17 February 2013

Peter Garrett -- Burning the Midnight Oil...

Being the voracious reader of news that I am, I was reading this story about the Federal Education Minister, Mr. Peter Garrett, formerly of Midnight Oil fame and now responsible for leading the revolution in the education of Australia.

Mr. Garrett, or Petey to his friends, is a firm believer in NAPLAN. I am sure if you are Australian or have children involved in the Australian education system you would have heard of the 'dredded' NAPLAN exam. This exam happens in early May every year for Years 3, 5, 7, and 9. The National Assessment Program -- Literacy and Numeracy was, according to Petey, designed to test the curriculum. It is not designed to be an assessment tool of schools or individual teachers. Consequently, this lack of understanding, or simple fear-mongering by individuals and unions, places increased and undue stress on children who must take part in these exams.

So, rather than admit to a flawed NAPLAN idea and a flawed implementation process, Petey blames the teachers. It is not the government's fault that teachers are not up to speed or not capable of getting the job done. The "fact" that teachers can't get the job done, Petey says, is proof positive that there is a need for performance pay and for pre and post-appointment testing of teachers to ensure that they meet a revised higher standard of expected achievement.

Unfortunately, Petey does not seem to understand that the vast majority of teachers in our state's and territories' education systems already exceed those higher expectations. So, perhaps the issue is not one of teacher quality but rather government commitment to the fundamental belief that education is a human right that all people enjoy and one that government must endeavour to divert more funds to. But, I digress...back to NAPLAN.

The reality is that because of the concerns that NAPLAN is a tool that is designed to test schools and individual teachers, as much as it is to test students place on the literacy and numeracy continuum, teachers often feel compelled to "teach to the test". Simply, this means a teacher gets out there collection of past NAPLAN tests and goes through those tests over and over and over and over again and then they do that over and over again in the lead up to NAPLAN.

This is a flawed approach, not because it does not achieve the desired outcome, because it does not provide students with the basic skills to be natural users of the English language. Students are being taught how to complete the test and not how to be life-long learners of English nor how to be competent users of English.

Back to the idea that students are stressed. Well, when it is all said and done we are talking about students and a national exam. If I was still a school student in Year 3, 5, 7 or 9 then it is pretty likely I would be stressed too. No matter what my teacher would have told me about the importance of the exam or what it is allegedly designed to test. So, yeah, students are stressed. However, it is worth adding that the government is the one that links NAPLAN outcomes to the future funding of schools and particular programs and our informed students are aware of what this means and how it may effect and affect their future educations.

Then again, maybe our students of today are facing a range of different pressures from numerous angles and this leads to the increased stress levels in our students and not their teachers knowledge or lack thereof of the NAPLAN test. Let's face it, when mum and dad are going out and spending $20 or more per book and insisting that their children read and complete each and every activity in the book in preparation for sitting the NAPLAN test would seem to be indication enough that mum and dad think the test is pretty important. So, with this being "reinforced" at school, it is of little wonder that some students are going to have increased levels of stress associated with NAPLAN. Why solely blame teachers for this? Scape-goating?

I must add that these are my own personal views and in no way reflect the views of the organisation that I work for.

Anyways, that might be it for February...I promise to try and get in one post per month.

Feel free to comment...I will reply provided it is not some kind of linked advertisement for viagra or the like :)


pj said...

I always thought that these types of exams could not be prepared for. It seems counterproductive to me to tailor ones studies to a particular test as this invalidates the purpose of such a test. Then again I'm not in the teaching businesss. I do think that elementary education is more than literacy and nunmeracy.
School is also about an introduction to the arts, community, ethics and values. How does the government plan to measure these aspects of education and the teachers charged with presenting these difficult topics?

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