New Year 1 literacy and numeracy tests for Australia 

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No doubt we will see a flurry of apoplectic articles in the next few days and quite a lot of ranting on Twitter. Simon Birmingham, Australia’s minister for education and training, has announced that he intends to push ahead with new literacy and numeracy assessments for Year 1 students and he has announced a panel who will move this forward.

I cautiously welcome this, albeit with a heavy heart.

The heavy heart comes from the fact that we shouldn’t need such tests. I tend to agree with Eric Kalenze that such accountability regimes are an act of frustration on the part of politicians. They would really like to be able to leave education to the experts but, unfortunately, education suffers under the tyranny of bad ideas. We are simply incapable of improving things ourselves because we believe black is white. So it points to a lack of professionalism and agency; I regret that we are in such a state.

I am also cautious about what these assessments will look like. Hopefully, the literacy assessment will be modelled on the English phonics check, the introduction of which seems to have correlated with a rise in reading standards more generally.

If I were to modify this model, I might suggest focusing on something other than the number of students meeting a certain pass mark which could potentially prompt teachers to prioritise students who are just under that mark. 

I’m a little worried about what the numeracy assessment might look like. There is still a lot of steam behind the constructivist fuzzy maths movement. Year 1 is probably too early to really push that particular agenda but we could easily end up with something a little pointless. Hopefully, the focus will be on maths facts such as number bonds.

I will await the details with interest.


7 thoughts on “New Year 1 literacy and numeracy tests for Australia 

  1. Tempe Laver says:

    in Queensland our State Ed. minister, Kate Jones, has labeled the idea as a “Crock, Cr- o-ck, Crock.” She said that parents around the State knew that phonics was being taught from Prep to yr 2.

    Well, from my experience there was some phonics (limited) mixed in with many other strategies (the blended approach) such as guess from the picture or context and many. many kids (perhaps half the cohort) can not read fluently. This is what my yr 6 daughter has told me. I think that’s really sad.

    One does start to wonder, when Kate Jones lashes out like this, if its not just political. She wont support the move because the Teachers Union wont.

    It seems to have had an impact (positive) in England so I support the move.

  2. Mike says:

    It’s a good idea in theory…I just worry that preparing for this “check” (let’s be honest, schools will see it as a test and treat it as such) will become an end in itself. Kids could well end up being drilled constantly in these random ogs, eks and ibs, to the detriment of proper reading (and to the kids’ frustration, confusion and trepidation). But we’ll see.

  3. Spike says:

    Hi Greg
    With Australia going for Primary 1 testing you might want to consider the following.

    Good testing, Bad testing.

    The English Phonics test accidentally became a good test because of the retest a year later.
    Try and use any influence you have to get a retest. (I would actually prefer a retest 6 months rather than a year later)
    There seems to have been an initial problem in England with concentrating on those just failing but that is now largely gone.
    Now with high pass marks the test is creating the previously impossible situation in the Western English speaking world of middle class teachers concentrating on their poor working class pupils and believing they can succeed.(Initially to get their pass marks up.)

    I am speaking also as an outsider (Scottish). All is not well in English education but a combination of synthetic phonics and an accidentally positive testing experience means almost all children will be able to read.

    Have you seen this wee bit of scottish research on synthetic phonics:

  4. The heavy heart comes from the fact that we shouldn’t need such tests.

    Cheer up, Greg. You’re right that the “numeracy” scenario is much tougher than the “literacy” scenario, but the literacy scenario is “a piece of cake.”

    Any child who can speak in complete sentences and participate in everyday conversation has the prerequisites to be taught how to use the English Alphabetic Code to read and understand any text as well as if the text were read to the child.

    The end of Yr 1 is a reasonable time period for schools to reliably accomplish this instructional task–and if not by Yr 1, certainly by the end of Yr 2.

    Any primary school teacher has the prerequisites to get the job done–using the right product/protocols.

    The BritCheck is a shelf-item that is “good enough” for screening purposes to determine when the job has been accomplished.

    Kids know what they can and can’t read; other kids know who can and can’t; teachers know; parents know. “Tests” not only shouldn’t be needed; they aren’t needed for this purpose.

    So why then is a “Yr 1 Screening Check” needed? Well, for several reasons:

    One, to get the accountability monkey off the teachers back. The monkey should be shared with the presently unaccountables–teacher training institutions, programme publishers, and education and government authorities higher up the EdChain.

    Two, to “trust but verify” teachers’ assessments. This applies not only to Yr 1 teachers, but to Reception-K teachers who should begin the job and to Yr-2-and-beyond teachers who can benefit from relying on the job-accomplishment that has been done.

    Three, to open the “black box” of literacy/reading instruction in particular and instruction generally. The Screening Check should include a statement of what programme/s a school is using. Whatever, the school says is OK–differences and their consequences can be weighed against BritCheck results.

    There are likely other “good reasons,” but these three should suffice for now.

    The advantage of the BritCheck is that it is a shelf item with five “equivalent forms” that at very little development cost can be delivered as an App for administration on any smart phone at no further cost.

    It is quite feasible to run a “pilot test” of the “Literacy” initiative at the end of the current school year in any Territory, local agency, or school that is willing to participate.

    As you say, “Numeracy” is more of a challenge, but it’s no less tractable.

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