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.Embed from Getty Images