that the federal Labor Government, and Julia Gillard as Minister for
Education, have adopted what I suggested eight years ago, readers would
be forgiven for thinking I feel vindicated and that I support the new
Such is not the case.
Gillard's rationale behind making school results public, and allowing
parents and others to compare schools, is to raise standards and to
lift the performance of under-achieving schools.
track record, in both the US (under the president Bush inspired No
Child Left Behind legislation) and England (where school league tables
are published on an annual basis) is poor when it comes to new
accountability measures raising standards.
York, for example, under the stewardship of Joel Klein (an education
bureaucrat much admired by Gillard and often cited as somebody to copy)
academic results, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational
Progress (NAEP) tests, have flat-lined.
Such are the
concerns in the US about the adverse impact of the types of
accountability measures being introduced in Australia that the
prestigious Board of Testing and Assessment wrote an open letter to the
US Education Secretary (October, 2009) detailing the flaws inherent in
testing and using results to evaluate school and teacher performance.
from being objective and reliable, the US experts argue that "a test
score is an estimate rather than an exact measure of what a person
knows and can do". Tests, especially standardised, multiple choice
tests, narrow the curriculum, only measure a limited range of knowledge
and skills, and take valuable time from what teachers most enjoy –
The US experts are especially critical of
using a "value-add" approach to evaluate school and teacher
performance. Value-add is a model that attempts to measure how
successful schools are in improving student performance otherwise than
what might be expected and it is being promoted by the ALP
Government-sponsored Grattan Institute.
to value-add, the US experts state, ". . . a great deal is unknown
about the potential and the limitations of alternative statistical
models for evaluating teachers' value-added contributions to student
learning. BOTA agrees with other experts who have urged the need for
caution and for further research prior to any large-scale, high-stakes
reliance on these approaches."
In relation to tests
lacking validity and reliability, it is important to note that an
Australian measurement expert, Dr Wu from the University of Melbourne,
late last year expressed misgivings about Australia's National
Assessment Program literacy and numeracy tests. NAPLAN measures
literacy and numeracy across all Australian schools at years 3, 5, 7
Dr Wu's research concludes that the results
of the 2009 NAPLAN tests are open to doubt. She states, "with seven out
of the 20 subject areas showing aberrant results, it is difficult to
have confidence in the overall NAPLAN 2009 results". In relation to
increasing testing across Australian schools, Dr Wu argues: "However,
valid and reliable assessments are not easily developed. The validity
and reliability of a large-scale assessment is under threat from
multiple sources including measurement error, sampling error,
measurement disturbances and administrative challenges."
English record in testing and accountability is also open to doubt.
Last year's national testing results in England failed to reflect any
significant improvement in standards and the consensus is that the
Blair education initiatives (such as league tables, naming and shaming
schools and regular inspection) have failed to strengthen schools and
Last year's inquiry into the
primary school curriculum (the Rose report), argues that the emphasis
on standardised, external testing be reduced and more attention be
given to teachers undertaking more flexible and sensitive ongoing
assessment in the classroom.
Some years ago, when
former British prime minister Magaret Thatcher suggested that England
have a national curriculum, she intended that it to be concise, brief
and easy to implement. Once the education bureaucrats and teacher
academics became involved it grew into a convoluted and impossible to
manage curriculum that overwhelmed and frustrated teachers.
same can be said with the testing and accountability regime being
imposed by Gillard. While schools and teachers need to be accountable
and parents have the right to be informed, what is being imposed on
Australian classrooms is intrusive, overly bureaucratic and
Government schools, unlike
Catholic and independent schools, will be hardest hit as they lack the
autonomy and flexibility to recruit and reward staff and to manage
their own affairs to best reflect the needs and aspirations of their
Not only will schools suffer as a
result of compliance costs and the adverse impact of testing on the
curriculum (where subjects like music, art and physical education will
be further devalued), but also the information parents receive will be
of limited value.
As teachers and parents well
understand, what should be most valued in education is impossible to
quantify by using standardised, short answer tests like Australia's
Dr Kevin Donnelly is the author of Australia's Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars (Connor Court Publishing) and is director of Education Standards Institute (ESI), www.edstandards.com.au