where standardised testing is extremely malicious and widespread, it is fuelling a reaction but not from the top. Parents who have witnessed the destruction of their schools and children are beginning to organise with teachers to oppose what is a corporate and politically-driven control agenda.

Those of us who are knowledgeable in these things know only too well that if we do not resist, the NAPLAN definition of education will expand to all our detriment. Teaching and learning is very complex and more so than ever. Parents who believe that anti-NAPLAN arguments by educators are about our avoiding scrutiny need to educate themselves. I cannot think of many other jobs where workers are so persistently judged and assessed, day in and day out. Parents who say ‘harden up’ and ‘just do it’, ‘that it is life’, use the argument that justified the cane for giving a wrong answer. Today we do not accept the use of the cane just because that is the way it was. I suffered exam anxiety all my life. I did not do matriculation for that reason and when I did go to university at the age of 40 I chose subjects that did not have exams. I still prefer not to do exams but on occasion in postgraduate study I have come to accept that some subjects do it that way. So exams have not been part of my life and I am fairly sure that I speak for many, many others too.

Peter Curtis

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