The education narrative, what’s the impact? #NAPLAN

What is our story? What is the narrative of our education system in Australia? What makes it unique and what makes it similar to other places around the world?

This is one of the things that I have found interesting during my Hardie Fellowship, listening to the narrative of the USA education system and then noting some interesting USA narratives popping up in our local discourse. The one that jumps out at me is that of standardised testing. In the USA standardised testing (which developed as a result of laws such as no child left behind, along with other politically driven agendas such as race to the top and is connected to state and federal funding) attracts significant traction, it is at the forefront of the educator’s mind at all times. Why? There are a number of reasons, but let’s just look at two. Firstly, in talking with beginning teachers it is something that plays on their minds due to it being used as an indicator of their effectiveness as an educator and consequently, yes you guessed it, it impacts on their employment and associated terms. I am not in a position to talk about the intricacies of this impact, but what I have seen through observing beginning teachers is enough to know that it has power, and yes drives the focus of the classroom. Secondly, it holds a significant place in the school year. At the very least it takes about 4 weeks to administer the standardised test known as PARCC, which drives the curriculum in the classroom. These are conducted not once, but twice. The second sitting occurs a short time after the first to determine if there have been gains. Once the data has been collected it is provided to the school/educator the following school year. An interesting time frame to say the least.

So is this our narrative? Is this reflective of what is happening in Australia? Some would say yes, we have NAPLAN. But does NAPLAN fit the above description in regard to the impact it has within our educational space? I think not. Yet I find it interesting that there is often a strong discussion in online spaces from Australian educators that is more like that of the USA situation. Why is this the case?

My only thought is that when reading articles, posts, updates that come across our screen we miss contextualising what is being presented, and in doing so, do not take the time to dig into what we are glancing over and unpack what is being said. An example of this occurred the other day on my Facebook feed. A teacher posted the following:

2015-05-12 11.22.54

The full article can be found here.

The article is referring to the USA system. I am not here to debate the learning experience the children had or the deep personal connection it had for their family and the impact that it has had as a result, but rather want to keep us mindful of the narrative that we have in Australia. What does subtly connecting the USA narrative to ours achieve?

Facebook is not the only space I see this occur, I often see it happening on Twitter, where Australian educators connect regularly to share, discuss and learn. In amongst this conversations or comments often focus on standardised testing. This past week has certainly been a prime time in the Twitter-sphere due to the NAPLAN testing that has just taken place. A simple search of Twitter will give an interesting overview – #NAPLAN.

My fear regarding confusing the narrative is that we forget the purpose of what NAPLAN is designed to achieve. If we forget the purpose, then what does NAPLAN become? Have we moved so far with our narrative to the point we now own one that is not ours and, as a result, no longer know what its purpose is within our context?

What is our story? Has social media blurred the lines?

What is the purpose of NAPLAN?

For an overview of the USA standardised testing story, through the lens of comedy (language warning required), see the following from Last Week Tonight:

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