NAPLaNs And U-Turns

Australian students in Years 3, 5, & and 9 have just spent the week taking the annual NAPLaN tests. With some controversy last year over cheating allegations, there can be no doubt that the label of “high stakes” can now be applied to these tests. It doesn’t seem to matter what is said about the fact that a test like this is only a snapshot of student capability – the inclusion of this data on the MySchool website causes a lot of angst amongst students, parents and educators as the media and politicians line up to judge their worth individually and collectively. There are fears that the data will be twisted to tell an unflattering story and one school at least has moved to deny the MySchool site that NAPLaN derived data.

AS MORE than 300,000 NSW students sat the first of three NAPLAN tests yesterday, parents at a small private school in the Blue Mountains staged a boycott to ensure its results will not be reported on the federal government’s My School website.

But schools whose principals or teachers encourage children not to sit national literacy and numeracy tests may face disciplinary action in future, the NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, warned.

I also had an interesting conversation with one of my colleagues who had caught a television interview with Linda Darling-Hammond where she was convinced that the education adviser of President Obama‚Äôs transition team had said that the US was moving away from high stakes testing. Because I rely on my Google Reader filled with the savviest educators from that part of the world to keep me informed, I was skeptical. I’ve been reading over the last few years about how intense and how data driven schools have become in America that I was sure that my colleague must have been mistaken. So I went hunting to find out for myself what was being said.

Professor Darling-Hammond said Australia would be wiser to follow the examples of Finland, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore, whose 15-year-olds achieve the best results in numeracy, literacy and science in comparisons with other developed nations.

“The US is taking a U-turn away from test-based accountability,” said Professor Darling-Hammond. ”We hope not to meet Australia heading in the other direction in seeking policies we have sought to move away from.”

From The Australian:

Professor Darling-Hammond said Australia’s national literacy and numeracy tests, NAPLAN, were not “intellectually ambitious” but “bubble”and provided only limited information about students’ capabilities.

And The Age:

Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University, said the perception of improved results in New York was created after performance standards were lowered. Once standards were readjusted, results “crashed”.

Professor Darling-Hammond, who advised US President Barrack Obama on education during his presidential campaign, and who was reportedly among candidates for the position of education secretary in the Obama administration, will address educators in Sydney tonight, warning Australia against repeating the same mistakes the US has made.

She says NAPLAN-style testing has failed in America. Standardised tests in the US have been criticised for narrowing the school curriculum to reading and maths and multiple choice formats. Punitive measures had resulted in teachers “teaching to the test” to improve results, which determined whether schools and teachers would receive bonus payments. Judged by student results, many of the best teachers fled the underperforming schools that most needed them.

So, my colleague was right about what Darling-Hammond was saying. But what I’m curious about is the statement that the US is “taking a U-turn”. Is that true or just wistful thinking on her part?

2 Responses to “NAPLaNs And U-Turns”


  • Oh scary scary scary. Here in NZ we have a government that seems hell bent on pushing education down this very same path. National standards are here. League tables, performance pay, narrowing of the curriculum and flight of teachers are all ahead of us. At the moment there is some opposition from the education sector but the media messages still feel mostly in support of national standards. What we are not hearing very clearly is a strong articulate voice clearly explaining the reasons teachers are worried about the negative effects and unintended consequences of publicly shaming the schools with low results.

    The factors that influence student achievement are mostly outside the control of schools. Really if we were being honest we ought to find a way to measure shift and then reward schools that achieve the greatest shift. Notice I am saying reward schools not reward teachers. I strongly believe that teaching is a team sport. The fact that my year 8 students all leave for high school being able to read at or above the standard and as 5 year olds more than 50% of our children are below the standard tells me that as a school we have successfully shifted them. I can’t take much of the credit for that in Year 7 and 8. It has been 8 years worth of input from a whole range of people including teachers, literacy specialists, ICT support, teacher aides, Reading Recovery teachers, parents, buddy tutors, principals etc etc. It takes all of us. To award one teacher in one year for progress which we all know (apart from the writers of our national standards it appears) is not a smooth linear process, is just wrong. If performance pay comes to NZ and we start being pitted against each other I think it might be time for a career change. Engineers are in short supply in Chch at the moment. Perhaps I could do that.

    :)
    Paul Wilkinson

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