ACARA Head is Mistaken on Test-Based Accountability

In an article in The Canberra Times, the Chief Executive of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), Robert Randall mistakenly claimed that Australia has avoided US-style consequences from high stakes testing.

Randall conceded that Save Our Schools is correct in pointing to the United States as “an example of what can happen when test results are used for inappropriate purposes and when money – whether for individual teachers, principals or entire school districts – rides on good results.”

However, Randall asserted that this is not a problem in Australia because “we do not have bonuses for schools or teachers based on NAPLAN results”. He said: “We know how to avoid distortions of the type seen in the US and we are, as a nation, avoiding them”.

Randall is quite mistaken. Australia is clearly heading down the path of test-based accountability for states, schools and teachers. The Federal Government is leading the way.

The Federal Government has provided up to $350 million in reward payments to state and territory governments for increasing NAPLAN test scores. Under the Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership, governments received reward payments for meeting self-nominated targets for improving literacy and numeracy. The partnership agreement between the Federal and state/territory governments states that NAPLAN results are a key component of measuring performance.

The Federal Government has also announced a program of $276 million in reward payments to schools for improving their performance. The payments will be made over five years, beginning in 2015, for schools demonstrating the greatest improvement. Individual schools will get payments of up to $75,000. Although the details are still being worked out, a report prepared for the Government by the Australian Council for Educational Research indicates that national test results will form part of the assessment of improved performance.

The Federal Government also has announced a $225 million program to reward great teachers with bonuses. The best teachers will receive bonuses of $7,500 and $10,000. The payments will begin in 2014. A fact sheet published by the Government states that student results will be part of the performance assessment.

The Victorian and Queensland Governments also intend to introduce performance pay for teachers, based in part on test results. Although the Victorian Government has shelved plans to introduce performance pay it has indicated that it will continue to pursue the policy. The Queensland Government has announced bonus payments will be introduced for principals and teachers based on assessed performance.

Contrary to what Randall asserts then, test-based accountability in Australia is expanding. As it does we can expect to see more US-style consequences of cheating, manipulating test results, more time devoted to practising for tests in the classroom and narrowing of the curriculum.

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