New Tests Will Impoverish Education

The public education advocacy group Save Our Schools has accused the Rudd Government of turning classrooms into test preparation factories.

SOS National Convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that the education of an entire generation of students will be impoverished by the Government’s plan for national reporting of school results.

“We are on the way to turning our classrooms into test preparation factories. The evidence is mounting around Australia that teachers are being pressured by education officials to spend more time on test preparation because of the high stakes involved in reporting school results.

“SOS has received anecdotal evidence from teachers that they have been told to get students to practice for the national tests next month which will be used to publish national comparisons of school results for the first time.

“The future prospect is that schools will be forced to spend weeks and months on test preparation and memorisation drills to the detriment of other subjects.

“Test preparation factories are a reality under school reporting regimes. For example, Washington DC students are bribed with calculators and MP3 players to attend a special Saturday morning program devoted to improving their test-taking skills. In announcing the program last January, high profile Schools Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, said it will “instill lifelong testing competence”.

“Such focus on testing competence means an impoverished education for all. It means less in-depth teaching and less time on science, history, social studies, PE and the arts. Deep learning and understanding, creativity, play and imagination are all left behind in test preparation factories.

“Even recess and lunch get less time. In the United States, many schools have eliminated recess to spend more time on test preparation. One official said: “We are intent on improving academic performance. You don’t do that by having kids hanging from monkey bars.”

“We can expect to hear more and more of this kind of claptrap in Australia as the pressure builds on schools to focus on improving test scores and school rankings on league tables.”

Mr. Cobbold said that there is already strong evidence of pressure on schools to resort to more test preparation.

“Today the Melbourne Age revealed that State education officials are pressuring schools to spend most of their time over the next four weeks practising tests so Victorian students can “look good” in the high-stakes national exam.

“The Brisbane Courier-Mail reported last month that education officials are putting tremendous pressure on teachers to lift results by practising for tests. Schools are being told to put extra time into practising for the national tests, even if it is at the expense of time spent on other subjects.

“The situation is already so bad that teachers refer to NAPLAN (National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy) as “napalm” because they say it “kills everything in the classroom”.

Mr. Cobbold said that there is widespread evidence from England and the United States that reporting individual school result diminishes education and narrows the curriculum.

“A major review of the English primary school curriculum published in February this year by Cambridge University criticised the dominance of a rigid testing regime and said that children were receiving an education that was “fundamentally deficient”. It was neither broad nor balanced, and it valued memorization and recall over understanding and inquiry.

“A study by the US Center on Education Policy last year showed that since the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted in 2001 to require more testing and reporting for reading and maths, average class time in US primary schools on reading increased by 47% and by 37% for maths. Time on social studies, science, art and music, gym and recess was cut by an average of 145 minutes a week. Recess time was cut by nearly 30%.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the Rudd Government should re-think its policy on publishing school results.

“Its approach is fundamentally contradictory. It is developing a broad national curriculum for schools to follow while publishing school results which will inevitably lead to a narrowed and diminished education in the classroom.

“Wales and Northern Ireland have stopped publishing school results because of the damage they do and because they fundamentally mislead about school performance. The Rudd Government should follow their lead.”

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