Defending pedagogy from test data mania

Gary Zadkovich
Deputy President

Schoolchildren at risk of new pressures from testing

Federation is resisting the latest political push to impose a test-driven, data-collecting agenda on NSW public schools.

In the 2010 NAPLAN dispute, a consensus was achieved to preserve the quality of pedagogy, curriculum, assessment and reporting in our schools. NAPLAN tests were to remain diagnostic tools to be used to inform educational programs and practices. Standardised tests were not to be elevated to a high-stakes status. School league tables were rejected, as was the folly of so-called performance pay for teachers based on student test results.

Students, teachers and schools were not to be subjected to the grossly negative impacts of the test-driven, data-collecting policies that have wrought such damage on the quality of education in overseas jurisdictions. Colleagues who have taught in England will know the pernicious effects of this agenda and understand why our colleagues in the National Union of Teachers describe students as being “scored for life”.

While NSW public schools have operated in relative peace in the years since the NAPLAN conflict, change is afoot.

The pressure for more testing and data collection in the Bump It Up and Literacy and Numeracy strategies, the linking of an HSC literacy and numeracy standard to achievement in Year 9 NAPLAN tests, and the rising influence of the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) within the Department, all signal that the above-mentioned consensus on quality public education is at risk.

Federation Council on March 18 endorsed the development of a campaign strategy to oppose this agenda. It will be developed during Term 2 for recommendation to Annual Conference in July this year. Some of the issues to be considered include:

  • upholding the centrality, quality and importance of teaching from mandatory NESA syllabuses and repudiating the practice of teaching from and to standardised tests
  • defending and promoting the right of classroom teachers, executives and principals to exercise their professional judgement through collaborative, school-based decision-making
  • establishing an appropriate standard of literacy and numeracy achievement for the HSC, derived from the syllabuses, not NAPLAN
  • maintaining the diagnostic purpose of NAPLAN and resisting moves to elevate the status of these tests
  • ensuring the use of standardised tests such as PAT assessments remains optional, including in the implementation of the Bump It Up and Literacy and Numeracy strategies.

Federation will work closely with the peak principal and parent organisations, engage with academics, utilise relevant research and draw on the professional expertise and experience of our members in this endeavour.

The qualities that make teaching and learning so engaging, innovative, stimulating and effective for students and professionally fulfilling for teachers are at risk. It will be a vitally important campaign to win.

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