NAPLAN shows stalled performance 

People are either in favour of the Australian NAPLAN standardised tests or passionately against them. There’s even a line of educational research that attempts to show they are part of a worldwide neoliberal conspiracy.

I take a more nuanced view. It is ridiculous to use NAPLAN results to whip an individual school that is doing its best in an area of socioeconomic deprivation. But I’d rather have the data than not have it. In aggregate, it gives a useful guide to how we are going. If we can’t get literacy and numeracy right then we have little hope of achieving anything else.

This morning, the ABC is reporting a flatlining of results and declining writing standards in the most recent round of tests, despite record funding.

Why is this happening? To me it’s obvious. The priority in schools is anything other than literacy and numeracy. This is not just a social media issue. Go to any education conference and there will be a focus on technology, project-based learning, 21st century skills, jobs that don’t exist yet and critical thinking. Some of these things might be worth having but, if so, they are clearly underpinned by strong literacy and numeracy. These have to be the priority. And they’re not.

For ideological reasons, we still have early reading taught via ‘mixed methods’ rather than by methods consistent with vast swathes of research. Three panels set up by the U.S., U.K and Australian governments (see here, here and here) all surveyed the research and concluded that a systematic – rather than incidental or implicit – approach to teaching phonics is required.

Maths education is dominated by ideas about authentic investigations and discovery learning rather than a systematic, sequenced attempt to explicitly teach key concepts and procedures. The assumption of many teachers is that this approach is supported by research. It is certainly supported by the ideology of some in the research community but if you want to read what science actually tells us about the best ways to teach complex ideas then this paper is a good start.

We need to start paying attention to what the data says rather than attempting to dismiss it.

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3 Comments on “NAPLAN shows stalled performance ”

  1. Iain Murphy says:

    Greg a great post on the problems we face. It seems amazing that the media get the numbers before anyone that can put context on the numbers ie: teachers. Unfortunately reality is that all those priorities you mentioned represent powerful needs within the learning sphere.

    I agree presenting problems without offering methods for solution is destined to failure. So is teaching skills without any reason given. Most people outside of school learn a skill when they need a skill. Surely this is the deeper idea behind the constructivist theory. Otherwise the argument needs to be made for a shovel use topic in schools to cover all the students that will use that in their profession, probably far more than will use a quadratic sadly.

    Now I do think technology through careful us of ideas like Khan academy and socrative can help make this teaching as we need a skill, connect with the idea of good teaching of the content to make sure the skills and concepts are applied properly. But we are a long way from both and while NAPLANs poor results are the only items that make it to mainstream media the debate will continue to focus on the wrong thing.


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