There are a number of educational issues that seem to get broad media coverage each year and one of these is the infamous NAPLAN Assessments.
For those new to these assessments, NAPLAN stands for the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy, and is administered by ACARA – the Australian Curriculum, Assessment Reporting Authority (we do love our acronyms).
These assessments are undertaken by students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in both literacy and numeracy domains. Students are compared against National Minimum Standards with the assessments supposed to be used to inform educational practice, and to enable individualised plans for improvement. The Government uses this data to gauge whether students are meeting key educational outcomes with implied statements about schools and their performance.
Interestingly, since the adoption of these assessments, there has been no marked improvement in educational outcomes, and the government has even noted declining achievement against other nations in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment – yes, another one!). This begs the question, why continue with an assessment regime that does not seem to be effective in delivering better educational outcomes?
The National results have been due out this week but are yet to be released with much talk in the media about delays due to inconsistencies in the data, as a result of NAPLAN being conducted both on paper and online.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has reported:
“A confidential document seen by the ABC reveals ACARA has been canvassing options for how and when to report the results since June, and the implications of each one, including the "reputational risk" to the national testing body, NAPLAN and My School data.”
This should come as no surprise to anyone who has thought this one through. Finally, State Education Ministers seem to be listening and are calling for a review, including our own Education Minister the Hon. Grace Grace.
The nature of the online assessment even makes comparability with a child’s previous results impossible. Further, despite claims that this was never the intent of NAPLAN, these results have been used by the media, parent groups and systems to compare schools – the current inconsistency makes such comparisons even more obscure and inappropriate.
The only potential benefit of NAPLAN is as a diagnostic tool to help teachers evaluate student progress and to design scaffolding, intervention strategies and differentiated approaches to further student learning BUT when this does not arrive until the end of August, it is simply too late to be effective.
An interesting question that remains to be answered is that, if we are genuinely interested in educating all children as effectively as possible, then why do we not look to those countries who are achieving the best results in international assessments and evaluate the environmental, inter-relational, curriculum-related, and societal influences and the pedagogical approaches that may give rise to these achievements? As long as political ideology directs and drives education, we will continue to fall short of our national aspirations.
We need to decide as a nation what we want our students to be educated in, to decide what skills they need to be successful in the global village, and to ensure that our education system provides these experiences and opportunities. Our young people need an education that prepares them for life. Instead, we seem to be intent on continuing to crowd our curriculum, add additional educational outcomes, increase the administration of teachers (which takes them away from their core purpose and function) and expect our children to be better educated with less time spent on developing core skills and knowledge.
Whilst noting political influences, the current changes that will see the SES rating of schools re-assessed, will likely have an effect on the funding received by individual schools and therefore have a direct effect on the provisions schools can offer.
We seem to spend millions on reviews, set up committees to discuss the issue and then allow the political influence of specific educational sectors to drive funding debates to their favour. This is so disappointing, and I hope that our government does not allow political influence to alter the course of needs-based funding. Every child deserves the same support for their learning as a minimum standard, with additional funds to be provided to students in disadvantage – these funds should be allocated to the student and move with them regardless of the school they attend.
Again, despite the ongoing debate of public vs private that so many in society seem to enjoy:
It is about time we stop wasting time on assessments that are of little benefit in the educational process and demand equal and appropriate funding for students in their education. It is important that parents voice their opinion on these matters to those who have political influence and who have the ability to make decisions in these matters.
If we wish our economy to grow and be robust, we need well-educated individuals; if we wish our businesses to be innovative, we need people with contemporary learning skills; if we want to reduce mental health issues, we need people to grow in resilience and develop their many character strengths; if we wish to reduce domestic violence and improve societal behaviour, we need to address issues of respect and traditional values in young people, and set expectations around the behaviour of all.
Our future is indeed in the hands of our education system – and for this reason it is worth investing in and fighting for.