NAPLAN is only one measure of achievement May 16, 2016Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: curriculum, NAPLAN
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Recently I finished reading a publication from the Grattan Institute entitled Widening gaps: What NAPLAN tells us about student progress (Goss & Chisolm, 2016) and was reminded of the limitations of this Australian-wide test for students in years 3, 5, 7, & 9.
The main purpose of the publication was really to advocate for a new way of analyzing the data to show what they consider a better means of measuring student achievement, i.e. years of progress. It reports that high achieving and low achieving students are not improving their results. Despite this, their starting point in this report for considering a change is still based on certain assumptions about NAPLAN.
Now that NAPLAN testing has concluded for 2016, it is worth examining the assumptions about NAPLAN that pervade this document, as well as the general public and media discourse around NAPLAN. Included in these assumptions are that:
- NAPLAN tests actually are a good indicator of overall achievement and success at school, in learning and seeing education as a positive. [But that is not conclusive.]
- the NAPLAN test results are a good predictor of a student achieving or not achieving their potential. [Again not conclusive for all students across the range of abilities]
- the same or similar test environment occurs across the years and the same or very similar items are included across the years in the tests have been administered.
- data and results from the test should be used as a major input upon which to base educational decisions by policy makers.
I think it is timely to draw attention to the limitations of NAPLAN and to remind parents, and students, that it provides information about a child’s achievement based on that one day, at that time, completed under stressful test conditions.
NAPLAN does not take account of the development of students’ interests in learning, their passions, or engagement in learning. NAPLAN outcomes should be considered in the context of all the other measures teachers use to assess student achievement of learning outcomes, especially in the other key learning areas of Creative Arts, Health and Physical Education and so on. NAPLAN does not take into account the other value-added dispositions and community involvement provided by schools that are not measurable in a test. Interventions and pedagogical changes in classrooms at a school take time to demonstrate results, and again, many of these may not be measurable by the NAPLAN test.
Data from NAPLAN is still limited, no matter what approach to data analysis and reporting is undertaken – whether data are compared against benchmarks or measured by years of a student’s progress. It is not the results and reporting that is questionable, it is the basis upon which these data are used for system evaluation of schools, a school’s progress, and to drive policy.
Perhaps governments need to look at employment policies and other support mechanisms, not just school education, for students from low socio-economic backgrounds living in poverty. A multi-pronged approach is needed to improve the outcomes for students to break the cycle of inter-generational disadvantage.
Goss, P., and Chisholm, C., 2016, Widening gaps: what NAPLAN tells us about student progress. Technical Report, Grattan Institute.
Dr Katina Zammit is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. She is Director of the Master of Teaching (Primary) teacher education program at the university.
The need for flexible, personalised and responsive curriculum September 13, 2015Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: creativity, curriculum, exemplary teachers, NAPLAN, personalised learning
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from Steve Wilson
Imagine you had promised your friend or partner that you would go with them to watch a movie each week for a full year.
Imagine then, having made this commitment, that your friend or partner did not consult with you about which movies to watch – they simply selected the movie each week, irrespective of your own preferences or tastes, and expected you to come along.
You might put up with it for awhile. You would likely develop resentment about the situation. Eventually, as an adult, you might confront your friend and explain your feelings and try to change things. If they didn’t change, in all likelihood, you would simply stop going to the movies with them.
For children and young people in schools, the school curriculum is like being forced to go to the movies, to see things they often don’t like or can’t see the point of, but where they do not have the adult prerogative, legally at least, of simply not going to school. Trapped in schools with an unresponsive curriculum, feelings amongst young people towards school can and frequently do include resentment, apathy and disengagement. Every teacher commonly experiences these feelings amongst their children, and not just amongst the children who are the lowest academic achievers.
We should not underestimate the power of an unexplained and unresponsive curriculum as a factor in child and youth disengagement from school. Nor should it be underestimated as an explanation for any perceived decline in international education standards among western nations where, in most facets of life, young people influence and exercise considerable choice in most other areas of their lives except in school.
In writing this piece I am assuming curriculum as a broad entity, ranging from the documents comprising the Australian curriculum and the range of state-based adaptations to it, through to the formal and informal learning experiences of children in classrooms and schools, structured and developed under the auspices of each school.
Curriculum is the key. A cynic might say that curriculum is what education systems DO to learners in schools. A greater cycnic might say that what is done to learners is also being done to teachers. If our curriculum is not carefully thought through and structured, it can act as a straitjacket on teachers and learners, undermining their capacity to explore and engage through education. If the curriculum is over burdened in content areas, over prescribed with mandated teaching points, over tested, over regulated, then it robs learners and teachers of the potential to engage in education with imagination, personal investment, and joy. Learning becomes a chore, for learners and teachers alike. And, often, they disengage as a result. They simply stop trying.
In my many years as a teacher and teacher educator, I have always believed that teaching is among the most creative of professions. There is nothing more satisfying for a teacher than to develop learning experiences that enable children to understand concepts, develop skills and values, develop confidence, and enjoy their learning. The act of conceiving of and creating these learning experiences, ones that you know will bring out the best in your learners, then seeing your creative, intellectual efforts work in the classroom, and seeing children grow and want to keep learning as a result, is the key reward for the teacher.
To achieve this, curriculum needs to be freed up, becoming a crucible for fostering creative imagination rather than a straitjacket encouraging disengagement. We need a flexible curriculum, far less prescriptive than we generally have now, which encourages teachers to engage with and be responsive to the personalities of their students, and which enables young people to become involved with and take responsibility for their learning.
How to do this? We have plenty of evidence that current curricula are generally overcrowded and too prescriptive, so a good first step would be to identify a set of genuinely necessary core competencies, skills, values and content, which are limited and restrained, and which are essential for the social and economic wellbeing of individuals (and through them, the nation). The remainder and bulk of the curriculum should take the form of flexible guidelines which teachers can respond to with imagination and creativity, thereby inspiring their children to become involved and to strive to excel. This is a strength of the current curriculum in Finland, which has been considered the global ‘gold standard’ over the last decade.
We used to have in Australia, in the 1970s and 80s, strong and successful state-based cultures around school-based curriculum development – ones which enabled schools and their teachers to craft engaging and relevant curriculum developed from a clear but limited systemic curriculum framework.
These cultures (like the culture currently emphasised in Finland) had strong expectations of teachers as highly responsible, creative and professional individuals, based on high levels of trust of teachers. Unfortunately, later neo-liberal political ideologies and governance (from both sides of state and federal politics) gradually eroded these cultures. Examining and re-valuing the strengths of these previous curriculum cultures in Australia might be a good place to begin in conceiving how a less centralised, less crowded and more responsive curriculum would work for learners and their teachers.
Secondly, we have plenty of examples of thinking about curriculum, learner motivation and pedagogical approaches which respect the role of learners in learning, and teach us how to be inclusive of the tastes, preferences, talents and humanity that learners bring to their learning and their schools. People who have provided conceptual and practical clarity in their related writings include John Ainley, James Beane, Garth Boomer, John Dewey, Jacquelynne Eccles, Michael Fullan, William Glasser, Susan Groundwater-Smith, Roger Holdsworth, Stephen Kemmis, Tony Knight, Carl Rogers and R.E. Young amongst many others.
These contributions assist us in conceiving of more responsive, dynamic, shared and inclusive learning environments and communities, and of how to create effective and positive relationships between teachers and learners. They show us how these approaches can benefit and stimulate ALL learners – not just the most academically capable.
This, the ‘how’ of curriculum, is just as important as the content it contains. The ‘how’ of curriculum, the way we enable young people to engage in learning, must encourage young learners to make an intellectual and emotional investment in their learning by having input into how it is designed and conducted. That is the real beginning point to their engagement – enabling their committed buy-in to the process of formal learning.
Thirdly, in our teacher professional learning and development opportunities, in both the pre-service and in-service career stages, we need to continually emphasise the role of teachers as professional, imaginative and creative transactors and facilitators of learning. My own suspicion is that too many of our teachers may have come to regard teaching as having become de-professionalised – a profession in which they are simply expected to teach to the dot points the syllabus or school program contains, and to teach to the test.
Those teachers who do feel this way are being quite realistic – an over-crowded, over-mandated, over-tested (and often politically driven and destabilised) curriculum is de-professionalising. We need to give back to our teachers the opportunities and curriculum development skills to create curriculum and learning experiences that capture the hearts and imaginations of our children and young people.
Clearly, some of the above solutions to curriculum may require agitation by the profession and community, leading to macro, politically-endorsed reforms. In the absence of these, there are still very positive things that can be created by schools and classroom teachers from an over-prescriptive curriculum. Many formal curriculum and syllabus documents are not, on a closer reading, necessarily as prescriptive and confining as they first appear. Many mandated themes, topics or teaching points can be interpreted and adapted by the teacher, who can choose what to emphasise within particular topics, how much time should be allotted, what teaching approaches, activities or approaches to assessment might be used, and what opportunities there are to provide students with learning choices. With imagination and creativity, flexibility, personalisation of learning and responsiveness can often be crafted from curriculum documents which may initially seem too prescriptive and unforgiving.
Teachers who do manage to find this flexibility have the opportunity to create spaces in the curriculum into which they can invite their young learners to discuss, craft and conduct learning activities and the content they focus on. These teachers often feel great personal and professional fulfilment when they do engage with their students around their personal learning preferences, and achieve great learning motivation and improved academic outcomes with their learners – even on tests like the NAPLAN (without them having to emphasise the practising of the test).
Let’s return to my opening movie analogy. Imagine instead a classroom in which children and young people are continually participating by suggesting things to learn, and ways to learn, activities to do, ways to assess their learning, and in which they help their teachers to drive learning and learning outcomes. Imagine the creative energy that might drive the group, and the outcomes that might be achieved. Unlike the movies you are forced, unwillingly, to see, this is learning where you see the point, and want to engage, because it is in some ways your curriculum – as a learner (or a movie goer), you help to own the choices. Our curriculum design must be smart enough to enable learning to be personalised, flexible and responsive. Anything less risks more teachers feeling de-professionalised, and more learners in our schools choosing to disengage.
“How to escape education’s Death Valley?” June 17, 2013Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics.
Tags: creativity, curriculum, education and transformation, NAPLAN
by Jane Hunter
The provocation in this post is the title of Ken Robinson’s latest TED talk. When teachers at Coonamble High School in rural NSW viewed this talk recently it was greeted with thunderous applause as it concluded. According to executive principal of the school, Margaret Mulcahy: “enthusiasm for what Robinson describes in the TED talk launched what turned out to be a highly successful school development day that firmly focused on 21st Century pedagogy and the Australian National Curriculum”.
What is really interesting here is that alongside pedagogy for classrooms in more technology-rich contexts, some schools are also seeking to re-examine their focus on standardized measures of students’ performances as key arbiters of what students know in 21st Century contexts. There is disquiet in the teaching ranks and Robinson’s work, among other education scholars (Craft, 2012; Ito et al, 2013; Jukes et al, 2012; Martinez & Stager, 2013; McWilliam & Taylor, 2012), calls on governments, schools and teachers to rethink the focus of learning.
This new TED talk now forms a quartet of my favourite Ken Robinson clips, the others being What is in the school of your dreams ; Creativity, learning and the curriculum and Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. Leaving the other clips to one side for the purposes of this post, Robinson’s most recent conversation uses the metaphor of Death Valley – the driest place on earth – to draw our attention to a new metaphor for education. Robinson explains that the possibility seeds are all in place … surviving … just below the surface and they are waiting for the right conditions to germinate and to burst into flower. He says: “Current education policies in many countries are mechanistic. The push for better data from standardised tests to give us better information to fine tune schools …. is just not true … it won’t … and it never did”. His argument is based on the fact that education is a human system and the compulsion of more tests, more conformity, less breadth in curriculum and more emphasis on teaching as task, will not facilitate good learning for students. He describes how levels of disengagement among students in schools in many countries are evidence of the failure and slippage of current ‘testing’ policies in education.
Like Robinson, I agree ‘tests and testing’ have a place in schools and in education more generally, but they are not the whole story. When governments look to standardised tests as barometers by which to gauge, success or failure, or good or poor teaching in schools, it is ‘thin education measurement’. Rich measurements of schools, teachers and students’ performances comes through using data, for example, to diagnose how students are learning, see how curious they are, understand how well they engage with the whole curriculum, and how often they are given opportunities to produce and express learning in creative ways. This type of measurement and this kind of learning takes time and time means students may cover less content but what they know is deeper, plentiful, imaginative and motivating. And, in such classrooms students are given, as Csíkszentmihályi (1996) found: “Time to get into flow in their learning” (p.22).
In new research (Hunter, 2013) exemplary teachers in Stage 1-5 classrooms in some NSW schools spoke about NAPLAN in the context of how they conceptualized their knowledge of technology integration. While the study teachers were not completely critical of NAPLAN they called for it to be re-imagined. For example, one teacher said: “NAPLAN should be telling us about our students’ progress and how I can improve my teaching” and another described its effect as meaning: “The hijacking of learning in schools right now”*. In examination of more than 500 separate references to support research in the doctoral study (Hunter, 2013), a strong case is made in the work of Zhao (2009, 2012) that shows following East Asian models of schooling (characterized by high levels of testing with recall and reproduction seen as important) in countries like China, South Korea, and Singapore will not develop young people’s creativity and entrepreneurship, nor allow opportunities for exploration, experimentation and expression of meaningful learning. Zhao (2013) cites statistics that show less than 1% of the world’s patents (as useful measures of original thought and innovation) are produced annually by China, whereas in countries like the US, patent production for the same period is greater than 34%. Other education literature (Chen, 2010; Pellegrino & Hilton, 2012; Richardson, 2012) details how ‘innovation and individuality’ are being driven out of public schools globally as a direct consequence of ‘testing regimes’. Such evidence aligns with what Robinson repeats in this recent conversation.
And finally, to return to the conclusion of the TED talk, Robinson invites jurisdictions, schools and teachers to shift the ‘testing focus’ and to think about education in a climate of possibility using his Death Valley metaphor. He reminds us of the famous Benjamin Franklin quote about three classes of people in the world: “The immovable, the movable and … those that move”. Perhaps, now is the time for educators to move?
*Submissions to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee’s Inquiry and Report on “The effectiveness of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)” were received until the 7th June 2013. The list of submissions can be viewed here.
Chen, M. (2010). Education nation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Craft, A. (2012). Childhood in a digital age: Creative challenges for educational futures. London Review of Education, 10 (2), 173-190.
Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Collins.
Hunter, J. (May 2013 – in examination). Exploring technology integration in teachers’ classrooms in NSW public schools. Unpublished PhD dissertation. University of Western Sydney.
Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., Schor, J., Sefton-Green, J., & Craig Watkins, J. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design. Irvine, CA: The Digital Media and Research Hub.
Jukes, I., McCain, T. & Crockett, L. (2012). Living on the edge: Windows on tomorrow. 21st Century Fluency Series. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
McWilliam, E., & Taylor, P. (2012, April 16). Schooling for personally significant learning: Is it possible? Retrieved from http://www.ericamcwilliam.com.au/personally-significant-learning/
Martinez, S., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.
Pellegrino, J. W., & Hilton, M. L. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Retrieved from http://sites.nationalacademies.org/xpedio/groups/dbassesite/documents/webpage/dbasse_070621.pdf
Richardson, W. (2012). Why school? How education must change when learning and information are everywhere. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Zhao, Y. (2009). Catching up or leading the way: American education in the age of globalization. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Zhao, Y. (2012). World class learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Zhao, Y. (2013). Keynote address at Inspire and Innovate Conference, NSW DEC, April.
Jane Hunter is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She researches in the field of technology and learning, pedagogy and teacher professional learning.
“Now that NAPLAN is over I can start to teach?” June 12, 2011Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: NAPLAN, standards testing
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from Dr Robyn Gregson
In her first post, Robyn Gregson reviews international approaches to testing student learning and argues that NAPLAN* testing in Australia is having a negative impact on pedagogy and assessment, and contributes to a de-professionalising of teachers in schools.
“Now that NAPLAN is over I can start to teach?” is the cry of many that has been heard in the corridors and staffrooms of both primary and secondary schools.
Mirroring the USA and UK experience, Australian education reform has been driven by political agendas that seek to assign accountability for educational outcomes. Subsequently we have the introduction of National and International testing that will provide comparisons in learning outcomes across states and countries (Perso, 2009). Three such tests are the Programme for International Students Achievement (PISA), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International reading literacy Study (PIRLS). PISA tests reading literacy within ‘real life’ settings whereas TIMSS focuses on mathematics and science curriculum-based proficiency benchmarks (Kell & Kell, 2011). PIRLS is a comparative study of the literacy skills of 4th graders. TIMSS and PRILS are grade based while PISA is age based.
NAPLAN (National Assessment Program –Literacy and Numeracy) is the Australian version for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, introduced in 2008. This test was intended to provide valuable information about basic skills, what students know and don’t know and what teachers need to focus on in their classrooms (Anderson, 2009). The data from this national test was to be used to support educational planning for individuals, classes, and schools, and would inform school systems and the wider community about how schools in their local areas compared. While the PISA, PIRLS and TIMSS provide interesting data they have not led to significant changes at classroom level. However NAPLAN is linked to the myschool website, and funding.
Since the introduction of NAPLAN, pedagogical practices in classrooms have been driven by the need for students to do well in the tests. Schools, teachers and students are being judged by the levels that students attain. Teachers are torn between the use productive pedagogies and authentic assessment that support academic progress, and with preparing their students for high stakes national testing. Teaching to the test is longer just a concern, but a reality (Luke & Woods, 2007). A study of the views of teachers by Dimarco (2009) reports that teachers are using their professional judgment to support student success in national testing that has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, teacher deskilling and attrition, corruption of testing procedure and test scores with no evidence that that the testing has led to improve student learning outcomes.
What has become apparent is that teachers are tailoring their teaching and assessment practices to match those of the national tests. There is concern about keeping students interested and engaged while preparing them for the testing. However there is much debate over the effectiveness of such practices. Teachers are concerned by the negative effects such as student and teacher stress, disaffection of curriculum, narrowing of curriculum and a shift from higher order skills to lower order forms of literacy.
Until recently research literature reported that a more positive relationship between pedagogy and assessment had developed because of the shift from assessment of learning to assessment for learning. In the latter, the focus of assessment was on helping students to learn from assessment as well as use the feedback given to improve not only what they know and understand, but how they learn. While educational research focuses on the benefits of constructivist and emerging 21st century theories of learning, the reality of many classrooms in both primary and secondary schools is that teachers are not utilising the types of pedagogy and assessment tasks that promote learning (Tierney, 2006).
What has emerged from recent literature is the destabilsation of the teaching profession with concerns about teacher motivation and engagement of students. The role of national testing is currently under surveillance with anecdotal evidence suggesting that teachers are yet again changing their teaching and assessment practices to align with national testing strategies.
References: Dimarco, S. (2009). Crossing the divide between teacher professionalism and national testing in middle school mathematics. Australian Mathematics Teacher; 65 (4) pp.6-10. Kell, M. & Kell, P (2010). International testing: measuring global standards or reinforcing inequalities. The International Journal of Learning, 17 (12) pp 293-306. Luke, A. & Woods, A. (2007). Accountability as testing: Are there lessons about assessment and outcomes to be learnt from no child left behind? Literacy Learning: The middle years, 6 (3), pp.11–19. Perso, T (2009). Cracking the NAPLAN code: numeracy and literacy demands. AMPC 14(3) pp.14-18. Tierney, R.D. (2006). Changing practices: influences on classroom assessment. Assessment in Education 13(3) pp.239-264.
* To source other posts about NAPLAN on 21st Century Learning use our search engine at the top of the page.
Robyn Gregson is a Lecturer in Science education and literacy for learning in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She teaches in our Master of Teaching (Secondary) program.