A politician has recognised that NAPLAN is bullshit. That’s stunning.
It’s not surprising that someone else has said that NAPLAN is crap. Educators have been saying that since the Basic Skills Tests were introduced into New South Wales schools back in the 1980’s.
What’s amazing is the fact that a politician has gone on record as believing that these tests are a waste of time and energy, and money.
Basic Skills Tests, and their descendants, NAPLAN, were nothing more than political tools, used by Political Tools as a means to suggest that they were doing their jobs in monitoring the educational development of students.
What they were, in fact, was an exercise in credit-grabbing or blame-shifting, swinging the governments’ responsibility for students’ “education” to schools and, more specifically, to teachers. For governments this was a win-win strategy. If students performed poorly on the bullshit tests, the pollies could blame the people at the coalface for their inability to teach, and if the tests showed some sort of results which could be interpreted as positive, the pollies could take the credit for providing adequate funding and appropriate curriculum development.
Education funding should never be allocated according to some alleged “performance” (or lack of performance) statistics. Public funding, apart from the per capita entitlement to which all students in all schools are entitled, should never go to non-government schools and its effective allocation to public schools can be determined without the need for irrelevant and misleading academic test results.
Data gained through socio-economic analysis of schools’ feeder areas can be readily used to identify where money needs to be allocated. Experience has shown that communities which are financially disadvantaged, large public-housing areas for example, tend to have a greater need for additional education funding than do those in which families experience no financial stress, such as those living in identified wealthy suburbs.
Governments already possess huge quantities of data relating to the relative wealth of schools’ communities. Centrelink, alone, can provide information about economic conditions in key areas, simply by examining the allocation of welfare funding. Health departments in each state should be able to show the extent to which communities rely on free, public, rather than expensive, private health services. Taxation records might be used to map areas in which financially poorer communities are located.
It is recognised that, despite the fact that many public schools in financially disadvantaged areas punch well-above their own weight, low socio-economic status correlates with depressed academic performance. With accurate and relevant information at hand, governments can allocate resources to schools most in need, in order to redress the imbalance in academic growth, which is known to occur, between for the “haves” and “have nots”.
“Standardised tests” of basic academic skills have never been necessary, or even valid, as a means to allocate funding where it is most needed, and the negative outcomes from the production of “performance tables” have served only to create further social division.
The pollies were always deluding themselves, and spreading bullshit as deeply as possible, among the unknowing electorate. This happened because the “experts”, a group comprised of politicians, bureaucrats and compromised “educational consultants”, were always arguing from a false premise.
They suggested that it was possible to measure educational development using “pen and paper tests”, and further, that it was possible to compare the “educational performance” of different schools, using the data acquired. These have always been, and sadly will probably continue to be, two of the most absurd political lies in the history of the world.
The tests fail for a number of reasons.
In the first instance, they do not measure anything other than the alleged academic performance of students, in specific, limited areas, on several individual and specific days over a number of years, within a strictly limited framework. The results which they produce can only give data about the performance of individuals and groups of students on those particular days and in those specific settings. It is not possible, sensible, or even fair to use those data to make generalised statements about individuals, groups or schools. The variables affecting the gathering of data in this way are innumerable.
Consider these few examples.
- Our daughter did a Basic Skills Test in Mathematics when she was in Year Three. The result indicated that she was behind her grade level in maths, but above her grade level in literacy. We ignored the results, whilst other parents might have been very concerned.
We had the advantage of knowing that her teacher’s assessment differed greatly from the Test’s assessment, and that our daughter had been suffering from the flu on the day of the test. We had only allowed her to go to school on that day when she insisted on doing the Basic Skills Tests because she thought that they were important.
Two years later her Basic Skills results showed that she was advanced in all areas tested, including maths. She was in the same peer group at the same school with an equally talented teacher, but she didn’t have flu.
- Our son’s performance in NAPLAN type testing probably indicated his dislike for the type of schooling which was provided for him.
The limited nature of the schooling provided for him, especially in secondary school, did little to satisfy his desire to learn, but ultimately it did not prevent him from becoming, well before his twenty-first birthday, one of the world’s youngest ever Certified Microsoft IT Instructors.
- What about the potential for inaccurate results being achieved due to environmental considerations?
Mixed ability grouping is in place in classes at General Purpose Primary School. In class Red, there are 30 students operating within a broad range of academic ability levels. In class Green there are 30 students operating within a very similar academic ability range. The teachers of these two classes work co-operatively in planning and teaching a broad range of effective learning activities. Their levels of teaching skill and range of teaching experiences are very similar, with the result that student progress in each class is also very similar.
During the testing period there are roadworks being carried out very near the classrooms in which the students are being tested. No suitable alternative locations in which to conduct the mandatory tests are available. Class Red is located closest to the works and experiences the loudest noise levels. Class Green is a little further away.
Both teachers are forced to work with all windows and doors closed to limit the noise interference. In class Green the air-conditioning is able to maintain a reasonable working environment, but the air-conditioning unit in class Red is out of service. On an unseasonably warm testing day, the classroom is stifling, and the teacher is forced to choose between the interruption to thinking created by the extreme noise outside, or the negative effects of working in an oxygen-starved room.
Guess which class produced the “superior” results in the tests.
- In any school which has a principal who is interested in appearing effective in the role, who wants to keep the bureaucrats at arm’s length and to get on with the real job of teaching, and with teachers who acknowledge that NAPLAN is a farce, strategies will be put in place to enable students to perform as well as possible in the irrelevant tests.
The use of these strategies will have at least two negative outcomes. In the first instance, the results of the tests will be skewed, and therefore useless, and in the second instance, valuable teaching time, which should be better utilised in pursuing relevant teaching and learning activities, is wasted in order to provide data which incompetent managers may use to support false hypotheses.
However, the staff of any school which does not specifically prepare students to do these idiotic tests, is insane. The potential for negative impact of published depressed performance figures upon students, their families and their schools is enormous. Ignorant social commentators, and talk-back radio experts (sometimes the same entities), love having this sort of ammunition to use in fostering social division.
The second, and more significant cause of failure, lies in the fact that tests of this type cannot and should not be used in an attempt to measure educational development.
Educational development is an intensely personal, and totally individual experience, encompassing all aspects of learning, both at school and away from school. It does not occur, and is not measurable, in groups of people, and there are no formal tests which can provide data which can be used to measure it.
It may be fair to compare it with physical and intellectual development. As with learning growth, children grow in both of these areas at different rates and in different ways.
Take a pair of three year old neighbours, coincidentally born on the same day. Jill walks first. She takes months to become steady on her feet. Jane walks three weeks later, but within a fortnight is much more capable of steady walking than is Jill. Jane speaks her first identifiable words a month before Jill, but Jill goes from single words to part sentences long before Jane.
Can we state a norm for walking and talking in three year old girls? Is there any point in trying to do so? Isn’t it likely that both will be walking and talking well enough to manage at school, before they start kindergarten?
Let’s look at the potential for educational development in two hypothetical schools.
Buggeredup High School, serving a large public-housing area in south-western Sydney, is poorly managed by a despotic principal, Adolph Disciple, whose primary concern is for his own advancement. He runs his school in a dictatorial fashion, adhering strictly to regulations which are not necessarily applicable to his school’s social and educational environment, insisting, for example, on the wearing of full regulation school uniform by all students, regardless of their parents’ financial capacity to purchase same.
Where staff are concerned, he demands strict adherence to prescribed curriculum, without deviation, or even variation, by creative teachers. Teachers are controlled via the professional reporting strategy, threatened with unsatisfactory reports if his directions are not followed to the letter.
Before I go any further, these arseholes do exist. A principal such as this is not a figment of my imagination. Fortunately, this type of edunazi is less common than the more effective and educationally progressive bosses in schools. Unfortunately, the system does little to weed them out, and they have a catastrophic effect in schools afflicted by them.
Adolph knows that he can use his school’s NAPLAN performance to highlight his achievements as an educational manager. He knows that his superiors will take note of his students’ elevated NAPLAN performance levels, which he will introduce into evidence at interviews for promotion.
Therefore, he decrees that more time and effort will be allocated towards learning activities which will enhance the students’ performance in NAPLAN tests. This will include the specific instruction in the skills of completing the tests, and frequent practice using the readily available previous test papers and commercially available, purpose-designed, new practice tests.
His students perform consistently higher in NAPLAN than other schools in the area.
His teachers hate him. Morale amongst staff is extremely low and a very high staff transfer rate, along with high teacher absenteeism, are hidden by-products of his management style.
His students hate him. Only those performing at the highest academic level will tolerate him.
One part of the parent body hate him because he has destroyed the enjoyment of learning for their children.
Another part of the parent body is deceived into believing that superior NAPLAN results equate to a superior education, and they attribute this success to good educational management. These people are deluded.
Learnalot High School is not far removed, geographically, from Buggeredup H.S., but it is worlds apart in terms of educational philosophy.
NAPLAN testing comes and goes, treated as a pain-in-the-arse intrusion into the business of education – a necessary evil inflicted upon students by people who know little or nothing about education.
Principal, Ada Betterlife, encourages students to wear school uniform, since this helps to minimise social disparity, holds the advancement of student welfare as a priority, and supports teachers who propose educationally sound learning programmes, within the curriculum requirements.
Her staff admire her because she looks after them, and thereby enables them to care for their students without being subjected to the negative stresses imposed by idiotic events such as NAPLAN testing.
Her students love her because they know that her priority is providing an effective education for all students, in a supportive environment.
Most of the parents like her because their kids are happy at school.
Some parents are concerned because the Learnalot High School NAPLAN results aren’t as good as Buggeredup H.S., down the road, but they know that their kids are learning a lot about how to be better people, and that’s important.
In which of these two schools are kids getting the “better” education?
Academic development may be quantifiable. Educational development is not, and it can only be judged as fit or unfit for purpose.
Basic Skills test results notwithstanding, our children have both grown into remarkable adults. Both have created successful families, producing two well-adjusted, and well-educated, offspring each. Our son, partnered by his wife, has built a highly successful business and they are respected members of their community. Our daughter is a talented artist with a growing commercial practice, which complements her husband’s work, and is helping to fund her family’s rural lifestyle, as well as providing an essential creative outlet.
Our children, both son and daughter, are not unique, in that they have undergone NAPLAN type testing which has had no significant positive impact upon their learning. Countless others have had a similar experience.
If someone can show me how NAPLAN testing contributes to achieving the principal educational goal of creating a society which is more “fit-for-purpose”, I’ll shut up.