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Archive for the ‘Naplan’ Category

You Can Blame Me for My Students’ Standardized Test Scores

May 10, 2015

 

testing-pressure

On Tuesday my students begin their arduous week long testing regime. I hope they do well, but if they don’t you can pin the blame on me.

 

And while you’re at it …

 

  • You can blame me for running a happy and vibrant classroom
  • You can blame me for teaching to the curriculum instead of the test
  • You can blame me for challenging the achievers and assisting the strugglers
  • You can blame me for replacing any hint of bullying with unity and comoraderie
  • You can blame me for turning pressure and anxiety into confidence and determination
  • You can blame me for putting learning into perspective
  • You can blame me for regarding character and values as more important than test scores

 

So go ahead. Blame away!

 

 

Click on the link to read Teacher Writes Truly Inspirational Letter to Her Students

Click on the link to read Redirect Your Frustrations About Common Core

Click on the link to read Perhaps There Should be a Standardized Test for Teachers

Click on the link to read Reasons Why I am Forced to Teach to the Test

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Standardised Testing Meets Spin City

May 15, 2012

A few weeks ago I sought to have an interview with Australia’s Education Minister regarding the upcoming NAPLAN standardised tests. I am still waiting for a reply.

Luckily, I came across his op/ed piece over the weekend, where he tries to allay the fears of the parenting community and make a case for these highly pressured, incredibly unpopular series of tests.

In his piece, he claims that:

Parents and the community should rest assured that the NAPLAN tests are simply a way of measuring how our students and our schools are performing in the three key areas of reading, writing and numeracy. Nothing more, and nothing less.

I assure you Mr. Garrett that parents of 8-years olds subjected to 4 rigorous exams in 3 days understand that these tests represent much more than just a simple way of measuring child progress.

There is nothing in any of the tests that students need to learn above and beyond what is already being taught in the classroom, namely the curriculum.

I am not sure that is true. Whilst my students are expected to write persuasive essays, there is no mention of persuasive writing in the Grade 3 curriculum.

By measuring how our students are performing as they progress through school, we can get a clear national picture, for the first time, of where we need to be directing extra attention and resources.

This is just spin. This implies that these tests exist to help direct the Government in regards to spending and programs. There is no evidence of any Governmental response whether it be financial or a simple change of priorities based on the yearly NAPLAN results. Instead, the outcome of the NAPLAN is designed to expose failing schools, inept teachers and anything and everything that can divert attention from a Government good at measuring performance but poor at performing themselves.

It needs to be made clear to schools and teachers that excessive test practising ahead of NAPLAN is unnecessary. While it helps to be familiar with the structure of the tests, carrying out endless practices should not be encouraged. NAPLAN matters, but it is not the be all and end all.

Unnecessary to whom? If you and your staff were to be tested on the performance of your portfolio wouldn’t you take the time to prepare? When a class gets appraised, so does the teacher. Are we meant to sit back and watch 8-years old kids sit for their first formal exams without preparing them for the kinds of questions and scenarios they are likely to encounter?

Mr. Garett, your opinion piece tries to win over parents, yet it completely deviates from the very issue that parents are most concerned about. Parents do not like seeing their young children exposed to so much pressure. They don’t like to see their children who may currently enjoy learning, subjected to such a negative learning experience.

Today, one of my students was so frightened by the prospect of these exams that he was reluctant to get in the car. We are talking about a child that loves learning.

I have no problem with High School children being tested. But 3rd Graders? Is it really worth it?

 

Pushy Parents and those Awful Standardised Tests!

May 13, 2012

So it turns out that some parents are so keen to have their children perform at the NAPLAN tests (Australia’s standardised tests) that they have started preparing them as early as kindergarten age. I couldn’t think of anything more dispiriting for a child. It’s bad enough I have to teach my Grade 3’s based on the questions they are bound to encounter during the tests, what could be worse than being subjected to it, up to 5 years in advance?

PUSHY parents are training kindergarten kids for Naplan – four years before they have to sit the controversial literacy and numeracy tests.

About a million students – in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 – will sit this year’s tests over three days next week.

But the pressure to perform is beginning years early, with some parents forcing their four-year-olds to take grade 3-level tests at home.

Dr Les Michel, from the Senior Students Resource Centre, said pre-school parents had joined the soaring demand for practice Naplan tests.

“This year we’ve even been getting kinder parents,” Dr Michel said.

“We would have had dozens, I’d say.”

Dr Michel said kindergarten parents bought the grade 3-level booklets, costing up to $24.95 each.

“They are really pushing their kids,” he said.

School Education Minister Peter Garrett said Naplan practice for pre-schoolers was “highly alarming”.

“It’s putting more pressure on kids at such a young age that they really don’t need, and it’s usurping the role that teachers in the classroom play, which is completely unnecessary,” he said.

However schools are also increasing the pressure, with “teaching for the test” now beginning as early as grade 1.

“We’re aware of it happening, even though people won’t admit it on the record, and why would they?” Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said.

“It demonstrates the desperation of some schools – their reputation hangs on it.”

Victorian Independent Education Union secretary Deb James said there was an “increased and unwelcome” focus on the tests in schools.

Australian Education Union state president Mary Bluett said: “Kids sitting down and practising tests is not the way to learn.”

Lucky for these pushy parents, I have some suggested exercises for them to set for their children.

 

To prepare them for the persuasive writing exam, you could set your child some of the following topics:

1. What is more fun, studying language conventions or playing outside with friends?

2. Is doing practice tests with mum and dad considered quality time?

3. Is learning for fun overrated?

 

To prepare them for the maths paper, I have the following suggested activities:

1. Count up the blisters that you have accrued from all the writing you’ve done and round the number to the nearest ten.

2. If Johnny went to school from 8:00 a.m until 4:00 p.m. and then spent the next 2 hours completing timed reading comprehension exams, how much time does he have to relax?

3. What percentage of pushy parents ends up rearing appreciative kids?

Good luck parents!

Too Many Tests, Not Enough Teaching

March 30, 2012

The rise of standardised testing has replaced authentic teaching and learning with a saturation of practise and formal testing:

SATURATION testing is seriously undermining the quality of primary school education and should be stopped immediately, parents and educators claimed yesterday.

Thousands of kids are subjected to trial exams every week in the lead up to the compulsory Naplan tests, as well as exams for opportunity classes or selective high schools, and coaching by private tutors.

But while Naplan, which forms the basis of performance ratings on the My School website, focuses on literacy and numeracy, experts claim they are being “taught to the test” at the expense of other areas such as arts, physical education and music.

With the barrage of testing beginning in kindergarten, education consultant and public schools principals’ forum official Brian Chudleigh said the system was “out of control” and skewing education in the wrong direction. A former senior principal who is the education expert for The Daily Telegraph’s People’s Plan, Mr Chudleigh said the testing regime was contributing to a “massive dysfunction” in the state’s education system.

“We have become a system that is manic about measurement – the main problem is that it is so convenient for the politicians,” he said. “They want to reduce things to the value of a percentile or a number, and that has an impact on education.

“If a kid can’t be measured they don’t want to know about it.

“It reduces the value of anything that you can’t measure and the curriculum becomes focused on the measurable stuff,” Mr Chudleigh said.

“So the development of the whole child – including socialisation, emotional welfare, physical fitness and cultural factors – are relegated in importance.

“Many schools are having two or three lessons every week practising Naplan-style tests and that takes valuable teaching time away from other subjects. A lot of the best stuff we do with kids, particularly in primary school, is not measurable.

“It’s out of control. But our universities are littered with these kids who don’t do as well there as the generally all-round educated students.”

Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations spokeswoman Rachael Sowden said being taught to the test was “not what parents want”.

“They do not want to know that their child scored three marks more than the kid down the street,” she said. “Parents are as concerned about the whole child and how they are going in creative arts, physical education and music as much as in literacy and numeracy.

“Parents do want to know where their child is up to at school and they do that best by having a conversation with the teacher.”

I hate having to prepare 8 year-olds who have never sat for a formal test before for the rigours of the 3 day marathon that is NAPLAN. It’s just not fair! They are too young!

I’m Just Gonna Say It: Standardised Tests Suck!

March 4, 2012

I completely and utterly detest standardised testing. My Grade 3 students are just 8 years old. How unbelievable insensitive of our Federal Government to subject these kids to a week-long torturous array of formal testing!  These kids have had little to no experience with test papers and exam conditions, and no matter how calm and stress free I am trying to make my classroom, my students know that it’s coming and they don’t like it one bit!

HIGH STAKE standardised tests, such as NAPLAN, are having a negative impact on children with experts saying such examinations reduce the ability to learn.

Nationwide testing of students in years 3, 5, 7, and 9 was introduced by the federal government four years ago to allow parents and teachers to benchmark the numeracy and literacy levels of individual children and specific schools.

But a review of academic literature on the issue released by the University of Western Sydney’s Whitlam Institute revealed national testing programs such as NAPLAN were a source of significant stress for young people and their families.

Institute director Eric Sidotti said schools can become ”emotional cauldrons”.”It should come as no surprise that the introduction of a national regime of standardised external testing would become a lightning rod of claim and counter-claim and a battleground for competing educational philosophies,” he said.

The review found ”a range of concerns” about the reliability of standardised testing, quality of learning experiences, structure of the curriculum and health and well-being of children.

There is also evidence of negative effects on service delivery; professional-parent relationships; and stress, anxiety, pressure and fear experienced by students.

Research also found a negative impact on teaching, with standardised tests putting pressure on teachers to emphasise results over holistic learning.

”Teachers will focus on the areas in which students will be tested, while reducing the proportion of class time devoted to curriculum areas not included in state tests,” the review notes.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said tests measuring the progress of more than a million Australian students over the past four years allowed parents to identify schools where students achieve comparative improvement over peers of a similar background.

Ms Gillard said NAPLAN lifted the academic performance of students, giving teachers feedback on education strategies and providing disadvantaged schools with access to extra funding.

”We want every child in Australia to have access to a world class education,” she said.

”My School is pivotal to this. It helps us see what works and which schools need support to improve.”

There is nothing positive to come out of these tests. It negatively affects the way my students view learning, it affects the way I teach and it prevents what should be a fun year from eventuating. If you want to test high school kids, go ahead. But leave my Grade 3’s out of your mean experiment!

The Atlanta Cheating Scandal and Those Blasted Tests

July 12, 2011

There is no excuse for teachers or officials to cheat.  We are there to provide a moral example for our students, and cheating of any kind is clearly unacceptable.

But we must not leave the matter at that point.  There’s a reason why some teachers have cheated on standardised tests.  Those tests  are anti-education.  They measure success through pressurised outcomes rather than authentic teaching and learning.  They expose teachers to unfair stress and scrutiny and force them the teach to the test, rather than teach to enrich and engage.

Officials in Atlanta deserve the condemnation they are receiving.

Officials and parents here are reeling after revelations of one of the largest school cheating scandals in history.

Last week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal released a report showing that officials at nearly 80 percent of 56 Atlanta elementary and middle schools examined cheated on annual student-performance tests, called Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

Former Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was named National Superintendent of the Year in 2009 and retired last month as head of the 48,000-student district, is accused of creating a culture of fear, pressuring faculty and administrators into accepting ever-increasing targets of achievement and turning a blind eye to the way those goals were achieved.

For a decade, teachers and principals changed answers on state tests.

But we must reflect on the merits of standardised state and national tests.

In Australia we have the NAPLAN test.  The NAPLAN test like other National tests around the globe have an important function.  Their job is to give information to parents about their childs’ progress, which includes a comparison against all others taking the test in that age group.

But what it also does is set up the teacher.  The teacher carries the blame for the results.  It is the teacher that is the first port of call when parents seek an explanation – it is the teacher that is labelled as insufficient when the school analyses the data.

Such pressures lead teachers to teach for the test rather than the typical authentic adherence to the curriculum.  This is not the way teachers are supposed to teach.  It also puts more pressure on teachers.  Teachers are already under significant strain.  We must be mindful that this system puts them in a situation where their performance is scrutinised like never before.  And finally, a test is just a guide.  It is not a perfect form of assessment.  Many factors can cloud and effect the conclusions made by the data such as student anxiety, outliers etc.

Cheating is wrong, and teachers and officials that cheat deserve to be punished.  But somehow, I feel that by administering national tests, teachers are getting punished regardless.

National Testing Leads to Bad Teaching

May 10, 2011

Today school students all around Australia are going to be sitting the dreaded NAPLAN tests – a National test covering language, literacy and numeracy.  A test many children don’t take all that seriously, leaving their teachers to explain disappointing results and unmet expectations.  The students will often sit for the test without ever finding out how they went afterwards.  Why should they?  For all they know, this test is nothing more than a hurdle requirement that seems to stress the teacher out far more than themselves.

And that’s where these tests fail.  The pressure placed on the teacher forces them to teach to the test.  Weeks out from the NAPLAN date, teachers forgo their best laid plans, and instead force their students to undergo countless practice tests and mindboggingly boring skills sessions.  The students don’t know what hit them!  All of a sudden, they are bombarded with these tedious, non-interactive lessons, where the teacher often loses his/her temper in a state of panic and utter desperation.

“Guys, if you don’t listen, you wont know what to do come NAPLAN time.”

This argument is futile.  They know that if they don’t understand how to answer a question, all they have to do is leave it out, or better yet, guess.  No need to lose sleep over it!

For teachers, these tests are becoming even more important, now that test results are connected with teacher bonuses:

TEACHERS are continuing to “teach to” national literacy and numeracy tests, despite warnings from education authorities.

The first of three days of NAPLAN testing begins for year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students across the country today.

But educators warned the pressure being put on schools to perform well was having unintended consequences.

And the weight placed on NAPLAN results will increase today when the Government links them to financial bonuses for the country’s best teachers.

Today’s Budget is expected to commit $425 million to provide bonuses of up to $8100 to the top 10 per cent of teachers.

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Frank Sal said that some schools were already under pressure to post high NAPLAN scores, even before they were linked to teacher bonuses.

While many schools have been doing practice exams to prepare for this week’s tests, parents have been told they can do nothing to boost their children’s performance.

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority chair Prof Barry McGaw said regular learning was the best preparation for students: “NAPLAN is not a test students can prepare for, because it is not a test of content.”

Gone are the days where good teaching meant innovative and engaging lessons.  Gone are the days when teachers were valued for new, fresh approaches to developing skills and nurturing the collective sel-esteem of the class.  No, nowadays teaching is about meticulously preparing for a test that comes every 2 years in a student’s life and ultimately doesn’t truly capture what they know and what they are truly capable of.

These lessons can be monotonous, lack opportunities for critical discussion and go against the grain of authentic teaching, but as long as you persist, there may be a bonus in it for you.

Teaching to The Blasted Test!

March 29, 2011


It sickens me to see the Government so smug about the upcoming round of National Testing.  In Australia it’s called the NAPLAN (I refer to it as “NAPALM”), and like other National tests around the world it compares student data against the average.  The Government uses the National tests as an easy way out of doing something constructive about Education.

Before I slam these pathetic tests, in the spirit of goodwill, I will acknowledge some advantages of National Testing:

  • It uses these tests as a vehicle for pressurising schools and teachers to lift their game and secure good results for their students.
  • It forces teachers not strictly following the curriculum to adhere to the syllabus
  • It gives parents some real data to consider, rather than the deliberately vague school reporting, which essentially tells parents nothing.
  • It gives parents an opportunity to become more involved in their child’s education.

Now for the disadvantages:

  • It forces teachers to stop what they are doing, and spend weeks if not months practicing for the test.  Everything gets put on hold while the sample test papers get wheeled out.
  • It fills students as young as 8 years-old with anxiety, pressure and insecurity.
  • It causes schools to “encourage” the parents of special needs students to keep their kids at home during the testing week.  This is to ensure that their child doesn’t affect the school’s results.  It also achieves in further marginalising these children who, in many cases, already feel disconnected from their peers.
  • It puts enormous stress on teachers.  This stress has an effect on their quality of teaching.
  • It turns education into an extreme negative at a time when kids still show an interest in learning.

I am currently teaching Grade 5 for the first time.  I am preparing my students for the rigours of NAPLAN (they sat for them 2 year ago).  It means that my emphasis has had to change.  Instead of teaching in an engaging and creative way, I’ve been forced to teach to the tests.  The result has been a succession of comparatively boring and turgid lessons on strategies for answering multiple choice questions, “debugging” sample tests and revising basic skills.  My students are not enjoying these lessons at all!  I fear that when they sit these tests they will sabotage the process by rushing through it as revenge for what its done to their enjoyment of school.

What makes these tests even worse is that they are testing the children at Grade 5 level even though they have just started Grade 5.  Because of that, my students haven’t covered some of the concepts being tested.  Surely, if they wanted to test a Grade 5 class against the Grade 5 benchmarks they should have done it at the end of the school year, not at the beginning!

When are Governments going to stop being so lazy and start taking on a fresh and innovative approach to learning?  Why must my students be subjected to sample tests and other turgid preparatorylessons, instead of conventional, authentic lessons?

Parents have the right to know how  their child is progressing.  At the same time though, their children deserve the right to have a pressure reduced primary education, where the teachers are able to harness their natural curiosities, instead of burden them with weeks of test prepa
ration!

Time to Take Better Care of Our New Teachers

January 6, 2011

My school recently employed a teacher straight out of University.  He will commence teaching his first ever class in February.  As I moved out of my classroom, so he could move in, I spotted him staring at the room in adulation.  I asked him what was going through his mind, to which he replied, “This is it.  This is my classroom!”

I know how he feels.  Whilst I was going through the rigours of teaching training, I would drive past schools along the way and be filled with envy at the teachers already able to ply their trade.  I so much wanted to skip the rest of my course and move straight it to my first classroom.  People told me I was an idealist and those feelings towards teaching would erode two weeks into my first school year.  It didn’t.  It still hasn’t.

This leads me to a very important issue.  If young teachers like my colleague have such a love for the craft and such a desire to become effective teachers, why is it so hard for them to get jobs?

I was reading an article which illustrates the plight a teacher has to face, to get their first solid job:

LAST year Melbourne Magazine named teacher Michael Stuchbery one of its top 100 Melburnians for using social media to revolutionise the teaching of civics.

His year 8 students at Caroline Chisholm Catholic College, many of whom previously could not name the electorate in which they lived, transformed into political animals, using blogs and Twitter to follow the federal election, and were interviewed on Channel Ten’s The 7pm Project.

But instead of being rewarded for his innovation, Mr Stuchbery, along with thousands of other Victorian teachers on short-term contracts, is out of a job.

January is a fraught month for teachers employed on fixed-term contracts – about 18 per cent of the workforce – who are faced with job interviews and uncertainty about their future.

”A lot of positions are filled in January, which is why contract teachers are nowhere near the beach right now,” Australian Education Union state president Mary Bluett said.

Annual surveys by the union repeatedly show contract employment is the top reason beginning teachers give for why they do not see themselves teaching in five years.

It took me a year to get my first job.  I had the hunger, the good University grades, I was well read, an excellent communicator – but not what they were looking for.  Each application required extensive responses to a set of about 8 Key selection criteria. It took me a day to respond to each schools criteria (as each school had different selection criteria I couldn’t cut and paste).  Most of those applications didn’t even land me an interview.

Why is this the case?

A number of reasons.

1.  The University training offered is completely and utterly inadequate.  The training is so useless, I can’t recall an important fact or skill I learnt from my training.  Schools know they would be employing a very raw teacher that will require a lot of patience and support.  They are too lazy for such an undertaking.

2. With initiatives like the My School Website which ranks every school against each other on how they perform in the national test, the NAPLAN, schools are careful not to select a teachers they don’t have confidence will show their worth from the outset.  They have their reputation to uphold.

3. Parents tend to be weary when a first-year teacher gets appointed to teach their child, in the same way a patient prefers to see some wrinkles in their surgeon.  Schools like to avoid parent intervention by making safe, low risk choices.

All these factors are completely beyond the prospective new teacher’s control.  They have no say in the strength or weakness of their course, the can’t control Government initiatives like the NAPLAN and My School Website and if a school wants to avoid risk, there is nothing they can do about it.

This reality is a crying shame.  I would have thought that the best, most vibrant staff rooms feature teachers of all ages and experience.  Surely, the horrendous plan to make new teachers “school cloggers” by shipping them off to a under-funded and under-performing rural school is exactly not how to deal with the problem.  The answer is for schools to show some backbone and create a framework where these teachers feel welcome, supported and mentored.

The new teacher that enters their classroom for the first time with a sense of joy and calm.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

There’s a Reason Why Teachers Cheat

January 3, 2011

Let me say this right off the bat – I don’t approve of cheating.  It is unethical and lacks integrity for teachers to cheat.  But let’s not let that discount the likely reasons behind their dishonesty.

It’s called the NAPLAN – Australia’s version of the infamous national test.  And as the recent case in South Australia highlights, it can bring out the worst in some teachers:

A PRIMARY school teacher has been sacked and another reprimanded for cheating in national tests.

A former St Leonards Year 7 teacher was stood down following an investigation by the Education Department into her administration of the NAPLAN tests in May last year.

Correne Woolmer, who joined the Glenelg school at the beginning of 2010, admitted changing answers on a student’s test.

Ms Woolmer isn’t the only teacher to get caught, and she certainly isn’t the only teacher to cheat on the test.  I’m sure many more teachers have gotten away with doing the same thing.

The NAPLAN test like other National tests around the globe have an important function.  Their job is to give information to parents about their childs’ progress, which includes a comparison against all others taking the test in that age group.

But what it also does is set up the teacher.  The teacher carries the blame for the results.  It is the teacher that is the first port of call when parents seek an explanation – it is the teacher that is labelled as insufficient when the school analyses the data.

Such pressures lead teachers to teach for the test rather than the typical authentic adherence to the curriculum.  This is not the way teachers are supposed to teach.  It also puts more pressure on teachers.  Teachers are already under significant strain.  We must be mindful that this system puts them in a situation where their performance is scrutinised like never before.  And finally, a test is just a guide.  It is not a perfect form of assessment.  Many factors can cloud and effect the conclusions made by the data such as student anxiety, outliers etc.

Cheating is wrong, and teachers that cheat deserve to be punished.  But somehow I feel that by administering national tests, teachers are getting punished regardless.


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