Don’t expel school accountability

Glenn Fahey

27 August 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

This year’s abandonment of NAPLAN could inflict an enduring blow to school accountability.

The literacy and numeracy tests — normally conducted in mid-May — were scrapped amid the pandemic uncertainty.

But now, Queensland’s education unions have urged teachers against preparing pupils for next year’s exams — unilaterally declaring the tests are over for good. This is just the latest in a series of attempts in recent years to hijack the testing regime.

If governments cave in to these threats they will do so at the expense of students, parents, taxpayers, and even teachers.

Strengthening, not whittling away, accountability is key to arresting the decline in Australia’s education outcomes.

Policymakers must accept that the decision to halt this year’s testing has needlessly strengthened the hand of those who have long opposed standardised assessment and resisted the accountability that comes with it.

What’s telling is that so much effort was exerted to cancel the tests, rather than into making them happen, rescheduling them, or coming up with viable alternatives.

Standardised assessments are needed because they offer objective and comparable tools for monitoring students’ progress, informing teaching practice, and measuring performance of teachers and schools. It’s needed more than ever given the educational disruption wrought by the pandemic.

It’s true that NAPLAN can be improved. The task for policymakers mustn’t be to quit the test, but to upgrade it so it becomes a more effective tool for educators, students, parents, and decision-makers.

It could be held at a more appropriate time of the school year (and potentially in different year groups), it could be a more rigorous assessment and one varied according to students’ capabilities, its content could be better aligned with curriculum, and it could be online (especially because test results are far more timely).

NAPLAN will again to be on the agenda for the Education Council — constituted of Australia’s education ministers — due to meet next Friday.

Reviving Australia’s educational outcomes will depend upon commitment to rigorous national assessment, not more of the same anti-test and anti-performance mentality that threatens to steer the education system yet further astray.

This is an edited excerpt of an opinion piece published in Queensland’s The Sunday Mail as ‘NAPLAN being put to the test’.

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