Posts Tagged NAPLAN

NAPLAN is evil

How, in just a sniff of time in just one lecture, am I going to be able to convey to my preservice teachers all of the evil in schooling that has come from NAPLAN testing?

I think I’ll start with this news article from today:

Parents of about 12 students in Year Nine at Miami State High School were asked last week to sign a waiver so their children did not sit the NAPLAN (National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy) tests, to avoid stressing the teenagers.

The parents of one student who refused to withdraw their son were told they were the only ones not to sign the form, out of those contacted by the school .

When Alexandra Fox demanded her son Mathew, 13, sit the NAPLAN tests, she was told that Mathew was quite good at English so could sit those tests, but he was not as strong in maths so she should sign the waiver for those tests.

Mathew’s father, Anthony Jarrah, said his son had no medical condition or diagnosed learning difficulty that would require his exemption from the tests.

“He’s a normal kid, has no learning difficulties or anything. He’s just one of those kids who takes a bit longer to grasp things,” he said. “They’re not educating kids, they’re not doing their best.

“He’s already 13 and it’s not that long before he’s out of school. All they want to do is to hide him all through high school like they did in primary, then once he leaves school he’s not their problem anymore.”

(Ferrari, ‘School uges students to skip tests’ in The Australian, March 11, 2011)

Is it time yet to make the call?   Seriously, the (yes, very valid, very real ‘if done properly’) diagnostic function of the NAPLAN test is being compromised so much here.

Your performance will only make our school look bad.

What a delightful message to send to the students of today.

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Insubordination

This tweet caught my eye today:

It caught my eye because I have been musing on this observation made by Jan, a high school Principal on Twitter last week:

We work within a system. Of course there are systemic priorities. That is the reality of any workplace IMHO.

I wanted to flag this because I think both of these tweets are right, but this is a problematic standpoint as ‘working within a system’ and ‘being insubordinate’ are tricky agendas to keep in balance.

There has been much promotion recently amongst NSW DET leaders of adopting a ‘Tight-Loose-Tight’ model of working in schools.  It’s a model I support, and I think it provides a really terrific framework for teachers and school leaders (and system bureaucrats) to work on common ground without constantly arguing about, say, NAPLAN.  By accepting policy and product requirements we can get on with developing the ‘Loose’ area – the bit where we actually teach in the classroom using different and divergent strategies that are relevant and engaging and meet the needs of our personal teaching style, our individual students and our local school context.

However, recently I have definitely felt that critical comments made by teachers about ‘the system’ are being taken personally by leaders who are higher up the chain and see this as either a personal attack or an undermining of their innovative work in planning their school.  A few weeks ago I wondered if the answer is that we need a more realistic paradigm for collaborating with the people who ultimately are our ‘boss’.  But to tell you the truth, I find that idea quite dispiriting. I hate having to mind my p’s and q’s…it’s why I decided NOT to go into politics!

I don’t have much to say about this today, but perhaps you do?

How can we show our leaders the love (and our commitment to common goals) while maintaining a healthy level of insubordination?

NB: I’m talking very NSWDET here, but I’ve found a similar conundrum working with people on development of the National Curriculum…it’s tough to authentically engage in developing something so prescribed-from-above when your gut reaction is to kick against the pricks. Conversely, it’s tough to promote engagement with the resulting best-case-scenario product to people that I in turn lead when they want to fight against it too!

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Ave Narrative…

OK, so I’m not Catholic.

But I feel Ave Maria is an apt musical choice today with ACARA’s announcement that the writing style to be tested in NAPLAN will no longer be Narrative, but Persuasive.

You can get the information here: http://www.naplan.edu.au/writing_2011_-_domains.html

Let me say straight up that I love persuasive writing.  I love essays, I love speeches, I love editorials.  I love persuasive language.  One of my favourite units to teach is our Year 11 unit ‘Voices of Protest’ where students explore persuasive writing forms and techniques through a close study of a speech and related protest poems.

What I don’t love is the way that Stage 6 English buries imaginative writing within an Area of Study and Modules that are in reality oriented toward responding to the texts of others.

I also don’t love the fact that in the HSC, students in the mandatory 2 unit English are only examined on imaginative writing in any form in ONE out of the SIX exam sections.  The way I see it, both in my teaching and through everything I have researched so far, doing so constitutes a ‘hidden curriculum’ that devalues student imagination and decreases the time teachers can spend on creative language skills.

At least we had NAPLAN, eh?

At least it was there as an externally managed assessment of student literacy and language that signalled the importance of the creative.  The importance of imagination.  The importance of the lyrical, the figurative and of imagining other worlds.

Not any more.

And so the message is clearer than ever – essays rule the roost.  Get your kids started early on perfecting their persuasive writing, lest they struggle with HSC exams!

I challenge anyone from ACARA, or any of the Education Ministers who were at that MCEECDYA meeting where Narrative got the boot to explain that this decision had anything to do with ‘just mixing things up’.  Anything whatsoever to do with providing a balance between persuasive and narrative writing in the assessment of curriculum.  Because if they really do think so…well, it’s gotta be time to review the balance in the HSC, no?

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Parents – I invoke thy name!

(alternatively titled Well whaddya know, the moratorium paid off.)

In the wake of the moratorium on NAPLAN testing imposed by the AEU, claims about ‘what parents want’ were bandied around left, right and centre.

A quick look at the website for the P&C Federation in NSW directs you to a statement that made their position clear:

The Federation of Parents and Citizens Association strongly opposes the Australian Education Union’s ban on teachers conducting the NAPLAN testing to take place from 11th to the 13th May this year.

BINGO! But wait…read on:

Despite the Ministers assurances to the contrary, we see no evidence of a constructive and useful dialogue between the Government and the Teaching Unions. Our position has always been that the Government needs to be proactive in addressing the concerns of parents and teachers in how NAPLAN data is being used and presented to the public.

Parents as an integral part of the education process and as a stakeholder in educational outcomes demand to be included in future discussions.

So let me get this straight…

It is fine and dandy for the government, and the DET leadership, and the media, to invoke the desires of parents when it suits them i.e. to convince teachers to run NAPLAN.

But as far as the desire of parents to be included in decision making around the construction of the MySchool website…well, let’s not take things too far now.

The expectations and rights of parents as stakeholders in education are all to frequently invoked in such a selective manner.

Today’s decision by the AEU to lift the moratorium on NAPLAN testing follows:

an offer by the Education Minister Julia Gillard to form a working party of educational experts, including representatives of the AEU, to provide advice on the use of student performance data and other indicators of school effectiveness.



As an English teacher who values NAPLAN as a dignostic tool, who values the rights of parents as stakeholders, and who is also a staunch opponent of use of NAPLAN data on the MySchool website, I am relieved.

Parents and teachers belong on the same side of the fence, and the way in which politicians and media pundits were setting us against each other was atrocious.

The AEU said from the get-go that the ban would be lifted if the Federal government engaged in authentic consultation with teachers over the MySchool website and took measures to prevent the construction of league tables.

And so it has.

Thus endeth the NAPLAN fiasco of 2010.

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6 Comments

The nature of the beast

NAPLAN. MySchool. Data. Accountability. Planning.

Roger is bang on when he says that there are so many conundra in education.

But why? Is this really a result of ‘rank-and-file’ teachers unjustly mistrusting ‘the boss class’? Perhaps, in part.

But the problem we face in overcoming this is not as black-and-white as it seems. Historically schools have evolved to serve multiple functions in society, and it is these often competing functions that school leaders, edu-crats and politicians are faced with negotiating every day. This is a tricky business, and people will not always agree on what is being prioritised.

In my PhD research on the English curriculum I have explored Hunter’s genealogy of the major functions of schooling, and used this as a lens to reflect on the contradictions and challenges that are embedded in the HSC English syllabus. Hunter (1993) outlines the following functions of mass schooling in Australia:

  • Pastoral: Children should be given caring and humane environments in school in which to grow and develop
  • Skilling: Schools have a significant role in the production of a skilled and competent workforce
  • Regulative: Schools transmit forms of orderliness and control to an otherwise disorderly populace
  • Human-capital: Investment of effort and money in schools should directly enhance economic productivity
  • Individual expression: Schooling is properly the context in which individuals can learn to explore, develop, and express their personal goals and aspirations
  • Cultural-heritage: People, especially young people, should be introduced to the ways of thinking and acting that have existed and been valued over time – cherished art works, and disciplines of scientific inquiry
  • Political: Schools produce a citizenry dedicated to the preferred political principles of the society
  • Hunter rejects the notion that schools have ever served, or even aimed to serve, a singular, unified function in society. Rather, the various functions described above are contested and emphasised more or less at different points in history based on the political, cultural and economic imperatives of the time.

    The idea that schools serve different functions is not controversial. What is important to recognise, however, is the importance of each of these functions, and the need to treat them as interrelated. Our role as educators cannot be to simply ‘back’ one function over another – for example, promoting individual expression and pastoral care while decrying the goals of skills and human capital development. Although these functions historically have come into competition, it is essential to recognise the important role that bureaucratic structures play in safeguarding equality within a social welfare state such as Australia.

    In regards to NAPLAN, it is not the case that politicians want to crush individual expression in the pursuit of higher literacy standards. It is also not the case that teachers don’t care about skills development and resent regulative goals of ‘the boss class’ as a matter of principle.

    What is worth considering, however, is this: what political, cultural and economic imperatives are reflected in the priorities set by the bureaucracy?

    Despite reservations about standardised literacy and numeracy testing, teachers ultimately were asked to support ELLA/SNAP, and later NAPLAN, in good faith. The tests were framed as a diagnostic tool. Schools were dissuaded from ‘cramming’ for the tests, as this would negate its diagnostic capacity. We were promised that these tests were an example of schools fulfilling an essential bureaucratic function – ensuring that all students had equal access to diagnosis of their skills, and that resources could be allocated efficiently to areas of need.

    The introduction of the MySchool website, however, betrays a warped set of priorities…the political, cultural and economic imperatives of publishing NAPLAN data as a means of measuring school success over-prioritises the regulative function of schooling. Orderliness and control emerge as the ultimate product when systems are put in place that construct and solidify school hierarchies, encouraging a consumer culture in schools where the discourse of ‘parent choice’ trumps the discourse of ‘school community building’.

    I hate the MySchool website. Not because I don’t want parents to have access to information about schools, but because I believe that the information that is currently privileged does pose a destructive force to schooling functions that I hold dear. I believe that comparing schools based on test scores poses a serious neglect of the pastoral function of schooling – it is difficult to foster a caring and humane environment in school in which to grow and develop when your school is labelled as ‘failing’, and parents of ‘good’ students start shopping elsewhere. Likewise, in successful schools, staying on top of the ‘market’ can lead to undue pressure to succeed in external testing, and a neglect of student welfare and broader curriculum goals.

    I fully support schools and teachers who will join the moratorium and refuse to deliver the NAPLAN test this year. Not because I don’t see the value of NAPLAN, but because as educators who oppose harmful government policy it is the only card we have to play in a system that gives teachers virtually no voice in the policy and structures they will have to work within.

    It is a shame that teachers who oppose the MySchool website, and are prepared to take action despite political pressure, are often painted as ‘data-haters’, ‘parent-haters’ and ‘boss-haters’. They are none of these things. They are just people who feel out-and-out ignored by their political leaders and think that something bigger is at stake than missing a year of data.

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    14 Comments

    Choice based on what now?

    Happy Sunday, teachers!

    This day of rest greets us with the most excellent news that Julia Gillard has answered the calls of parents around the nation to identify exactly which schools the poor, low-achieving and, most importantly, Indigenous students are attending, so that we can all avoid these cesspools of failure with confidence rush to enrol our children in these schools.

    Gillard is spot on when she denies the information would be used to stigmatise schools.  AS IF!

    Even the President of the Australian Education Union Angelo Gavrielatos has argued that the use of NAPLAN data alone does not take into account the rich contribution that schools make to their students’ lives in ways that stretch beyond simple evaluations of literacy and numeracy.

    Enter Gillard with the antidote to Gavrielatos’ gripes: publication of “richer” data, i.e. an index of disadvantage.

    I mean, there are some really good reasons that parents would want to be able to easily check a one-stop website to see how disadvantaged their local school really is.  For example, parents may want to:

    • increase the chances of their kid getting the Dux award by choosing a school with a low year 12 retention rate
    • make it easier for their kid to become popular by ensuring their backpack is the most expensive one in the playground
    • bolster their kid’s chances of joining a hip Indig. rap group that rails against the ghetto and brings the family muchos street cred via phat beats.

    Seriously folks.  This is getting out of hand.

    Gillard says that “We have never had a robust index that gives us the ability to look at the level of advantage and disadvantage across all schools.”  So fine – make an index.

    Heck, you might even be able to balance out some of the overfunding that is provided to elite private schools that way.

    But don’t publish it Jules, for crying out loud!  Stigmatising schools is ALL this information will be used for.

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    37 Comments

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