Teachers 1, Children 0

Today my son takes his Year 3 National literacy and numeracy tests. We were looking forward to seeing how his school stacked up against the competition to judge whether we are getting value for money. We should have known better.

November 2007; “A Rudd Labor government will publish the annual results of individual primary and secondary schools on national reading, writing and numeracy assessments for students in grades 3, 5, 7 and 9. Publication of school performance information will form an integral part of federal Labor’s plan to improve literacy and numeracy …”

Dec 3 2007; “We intend to raise standards by increasing school accountability”Julia Gillard addresses the Australian Industry Group on December 3, 2007.

May 13 2008; Julia Gillard yesterday said the results of the first national literacy and numeracy tests, which start today, would be provided to parents and schools but not be available more widely.

25 thoughts on “Teachers 1, Children 0

  1. I think centralised testing is a joke anyway. No literacy test can express your child’s literacy or numeracy as well as your own judgement and the judgement of your child’s teacher. Parent-teacher interviews are a far more effective way of finding out your child’s progress. Standardised testing is stupid.

    The main reason kids are falling behind in numeracy and literacy nowadays is, in my opinion, because teachers aren’t paid well enough. We need to move to a more privatised education model so that teachers can be paid more and curriculum more focused on the essentials. Screw union control and centralisation- let the free market pay teachers what they deserve. Education should be like other professional degrees like Engineering or Law to get into, right now it’s a cheaper and in some cases easier degree to get into than Arts.

  2. “and the judgement of your child’s teacher”

    I disagree with this Shem. I have done some psychometric testing in schools. At least in terms of bilingualism which I was looking at at the time, the correlations between actual teacher appraisals and the real performance was next to zero. In addition, there a big factors like introversion which means kids who are not doing well also often get missed by teachers.

    As for parent-teacher interviews — have you been to one? At least in high schools, many teachers can’t even name all the kids let along know there performance (just imagine if you had to interact with 200 kids every week).

  3. Conrad, I’ve never been a parent. I’ve experienced education as a student recently, as an English language teacher in Japan and as a tutor at the moment in Australia.

    I admit that I may be wrong about this- but despite always doing well at tests I still think a lot of testing (especially in second language subjects) is totally irrelevant to the actual acquisition of real skills.

    Yes some teachers aren’t very engaged with their students at the moment. But look at how a tutor is able to be engaged with students- smaller class sizes would help, but I also think having less of a focus on assessment and more of a focus on student centred, teacher driven learning based on skill acquisition would lead to a far better education experience.

  4. Shem

    Paragraph 1 shows you have no children 🙂
    Paragraph 2 i agree with fully.

    Let me tell you how a parent-teacher interview goes;

    Me (fee-paying, demanding parent); ‘How’s little Jonnie going’?
    Teacher (under-paid, over-worked, harrassed by people like me) – ‘Oh, excellent. nothing to worry about.’
    Me; ‘how is he doing versus his peers?’
    Teacher; ‘why would you want to know that?’
    Me; ‘how else can i gauge how well little Jonnie is doing?’
    Teacher; ‘trust me. he’s fine.’
    Me; ‘ok. how does this school compare to other Sydney schools?’
    Teacher; ‘no idea.’
    Me; err, ok. are there any ‘improvement needs’ (you can’t say ‘negatives’ anymore) that little Jonnie should focus on?’
    Teacher; oh, no. he’s a good little boy. top student.
    Me; ‘then why is he in the bottom set for spelling and reading, and receiving remedial help?’
    Teacher; ‘oh, his spelling and reading are great. nothing to worry about.’
    aaaagggghhhhhh!!

    Shem- teachers are no longer allowed to say anything even remotely negative or critical about their pupils. It makes it near impossible for us parents to find out how our children are really doing. Also it doesnt prepare them well for life when they have constantly been told how good they are, only to find that employers dont agree.

    Teacher;

    etc etc

  5. Pommy, yeah, I guess testing could be good in the interum but eventually making parent-teacher communication MEANINGFUL would be far better, in my opinion. Reform attitudes towards education- let kids fail again, give A-F marks instead of marking on a “scale”, get teachers giving constructive criticism. They are far better reforms. And reforms I believe would exist more under private system.

    I don’t like testing but I totally agree that kids should be given criticism enough to improve. Negatives can be motivators, yeah you need to be careful not to crush a kid with negativity, but that doesn’t mean you just lather them up with positives, in my opinion (as a non-parent).

    Of course, pommy, I doubt that you really need standardised testing for your kids. It sounds like you’re engaged enough with their education as it is. I think parents need to be more involved in educating, though. Most parents don’t even know how the system works or what’s important so they can be on a totally different wavelength to their kids.

    I speak more from a point of view of teenagers when talking about education, as I’ve been a High School student more recently. You are probably talking more from a Primary School point of view if you have younger kids.

    I do think there are more important things that spelling and adding up when you have spell checkers and calculators, though. A lot of parents are stuck caring about their kids’ spelling when computer literacy is a more important skill in a lot of ways (in my opinion). Of course I reckon a lot more could be taught in primary school anyway- I remember my grade 4 and grade 6 was basically just a repeat of grade 3 and grade 5 respectively.

  6. This could be an opportunity disguised as a problem.
    I’ve often extolled the virtues of the Internet as the school of tomorrow. An enterprising group of teachers could set up a private ‘School of the Aether’, teaching people solely online! Home teaching, but with some teachers in the background, ready to help if a student, who has downloaded a lesson, has difficulties!

    Do we have any enterprising teachers ready to trust to the Internet market? Why not sell virtual classrooms now?

    Parents can see how their home-schooling kids are going (and there could be on-screen computerised averages to help parents judge results.). Working parents could send their kids to a home-parent, perhaps for a fee.
    If you’re a dissatisfied parent, a new business could be the solution!

  7. “Aether”…?

    No offence mate, but you must be over 90….

    Actually seeing people run home based daycare, I can’t see why a tutor couldn’t set up a private school at their home.

    The kids would still get socialisation etc. (I’d still have my non existent children play team sport in absence of public schooling).

  8. No offence, mate, but you need to get out more. Some people are trying to rehabilitate the word. And some of this talk about ‘dark matter’ sounds a lot like the ether to me. (The original gleek word is spelt either aether or aither, depending on diphthong of choice.)
    Your nonexistent child could play with John’s imaginery friend, if john is prepared to give him up! Though I’m suspicious of anything with the word social- in it! Perhaps we could use ‘have friends’ more?

  9. Online teaching, Nick?

    With a large number of families having both parents working you’d lose one of the greatest benefits of education- “free” daycare.

    I can’t see why a tutor couldn’t set up a private school at their home.

    I’m sure there’d be laws against that nowadays. You could touch them in their naughty bits!!!

  10. Our university is concerned about the large numbers of honors-level freshman who require remedial math and English in order to complete their first year. “Grade inflation” is blamed, whereby secondary teachers simply grade more liberally as admission requirements to universities tighten, so that many not so bright students are admitted to university who have no place being there.

    A very astute professor runs a statistics course on this phenomenon; he concludes that it is the unintended consequence of Big Bird: For more than a generation we have taught children that schooling is Cookie Monster fun, while actually it is work. Notably, those sub-cultures with a strong family work ethic excel in scholastic performance.

    If the student isn’t making the bed in the morning, or mowing the lawn on the weekends, he likely is not doing very well on his grades. Sounds trite, but there is a strong argument to be made: work ethic correlates to academic achievement.

  11. Shem — I disagree. Of course testing is useful, otherwise people wouldn’t use test results as a guide for competence. Of course they don’t tell you everything… but there is no single measure that could do that. That doesn’t mean we should throw away all measures.

    But the bigger problem here isn’t the quality of the measure, it’s the fact that the outcome is kept a secret. We need full disclosure, and then let the natural discovery process determine which information is useful. Keeping school performance a secret (as the unions want) helps nobody except bad schools & bad teachers.

  12. Shem,

    I sort of agree with you — I think just testing without doing anything about it is pointless, so you need valid testing (difficult to design) and you need to take into account individual performance based on it (which mass testing won’t do in a lot of cases where the teachers don’t care). I also think people have got all the age groups wrong. We should start testing when kids at six or seven (eight at the latest), but it costs lots of money and you have to do it with each kid individually. You can then pick up problems before they become problems and fix them before they become unfixable. Testing at year 9 is far less useful — if you can’t read and write by then its pretty much over, and most Year 9 kids who have problems know it by then anyway.

  13. Duoist

    Notably, those sub-cultures with a strong family work ethic excel in scholastic performance.

    Very true. All the (academic) selective schools in Sydney have approx 70-80% Chinese children. Their parents Saturday tutor them and drive them hard in their studies. Anglo parents do not regard excelling at school work as important. They also hypocritically moan about their little boys being unable to compete against the Chinese kids.

    The Anglo middle class is losing the work ethic and needs ever dumbed-down exams to stay afloat.

  14. Pommy – Anglos may be a pack of losers but us other white folk are not so stupid. 😉

  15. Duoist: my parents had me reading my sister’s old Sesame Street books. Learning is fun. Learning economics is more fun.

    Sorry, but the new entrants to this country work too hard and are probably guilty of putting too much pressure on their children. Yes they need to accumulate capital and they have opportunities never afforded to their ancestors, but the Lee Kuan Yew attitude to Australia’s lifestyle is simply purtiannical.

    As for pressure on kids – the whole year 12 thing is a joke. Each semester of university is more academically challenging but is not as difficult because it is accepted as a norm and there is far less pressure. It amazes me how some kids work themselves into ill health or become self harming over a non-issue.

    If kids knew how universities worked, they wouldn’t feel the pressure.

    Continuous assessment and full disclosure keeps everyone well informed and working towards learning outcomes. it is probably one good thing about Year 12 assessment that has changed since I left school.

  16. Mark

    Most white parents would agree with you but the fact is that there are many Chinese kids entering Australian schools with very different work ethics, less emphasis on sports and socialising, who are getting into the better schools, getting better HSC marks and hence getting better jobs. good ole fashioned competition 🙂

    Though i have to admit that it doesnt prepare them too well for adult life where the ability to interact is crucial.

  17. In Aus. playing sports is essential! They’re going to be the losers of tomorrow! What a relief- back to the TV!

  18. Pommygranate,

    Perhaps Mark is suggesting that because those children were so constrained in their behavior by their parents that there is a higher risk of them becoming subservient little souls who never really had a chance to know what true personal freedom is like. Years of such pressure can create a mindset.

  19. John,

    I think this is a cultural stereotype — is there any real evidence out there of this and that there are any negative consequences? There is a lot of the alternative evidence — that if you are successful early in life, it is more likely you will be in later life also (that of course is no surprise).

  20. Sorry, I was not clear, I agree that certain groups push their kids harder. However, its not clear to me what effect that has an adult (excluding the positive ones).

  21. Conrad

    if you want to be a doctor you need a minimum HSC mark (regardless of your wonderful bedside manner). hence it would have quite a major effect on anyone who wanted to be a doctor!

  22. Personally I think that there are too many kids that don’t get a work ethic early on and lack the associated success and self esteem later on. I think this is generally more negative than parental performance pressure. I agree that free time, social time and play time are key learning experiences and that this is the stuff of life, however the reality is that many of the chilled out parents frequently have their kids watching TV and playing computer games rather than doing sport or socialising. My eldest goes to a public school dominated by chinese kids and I don’t mind the social conservatism and work ethic one bit.

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