NAPLAN does not have many friends left, but some of its critics just want more relentless testing.
Most state education ministers have now called for a review of the test, and the Australian Education Union (AEU) is speaking more loudly against it.
The Gonski review 2.0 “Growth to Achievement”, released in late April, acknowledges that NAPLAN test results are often useless to teachers. Importantly, 80 educators, including 60 primary and secondary teachers, published a statement calling on the government to scrap NAPLAN and the MySchool website—but unlike its other critics, the teachers are demanding that it is not replaced with another standardised test.
Governments now cannot ignore the damage that NAPLAN has done. Their own league tables show that over the ten years of NAPLAN testing, results have either flat-lined or plummeted, and our international ranking has dropped significantly.
Teachers’ concerns are deeper.
Schools are now more severely divided between “rich” and “poor”, our curriculum is being narrowed to what is testable, schools are promoting terrible cultures of teaching to tests, and the MySchool website is operating as the perfect smoke screen for increasingly inequitable school funding, as the “Teachers say no to NAPLAN” statement argues.
AEU National President Correna Haythorpe has added, “NAPLAN places unnecessary pressure on our children, their families and teachers and does not take into account the high quality, broad curriculum and learning experience that our schools provide”.
Gonski testing tool
But the solution proposed by businessman David Gonski (the ruling class’s go-to man for dressing up neo-liberal education ideas as though they are progressive) is an unrelenting testing regime that would have teachers feeding students through continuous standardised, online, “on demand” tests across the entire curriculum, and reporting on their “growth” between tests.
Gonski pretends his vision of a total testing “tool” would assist teachers to individualise learning.
But then he describes how it would spit out progress reports, direct teachers to resources, and offer guidance on “next steps”, based on the data.
This is a nightmarish vision of automated education, far from the human-scale, social learning experiences that teachers know our students need.
Turnbull and Birmingham have seized on the idea, and no wonder. Such a tool would both control teacher work with more intensity, and increase the pressure on us to deliver growth targets.
It would not require giving teachers what we actually need—more time to plan, smaller classes to work with, and trust that we know how to teach.
Along with Gonski’s other recommendations of increasing principal autonomy and introducing an “external quality assurance process”, it is a recipe for demoralising teachers and standardising student learning to the attainment of cold and contextless growth targets.
Nor did Gonski put any pressure on the Liberals to drop NAPLAN and MySchool, or to fund schools with even a fig leaf of equity.
Thanks in large part to Gonski’s last intervention into education politics, private schools in Victoria now receive more government funding in total than government schools of a similar demographic.
Gonski’s growth tool will be yet another humiliation for public schools to bear, our students struggling to learn, often in poverty, always in underfunded schools, while private schools are drenched in funding.
Time to dump testing
There is significant momentum to drop NAPLAN. But neither Malcolm Turnbull nor Bill Shorten is committed to dropping NAPLAN without a more “robust” testing regime to take its place. The “Teachers say no to NAPLAN” sign on statement is a great first step.
Now is the time for our unions to call mass meetings and stopwork protests for when NAPLAN results are released in August, to make sure it goes on our terms.
While the AEU is increasingly critical of NAPLAN, it is yet to call for NAPLAN or standardised testing to be scrapped.
The NSW Teachers Federation has concentrated its criticism simply on the content of the NAPLAN tests, based on an analysis by academic Dr Les Perelman. It is calling for a “new NAPLAN”.
But NAPLAN must be replaced with greater time and respect for teachers, and fully funded public schools, rather than with more tests.
Some school councils, such as at Spensley Street Primary in Melbourne, have written to parents encouraging them to have their children opt out of NAPLAN tests. This should be spread to more schools.
We need to seize on the chance to get rid of standardised testing for good.
By Lucy Honan