This blog post The results are in! There’s too much testing. « Rethinking Schools Blog. on the wonderful US based Rethinking Schools blogsite creates a snapshot of all the ‘push-backs’ to the high stakes testing regime and associated reforms of NCLB and RTT legislation. The list includes the widespread and growing opting out by school districts across the state of Texas – the leader in test based accountability and the model for NCLB – plus a growing non-cooperation movement by parents and students including the aptly titled “Pencils Down” campaign.
Now these are the sorts of ‘push-backs’ that make the news, but this posts also mentions a range of other activities that do not tend to get the same attention. These include people and/or organisations coming together to form a commission to investigate matters and advise on better policy options, the development of joint open letters to Obama, the preparation of manifestos as an organising tool and so on.
As we all know, the testing and accountability disease spread from the US to Australia and, on reading this piece, I started to wonder about whether its growing opposition movement might impact here too and whether we could help it along a bit.
In Australia the weight of educationally informed opinion is clearly against using the NAPLAN results to imply something about schools at the individual school level. These include experts in the field of assessment and testing, parents groups, researchers, teachers associations and unions, principals and policy makers. Yet at the height of the controversy around NAPLAN testing and MySchool one could be forgiven for thinking that the issue was a teacher’s union issue alone. It is not, of course, but they were the ones who threatened to boycott the tests, and the media singled them out as ‘the opposition’ on this matter.
I have yet to see a well reasoned Australian based manifesto or committee report that clearly sets out the arguments against the current approach to NAPLAN reporting in my school and outlines a more intelligent approach to school AND system accountability and improvement. I am using the terms manifesto or committee report here to imply a statement that has endorsement from a group of people or organisations. I have of course seen many excellent papers outlining the technical problems with how we use NAPLAN and many papers about the potential negative impacts, particularly on low SES, struggling schools. But these have been prepared by a single person or body. Having a document that represents the considered thinking of a broad coalition of people and organisations is quite different. It could certainly be done and then this could be a document individuals and organisations could sign on to, and or use to inform parents and other stakeholders .
This is a very common way in which opposition to poor public policy is addressed in the US context and our failure to use these kinds of tools puzzles me. Are we content to each do our own small thing in isolation? Are we more individualistic that the Americans? Is this something worth addressing? Or do we need something really dreadful, akin to the Victorian cuts to TAFE budgets, to galvanise us?
I would dearly love to see concerned Australians – as individuals or as representatives of associations or organisations, with an interest in supporting schools to be the best they could be, agreeing to come together – online or face to face – in order to develop a new education assessment and accountability strategy. Such a strategy could include a realistic pathway forward for Australia that shows how over time we could replace NAPLAN with quality controlled and carefully developed banks of authentic assessment items – aligned to the national curriculum standards and able to be implemented by teachers as part of their assessment for learning program.
Am I a unrealistic dreamer? I hope not.