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Aussie national standards hurting education

Written By: - Date published: 2:26 pm, June 8th, 2010 - 27 comments
Categories: education - Tags:

We all know what a disaster America’s ‘No Child Left Behind’, the inspiration for the Nats’ National Standards has been. It seems Australia has gone down a very similar track and the results have been the same – teaching to the test, grade inflation, and institutional cheating as teachers and schools find themselves being judged solely on their students’ grades. Here’s an interesting article from Australia:

PUBLIC schools are being run like commercial firms in a stock market and are trying to attract top students at the expense of improving broad education, a leading sociologist warns.

Professor Raewyn Connell, a social change researcher and author, has blamed the My School website for a shift in resources towards the marketing and branding of taxpayer-funded schools.

Other education experts have backed the comments and warn school leaders could soon seek to enrol only high-performing students to ensure their school was considered a successful business.

The Federal Government has created a “powerfully negative” regime, particularly through its controversial National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests, Professor Connell told The Advertiser.

South Australian Primary Principals Association president Steve Portlock said yesterday government schools were under greater pressure to better manage students and compete for enrolments.

“I think there’s going to be increasing pressure on principals to look more carefully at enrolments,” he said.

“As NAPLAN becomes a more high-stakes test, schools will be tempted to only take students that will help increase their NAPLAN averages.”

Schools have reported a large portion of resources are now going toward branding and marketing and bureaucratic procedure.

“I think there’s going to be increasing pressure on principals to look more carefully at enrolments,” he said.

“As NAPLAN becomes a more high-stakes test, schools will be tempted to only take students that will help increase their NAPLAN averages.”

Schools have reported a large portion of resources are now going toward branding and marketing and bureaucratic procedure.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard’s office said yesterday it was “concerned” public school principals felt under pressure but “the most important people in this equation are the students”.

Professor Connell, who works for the University of Sydney, said students from lower socio-economic or socio-educational backgrounds would lose out in the long term under the current regime.

“It’s just increasing the social division,” she said. “Our responsibility as a society is to have an education system that works well for all children and we’re not doing that.”

Some government schools had also introduced a system where students were interviewed prior to enrolment acceptance – similar to private school practice.

Professor Connell, who was in Adelaide last Friday at the University of South Australia’s Hawke Research Institute, said My School – which publishes school results from NAPLAN testing – asked people “to think about schools as though they are firms in a market”.

“It shows a kind of ranking of performance according to certain measures and people then buy or don’t buy the product,” she said.

“It represents to me a stock market where buyers rank firms and put their money into the best performing firms.”

Professor Connell said this mindset forced schools and universities to compete for students, funding and resources. She said universities competing fiercely for research money through the promotion of successful students and schools “teaching to the test” for NAPLAN were prime examples of fall-out from the regime.

“Not only are teachers being asked to teach to the test, there are very powerful incentives to do so and the effects are going to be massive,” she said.

Mr Portlock said some schools already marketed themselves as specialist institutions in fields such as sport or music to attract higher enrolment.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s healthy,” he said.

“It’s not the best system if state schools are fighting for enrolments. . . our moral purpose is to provide the best education for all kids.”

He added that principals had already raised concerns about the “dramatic” increase in business management responsibility that came with the leadership role, leaving less time to focus on students and learning.

Ms Gillard has vehemently stood by the Government’s “education revolution”, asserting greater transparency and assessment would support improvement in schools.

A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said the “greatest danger is that there is underperformance in some schools and no one ever knows and no one ever does anything about it”.

“What transparency does is shine a light in schools that are achieving great results, so they can share that best practice; as well as provide a helping hand to schools in need of extra support.”

Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos said the Federal Government had for decades been treating education more as a commodity and less as a “vitally important” public service.

“The whole commodification of education suggests it is just a product to be bought and sold when really it is a lot more than that,” he said.

27 comments on “Aussie national standards hurting education”

  1. ianmac 1

    Agreed with all the post. I have always wondered about “teach to the test”. A few years ago Auckland Grammar was boasting of its success by publishing its exam results. In the article in North and South they said that they prepared the boys for exams by constantly have them sit and resit previous exams so that by the time they did it for real, they were skilled. That seems to me to be a form of teach to the test.
    I wonder why Auckland Grammar was so anti the NCEA? Did it not lend itself to pretesting?

    • Sam 1.1

      I did NCEA in its first year and there were plenty of exemplars available on the MoE resource website TKI. The staff encouraged us to practice with them at home. I never did any of the Cambridge shit, but NCEA definitely introduced an element of teaching to the test.

      However, I should probably say that due the structuring of the year around internal assessments, the room for teaching the test was clearly reduced significantly, as you had to learn specific things first.

  2. A Post With Me In It 2

    God I am so surprised. What a surprise!

    Are you not surprised? I sure am.

    Just surprising….

  3. ghostwhowalksnz 3

    Funny isnt it that both the US federal government and the Aussie federal government, who dont actually run any schools are so keen on this ‘shiny apples’ style of running testing. Of course they come with a carrot as they fund some but not all of the schools costs and their education bureaucrats dictate these tests as some sort of way of explaining why underfunding primary and secondary education doesn’t get the required results

  4. Pete 4

    All covered in season 4 of ‘The Wire’, and all debunked in the States, and now in Aussie. But let’s label the Eductaion Ministry as ‘bad’ c/o the oh-so-impartial Trans Tasman.

  5. ianmac 5

    And Marty. Did the teachers in Australia decide to go on strike over National Testing but were persuaded to not do so as the Feds would bring in the Army to do the testing instead?
    Mind you NZ does not have a single set of tests on a particular day as Australia does. (I believe that in Scotland the schools had private arrangements, in consultation with certain parents, to keep low performing kids at home on Test Day. This kept the schools’ League tables up.)

  6. Bunji 6

    I still find Jolisa Gracewood’s description of where National Testing ends up as one of the most powerful arguments against it. The statistics may tell you it doesn’t work (or rather that it does work – achieving its very narrow aims at the expense of real education), but nothing demonstrates like a personal account.

    And to think George W. wanted to be remembered as the Education President.

    [the story linked to is long, but worth it.]

    • jimmy 6.1

      Crikey thats a good story you have linked to. I havent got kids but if I did I sure as hell hope I will not be teaching them pointless hoop-jumping at age five. Sure its something we all have to learn but at that age it would only breed comtempt towards education.

  7. Gooner 7

    Education is simply not a “square peg, square hole” thing. That is why national standards won’t work.

    Captcha: uniform.

  8. SHG 8

    National Standards: parents love ’em, teachers hate ’em.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 8.1

      Until someone tells parents how to run THEIR family, Suddenly they are not so keen.
      Actually a small clique in the National party wants testing for national standards, even Tolley isnt so keen anymore as she doesnt even pretend to make the slightest bit of sense when discussing how it will work..

    • Sam 8.2

      Got any proof there, big man?

      Teachers hate them for a reason. Step inside any teacher’s classroom at any point and see what they will be doing. I can guarantee you that the majority of the time it’ll either be testing or doing paperwork to support that testing. All for National Standards and the torrents of other testing and reporting bureaucrats demand out of teachers.

      Then again, fuck it, who cares about actually teaching kids stuff, right?

  9. kelsey 9

    National standards is about calibration of existing assessment tools. There is no national test, so how can it encourage teaching to the test? For many schools their assessment methods will not change. All that happens is that there can be comparisons of assessments nationally, not because of a national tests but because of assessment calibration.

    • ianmac 9.1

      The tough if not impossible task Kelsey, is to match the good quality evaluation which has been going on for years, to a set of National Standards which have no clear guidelines or moderation. It does take a great deal of opinion and is impossible to be clear or credible on the results. You are right in that there are no National Tests as such, but the pressure is on to produce good results in a very narrow range of vague criteria at the expense of concentrating on the wider context.

    • Fabregas4 9.2

      Not really, the Ministry is mapping current assessments against Nat Standards and this says whether a child, according, to that assessment meets the standards or not – National Testing by any other name.

  10. Chess Player 10

    So, what’s the alternative then, when identifying who is succeeding and who is failing?

    Gut feel?

  11. nope, you use the assessments that schools already use.

    • Chess Player 11.1

      The ones that parents and employers can’t understand?

      • ianmac 11.1.1

        I don’t think that you get it. National Testing is aimed at Primary Schools. Employers not a feature.
        As you have been told endlessly, there is already a range of quality assessment tools in schools but another layer trying to match with politically generated “standards” is just another load of pointless waste of time. They already know who is achieving or failing. Its the specialised help for those who are failing that is missing.

      • Eddie 11.1.2

        what’s not to understand? It’s not rocket science.

        Btw, you’ve just shown how little you know about this issue. National standards are for primary schools. I doubt there’s a lot of employers looking at primary school reports.

        shot yourself in the foot their old boy.

        • Zorr

          Eddie, you’re forgetting the employers who would like to be able to hire young kids to fill the roles previously held by Asians with their “tiny hands”. It is time to replace one bigoted stance with a completely immoral one!

      • Sam 11.1.3

        Ahahaha poor mope doesn’t even realise that now the kids’ reports are going to saying even less with their absurd ‘plain english’ crap.

  12. Irascible 12

    It is interesting to note that the USA architect of National Standards testing has recanted saying, in her recently published book reviewed in the NYT, that the thinking behind the testing was seriously flawed and that she and her advisors should have listened to the advice being given by the teachers. However, because the regime suited the political climate of the day it was bedded into the fabric of American education with the disastrous results we, as outside observers, recognise. (sorry I lost the citation link.)

  13. Irascible 13

    Here’s the link.

    This review from the NYTs is instructive reading especially when one reads the Tolley led ACT derived policies being imported into NZ from the States. With FAILURE written all over them one wonders why NACT are so fascinated with them.

  14. Irascible 14

    Standards and the Art of Magical Thinking
    By Thomas Newkirk

    Years ago, my family enjoyed playing a “Sesame Street’ record in which a king was so grateful when the fire department put out a royal fire that he declared everyone in his kingdom would be a fireman. Of course, problems arose: There was no one to cook his meals because everyone was a fireman. The moral, I suppose, was that we need different professions, something the king eventually realized. But I loved the magical bravado of the king’s just declaring everyone a fireman—and it happened.
    This is an extract from the US education week magazine about the influence and efficacy of National Standards. You have to subscribe to get the full article.

    We get our fair share of magical thinking in the standards movement, such as the goal that every student in the country would be at the proficient level in reading and math by 2014, even though only about a third of U.S. students were at that level when the No Child Left Behind law was enacted. Proponents tried to make this unrealistic goal sound common-sensical—shouldn’t all kids read at grade level?—when in fact we had never been even close to having this level as the norm, let alone the universal requirement. Those of us who questioned the realism of this standard must surely have appeared as pessimists, spoilsports, or defeatists.

    But as any decent weight-reduction counselor knows, few things can be more damaging than unrealistic goals. They set… (edweek.org)

    • PK 14.1

      ***We get our fair share of magical thinking in the standards movement, such as the goal that every student in the country would be at the proficient level in reading and math by 2014,***

      That educational romanticism has been criticised by Charles Murray & compared to the Soviet Union’s attempts to transform its economy:

      “Many laws are too optimistic, but the No Child Left Behind Act transcended optimism. It set a goal that was devoid of any contact with reality…

      The apotheosis of educational romanticism occurred on January 8, 2002, when a Republican president of the United States, surrounded by approving legislators from both parties, signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act, which had this as the Statement of Purpose for its key title:

      The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.

      I added the italics. All means exactly that: everybody, right down to the bottom level of ability. The language of the 2002 law made no provision for any exclusions. The Act requires that this goal be met “not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001-2002 school year.”

      We are not talking about a political speech or a campaign promise. The United States Congress, acting with large bipartisan majorities, at the urging of the President, enacted as the law of the land that all children are to be above average. I do not exaggerate…

      That common experience of parents conforms to everything that is known scientifically about the nature of intellectual ability. A lively debate continues about the malleability of intellectual ability in infants and toddlers, but few make ambitious claims for the malleability of intellectual ability after children enter elementary school. There are no examples of intensive in-school programs that permanently raise intellectual ability during the K-12 years (minor and temporary practice effects are the most that have been demonstrated)…

      That brings us to an indispensable tenet of educational romanticism: The public schools are so bad that large gains in student performance are possible even within the constraints of intellectual ability. A large and unrefuted body of evidence says that this indispensable tenet is incorrect. Differences among schools do not have much effect on test scores in reading and mathematics. This finding is not well known by the general public (parents could spend less time fretting over their children’s school if it were), and needs some explanation….

      To sum up, a massive body of evidence says that reading and mathematics achievement have strong ties to underlying intellectual ability, that we do not know how to change intellectual ability after children reach school, and that the quality of schooling within the normal range of schools does not have much effect on student achievement. To put it another way, we have every reason to think–and already did when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed–that the notion of making all children proficient in math and reading is ridiculous. Such a feat is not possible even for an experimental school with unlimited funding, let alone for public schools operating in the real world. By NAEP’s definition of proficiency, we probably cannot make even half of the students proficient.

      The first strand in explaining educational romanticism is a mythic image of the good old days when teachers brooked no nonsense and all the children learned their three R’s…

      Wrong. American schools have never been able to teach everyone how to read, write, and do arithmetic. The myth that they could has arisen because schools a hundred years ago did not have to educate the least able. When the twentieth century began, about a quarter of all adults had not reached fifth grade and half had not reached eighth grade. The relationship between school dropout and intellectual ability was not perfect, but it was strong. Today’s elementary and middle schools are dealing with 99 percent of all children in the eligible age groups. Let today’s schools not report the test results for the children that schools in 1900 did not have to teach, and NAEP scores would go through the roof…”


  15. Natty 15

    When we were in Australia recently, we read that the higher socio-economic schools are hiring NAPLAN coaches. Already it is clear that the “have” schools are manipulating and rorting the system to such an extent that it makes the NAPLAN programme meaningless. The tragedy is that it will result in even greater inequity as those schools without the resources to play the system will be shunned.

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