National Testing: Oh. My. Goodness. Where do I start?
At recess this morning I hailed one of the young pupils I teach.
"How's the NAPLAN going?" I asked her cheerfully.
"Pretty good," she replied nonchalantly.
"It's no big deal, is it?" I hurriedly added, realising too late that by asking about it, I was indeed making it a big deal.
"No," she smiled,"Mum says it's really testing the teachers."
The idea of testing a cohort of children across a nation on the same day at the same time with the same test, is one which has provoked heated debate throughout the years. Issues of student (or parent!) stress; teaching to the test; relevance; using the tests to drive funding and the dubious nature of what the tests actually tell us, rear their heads again and again in media and staff room alike. As a Special Ed teacher my concern has always been with the damage these tests may do to the self worth of pupils whom we know to be struggling.
"Oh let him have a go," one of the teachers in the UK would say to me, of a dyslexic child who was still struggling with basic sight words. Why? I ask. It's like saying "Let's shoot him and see if he bleeds." DUH!!!!!! We KNOW he isn't going to do well. Why set him up for failure???
The Australian testing regime insists that all students, except those with 'severe and complex' disabilities, are expected to attempt the tests and schools are instructed to provide sanctioned 'adjustments', which will ensure that the tests are accessible to all. We are advised that it is not our role to counsel parents against including their children in these tests, but to make provision such that everyone can 'have a go'. And be judged. Sorry, did I say that out loud? As a result, children with Language Disorders, severe Dyslexia and yes, Autism, are expected to complete the national tests.
So if this is a test of the teachers, to see how well (or how poorly) we teach, why can't we 'teach to the test'? Then you'd know who was doing it well wouldn't you!? No? OK, so it must really be a test of the children, of what they know, or what they can do, right? So why is my severe dyslexic sitting this test, this test which includes spelling, identifying misspellings and providing correct spellings, when we know, we know in agonising and frustrating detail, just how little he knows about any of that. We DO know that he knows twice as much as when he started last year because we have him on a special program and have been working in close consultation with parents and class teachers to painstakingly measure his micro 'skills growth', but I'm pretty sure that's not going to show up on your test.
But that is not all of it. One of the scintillating joys our pupils must endure is the Writing test. In this test they will demonstrate that they can generate ideas, structure a written text, write in sentences, proofread, use appropriate, evocative language, tell a story or argue a point. Now get this: the stimulus material provided by the testing authorities is the same for all four tested grade levels. Yes, you heard me correctly. The eight year old Year 3s and the fourteen year old Year 9s get the same topic and the same wordy set of instructions. Is there a picture? A catchy title? Some ideas to draw from? NO. In fact, as teachers we are prohibited from discussing the topic with the pupils, except to re-direct them to their instruction sheet. There will be no brain storming session, no wordbank of useful vocab, in short, none of the usual teaching which we would undertake when introducing a task of this nature. Imagine a football team turning up for the game, after a regime of directed training, and the coach telling them that they would need to check the rulebook if they wanted to know anything about how (or where) to play the game that day. Oh and by the way, you can't talk to your team mates either.
Now comes my favourite part: the topic for writing this year was.......(wait for it)
"Change a Rule or a Law": Think of a rule or a law that you would like to change and convince the reader of your opinion. You must be changing the rule for the better.
Let's put aside for a moment the fact that at least 50% of the Year 3 pupils couldn't think of a law or a rule they would like to change (no brainstorming remember). Let us instead consider the plight of my Year 3 Autistic boy remembering that one of the cornerstone characteristics of Autism, as described in the Diagnostic Manual (v5) is:
Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, :
Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or
verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with
transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat
food every day).
AND THEY WANTED THESE CHILDREN TO WRITE ABOUT CHANGING THE RULES??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
Really! Who ARE these people and what right do they have to judge any of us?