While Australian government wants us to be committed to NAPLAN, how does asking every child in years 3, 5, 7 and 7 to sit for this test actually help students to learn? Following USA and UK in this approach to old-fashioned testing may unfortunately lead us along their same dysfunctional education path. Read my opinion piece on the topic published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.


Money for score rewards only bores. By Dr Joanne Orlando

The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy is not only a standardised test but an ideology working its way through the Australian education system.

It transports classrooms back to the 19th century, when rote learning and the regurgitation of rudimentary facts were rewarded above all else.
So when Julia Gillard says the government will reward quality teachers – and that NAPLAN test results are one of the criteria – it sends a shiver down my spine. NAPLAN is on track to becoming the key determinant of a good teacher, which is a travesty in the age of the ”education revolution”, where ideas and creativity should be the cornerstones of success.

As a former teacher, and now an academic in education, I applaud the government for its commitment to rewarding good teachers. How our teachers teach is vital, even for those without children.

But how we identify those high- quality teachers is crucial. We can follow the path of the US under the No Child Left Behind policy, which measures children’s results in standardised tests as an indicator of good teaching. But the indications are that these tests are limiting the type of learning students are exposed to, and restrict the scope of the teacher’s expertise.

Research shows there is a great deal of unrest in the US and in Britain, which has a similar system for rewarding teachers. In effect teachers there are paid for their silence in education systems that are now populated with free-market jargon such as ”performance management” and ”targets”.

The US and Britain are suffering dire teacher shortages and increasingly students are being taught the relevant ”tests” by paraprofessionals employed by private companies. It would be tragic to emulate these countries.

The forms of teaching that centre on NAPLAN-style tests are focused on short-term memory and recitation, leaving less time for important aspects of learning and teaching such as creativity, reflection and civic responsibility.

A primary criticism of such tests in the US is that they cause the states that administer the tests to lower achievement goals – so that standards look like they are rising – and motivate teachers to ”teach to the test”.

Compare that with our two-year Australian study, ”Teachers for a Fair Go project”, which tracked the activity of teachers who were nominated by their school communities as exemplary. One common characteristic was their passion for learning and their devotion to inspiring a similar love of learning in students.

We also found the teachers had an expansive view of learning, meaning they did not limit what their students were taught. They managed to follow the curriculum while also giving the students more responsibility for their learning.

They harnessed and celebrated the talents of individual students. They set up classroom environments that fostered creativity, problem solving and the development of potential, with lessons that related to the students’ interests in the world. They dramatically lifted attendance rates where this was a problem. Their students told us they were excited to be at school and felt lucky to be in their teacher’s class.

These are the qualities I believe should define a good teacher. But Australia seems to be taking the opposite tack. If the quality of teachers is based on their ability to force students to memorise facts, we are going to miss out on identifying and supporting those teachers whose passion for learning motivates students, helping them to a full, broad and deep education.

As international research has shown, even a minor policy change, such as a teacher reward system, can have a serious impact on the work of teachers. This would be particularly true in Australia where policies, such as the My School website, are giving similar messages about the importance of NAPLAN in our education system. The prospect of the teachers we studied being encouraged to teach differently in pursuit of an ill-thought-out financial reward is appalling.

Let’s put this into perspective. NAPLAN is only one test. It occurs on 12 days of the 13 years a child attends school. I want my children to meet teachers who inspire them to think for themselves every day and to strive to reach their full potential. Not the sort who say: ”Yes, dear, I know you invented a new form of energy that will save the planet, but what about your grammar test?”

Those in the profession know best what good teaching requires, as do students and school executives. Let’s include these groups in deciding the criteria for rewarding the best teachers and not test scores that know very little.


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