Teach to the test – what’s next?

Well, as reported in the Age Newspaper, it didn’t take long for some directive to teachers to teach to the Naplan test. We all know you get some short term gain for 1 year and as the article points out what do we drop from the curriculum.

Is this a sign of the pressure schools and teachers will be under now that national tests assume greater significance in the high stakes accountability game. There are other assessments that which give teachers feedback that enables responsive teaching?

Two recent newspaper reports question the school comparsions and point to a potential hazard – the narrowing of the curriculum:

Collier’s article provoked some harsh responses from the comments and went so far as to suggest it the first step in relooking at the funding formula for private schools as it was hard to argue that they needed it the most on the Naplan results.

Perhaps the final word on all this is best said by the principal of Melbourne High School reported as the one of the best performing schools

My School purports to offer for the first time a means of comparing the performance of “statistically similar schools” by use of the ICSEA index. It is pleasing to see that those responsible for this clunky measure already concede that it has its problems. In effect, it is a “you-are-where-you-live” methodology that is based on census district profiling. This amounts to: All children in this district are orange. You live in this district, therefore you are orange.

As I doubt this logic would convince a grade 3 student, perhaps it should be included in this year’s NAPLAN test? It is ironic that the federal government has telegraphed that it wishes to abandon a similar “you-are-where-you-live” formula that has for too long been used as the basis for overfunding private schools, yet has sought to perpetuate its use here.

Our students come from almost every postcode in the Greater Melbourne area, yet the ICSEA index fails to take into account the only common characteristic that accounts for their outstanding academic performance: that they were selected for their exceptional academic ability through a statewide entry test.

It is therefore unsurprising that as a cohort our students are ranked as “significantly above” all others across every NAPLAN domain. But it is facile and misleading to attempt to compare this to other “statistically similar schools” while failing to take into account the most important characteristics of our students.

We are not the exception that proves the rule. The students and communities of every school have unique characteristics that blunt indices such as this cannot hope to quantify.

My School’s claim that it can “fairly and meaningfully compare” schools is untenable. So let the gnomes abandon this useless quest for fool’s gold. There are more meaningful stories to be written as we start a new school year.