Last year I asked what broader social purpose is served by schools competing for position on NAPLAN league tables. I emphasised both the meaninglessnesss of the information (reiterated recently by David Hardie in Crikey) and the lack of any aggregate benefit from inducing families to compete in turn for places in high ranked schools. The prospect that class time would be wasted on preparing kids for the test was only a minor problem I identified, and it wasn’t clear how significant a phenomenon this would be, at least in public schools.
Now the first round of tests in the Myschool era is approaching, and my impression is that the race is on, well and truly. Perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention, but I have no recollection of any significant in-class practice sessions taking place in previous years. But they are now. This is, I stress, only my impression. But we will have to rely on anecdotal evidence for the time being. Yesterday the Herald provided depressing evidence that Julia Gillard’s department has no interest in gathering information on any adverse consequences of publishing school averages on the tests.
In the meantime I’m exploring the avenues for civil disobedience, starting with this email enquiry to the Policy Liaison Ofifcer for the New South Wales Education Department. I’ll let you know instantly the reply comes through.
Dear Liaison Officer,
I have two children in NSW public schools, one in primary and one in secondary.
In both schools I’ve become aware that principals have instructed teachers that the school must improve its ranking in the NAPLAN league table, and that class time should be devoted to preparing children for the May tests.
I note that while principals may wish to impress their employers with good and improving NAPLAN results, the achievement of these results is their challenge, not the students’. A child should not be asked to sacrifice time from her education to aid her principal’s quest for glory.
I don’t mean to imply that zero preparation is appropriate. Regarding preparation for the tests, the Frequently Asked Questions section on the NAPLAN web site has this to say:
Test practice involves students completing examples of previous tests or sample tests for the purpose of familiarising them with test instructions and common forms of questions.. preparation increases student understanding of what is being asked and provides strategies to focus on test content. Teachers routinely prepare students for testing including, as appropriate, practice on sample tests. Adequate preparation ensures that students feel comfortable in the testing environment and are able to confidently demonstrate what they know and can do.
My feeling is that more class time is being diverted to coaching for the NAPLAN tests than is necessary to ‘familiarise them with test instructions and common forms of instructions’.
I intend to ask the schools to excuse my children from the preparation, and let them read a book.
My question is whether there are NSW Department of Education policies that I can refer to in my correspondence with the respective principals (1) specifying how much class time should be diverted to NAPLAN preparation; and (2) guaranteeing my children’s’ right to be excused from non-curriculum activities of this kind.
Thank you for your trouble.