How about we focus on teaching, not testing?

I wonder if the politicians who are so heartily endorsing the idea of testing kids in Year 1 have done their maths.

The ‘light touch’ testing will apparently take about 15 minutes per child. Let’s realistically say by the time you swap kids, get them settled, deal with mishaps, and so on it takes 20 minutes for each child. Let’s then say that there are about 23 kids in a Year 1 class. My maths makes that 460 minutes or just over seven-and-a-half hours. In terms of face-to-face time with the kids we’re talking about removing the teacher from the classroom for two days.

And what do we get for that? We get “a light touch assessment that ensures teachers, parents and schools know at the earliest possible stage if children aren’t picking up reading or counting skills as quickly as they should, enabling them to intervene rapidly.” Do the testing boosters really think that a Year 1 teacher has not got a pretty clear idea of where each of the students in their charge is up to? Do they have that little faith in our teachers?

Schools, thanks to comparative NAPLAN testing and associated league tables, are worried about how they will be perceived in the community and so are, inevitably, reluctant to surface anything that could be used against them. So for parents, the only reason that we’ve got any lack of clarity of where the kids are up to is because reports have been rubbed down to the lowest common denominator because schools are afraid to say anything that might sound critical. But really the function of school reports is to let parents know how their child is doing.

Talk to any teacher, they will tell you of the problems with the system. They will also tell you that the main problem revolves around the lack of time to prepare lessons and to actually teach. Yet more time taken on navel-gazing to produce comparative data rather than actually teaching is madness. Or is it?

The one group who do not see this sort of approach as madness is the Federal politicians in our stupidly divided system. The Federal politicians get to play the simplistic populist card and blame the State-based education systems and the teachers it hires for all problems. What Simon Birmingham and his colleagues are implicitly saying is that there are no systemic problems with our education system – because, of course, they’d have a responsibility to do something about systemic problems. No the problem is not systemic, the problem lies with the teachers who will be pathetically grateful to have a national test that tells them where the students they see every day are up to so they can then get off their lazy butts and apply themselves to fixing things.

Why is it that again and again there is resounding silence around recruiting teachers, giving them training and support, and ensuring they are retained within a respectful working environment? These are the sort of issues which might make a meaningful difference in our system. Instead we get sophisticated point-scoring and one-upmanship within a very broken system that no politician wants to engage with.

One thought on “How about we focus on teaching, not testing?

  • October 9, 2017 at 10:29 am
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    Interesting. What seems also to be forgotten in these discussions is the kids in the classroom who every 2 years are getting told they are below average. Its hard to motivate kids to learn when its reinforced to them so visually in the NAPLAN reporting that they aren’t good at school. The system is crazy!

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