Don’t be fooled: Pyne’s NAPLAN proposal is worse – much worse

The response of the press to the Media Release My School the source of NAPLAN angst – Liberal Party of Australia by Christopher Pyne, Shadow Minister for Education, announcing that the Liberal Party have heard all the concerns of educators and parents about the danger of publishing NAPLAN results so they will stop it,  shows us everything that is wrong with the press in Australia.

The press passed the contents of this press release on with absolutely no analysis whatsoever.  A supposedly good news story.  The Liberal Party is listening and responding.  Wrong.  Their tears of concern are but crocodile tears.

What Pyne actually announced is that the Liberal Party will stop publishing the NAPLAN raw scores and would start publishing school improvement measures.  This will lead to the same pressure, but draw on different rubbish data.

Those of you who keep up with the education reform policy debates in the US might know improvement measures by other names:

– AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress or

– VAM – Value Added Measures

Do these terms start to ring any bells?  They should.  AYP measures were used by Joel Klein in NYC schools to target schools for closure and set up in their place – often on the same site  – Charter schools.  This has been incredibly disruptive for the families suddenly left with no local public school (often Charters selected students by application from parents and lotteries) and there is no peer-reviewed research that  shows sustainable learning improvements.

VAM measures are now being used across the US to assess teacher quality even though no reputable psychometrician will confirm that the national testing results – at the classroom level  – have any validity or reliability.  Teachers’ futures are made or broken on the basis of this sort of dodgy data dealing.

It doesn’t take a conspiracy minded person to join the dots.  Of course VAM and or AYP would be good for the LNP.  They can use it to adopt the disastrous Ed Reform policies of the US – to destroy teacher conditions and the power of unions, to close public schools and set up private schools using public school funds and so on.

I have another concern about Value Added Measures.  With Value Added Measures the actual results of a school are not relevant.  All that is measured is the growth in student learning from one year to the next.  Now some argue that this is good for struggling schools because it will end the ‘shame job’.  Arguably a high performing school that is resting on its laurels could end up exposed  and a low performing school that still has well below average results but is improving can look good. This is good, surely?

How is a piece of data that says, “This [low performing] school [in a low SES area] is doing a very good job.  The student learning outcomes are excellent [for these students], ever justifiable?

One of the few good things that has come out of this whole NAPLAN debacle is that it gave teeth and exposure to the work by equity researchers and activists like Professor Richard Teese,  Chris Bonner and Bernie Sheperd.  Their work saw the light of day through the Gonski review process  and importantly could no longer be disputed.  Their research changed the Gonski debate – there is no doubt about this.

Now don’t for a moment think that I am justifying the publication of NAPLAN results at school level.  In fact strangely enough the equity research referred to above was impeded as much as it was aided by the Myschool data because of the format of and level at which it is presened.  Myschool won’t allow the data to be manipulated or rolled up.  But  their analysis relied on rolling up the data so that groups of schools (e.g. low SES schools, rural schools, etc) could be compared to other groups of schools.  This is not possible using Myschool and researchers had to go to great lengths to get around this problem.

If I was a defender of continuing high levels of Government funding to the schools who need it least it would be in my interest to make the raw scores, that fed the work of equity campaigners, simply disappear.  Without it we could return to the she said he said debates about equity in Australia.

The raw NAPLAN scores have proven once and for all that demography still is destiny in today’s Australia.  They also prove that two children of equal social background going to different schools will have different student learning outcomes because of our highly socially segregated schooling system.  This is known as ‘ the school effect’ and Australia leads the way in this area, to our shame.

I will continue to oppose the way in which we use NAPLAN scores at school level, but I will continue to fight for the data about children’s learning by student demography, by school type and so on, to be available for equity research.  NAPLAN is not the best data, but that is a whole other debate that we wont get to have if we reduce NAPLAN raw scores to Value Added Measures.

I oppose the idea of schools being wholly accountable for the progress of their students without any support that recognises their unequal challenges, but I will continue to fight for the notion that Governments should be accountable, to the public, as citizens – not  just as parents for providing a high quality education with equal opportunity for all. Pyne’s proposal will kill the data available to support this, but wont stop the negative NAPLAN effects.


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