As reported in The Australian today (10/9/11). Australia’s national Literacy and Numeracy skills of students in years 3, 5, 7, & 9 have not improved significantly in the 4 years of the NAPLAN testing. This is very disappointing for me as a teacher of students predominantly working in this learning area. Throughout my career I, along with my colleagues have put endless time into teaching the literacy and numeracy skills to these children, and we see significant improvement throughout the year and demonstrate measurable improvements.
For many years I have questioned the purpose if this standardised testing and how the information was going to affect the teaching and learning experiences for our students. Although it is too early to speculate how the government and respective education departments are going to react to this information, I am of the belief that the implementation of the Australian National Curriculum will work to improve the gap, between the content and curriculum outcomes for students across the country, will reduce significantly. I have taught in 3 of our southern states and have seen significant differences between the standards of achievement required at the end of many junior school years. In my experiences I believe there is significant time at the beginning of each teaching year spent predominantly “teaching the test”. This is where students are given past years and practice tests in the NAPLAN format to teach the students how to answer the tests. Although I do see some merit in teaching how to answer these tests because they are a sterile form of assessment and generally, only used to assess year to year progress. I would rather have the students spending their time truly learning the content of the curriculum and being assessed in this format towards the end of the year when the content has been taught and learnt. I believe the assessment at the beginning of the year is of less significance. When these results are analysed and returned to school’s and students the year has almost finished and the results are of less use to the teachers. If on the other hand the assessment was completed as a part of the end of year benchmarking assessment, the results could be analysed during the summer break and have up to date results ready for teachers at the beginning of the new year. The significance of this would be that the results can be used as a foundation assessment to base the immediate teaching for the new year on.
The innovation needed here is not that of technology integration or of teaching strategies, but of the management of data and the timely collection of this information. Authorities need to give the teachers the opportunity to teach the content thoroughly and comprehensively without the worry of teaching the students how to complete the tests. The beginning of the year can then focus more on the relationship building between students and teachers, and creating a comfortable and stimulating learning environment where authentic teaching and learning can occur. This will improve the opportunities for our students, and allow the learning to be focussed upon the specific needs of individuals.
I believe this, along with the continued fantastic innovative teaching by wonderfully skilled teachers and the engagement with authentic and innovative lessons, our students will have significantly improved learning outcomes. We could then begin to close the gap between Australia and the learning education powerhouses in the world ratings.