States squabbling over test benchmarks

It had to happen of course; that the new spirit of national cooperation and cooperative revolution would get stickier and trickier when it got down to the details. Like the NAPLAN (National Asessment of  Literacy and Numeracy) benchmarks and where they might be placed.

Last week the Herald-Sun gave some glimpse of that behind the scenes wrangling when it reported that high performing states (Victoria) were jostling with low performing states (WA, NT, TAS) over where to place the literacy and numeracy benchmarks: too high and the low performing states will look like basket cases, and too low and the results in Victoria will be absurdly high.

The paper said: 

But the poor results in Tasmania, WA and the Northern Territory have sparked a political row between the states over where benchmarks should be set.

And the row has put the broader concept of the national curriculum – hailed by educators and politicians as a necessary step forward – at risk.

A Victorian education source told the Sunday Herald Sun state departments were squabbling over where the benchmarks should be set and the Naplan literacy and numeracy standards were set “embarrassingly low so the results don’t look too bad in some areas of the country”.

“If they had set the minimum standards any lower, Victoria would have scored 100 per cent and if they had set them any higher, the NT would have been diabolical,” the source said.

And this is only the beginning. This will only get murkier as the national curriculum moves from zealous ideology to actual curriculum.


National Curriculum Debates

What if the national curriculum that’s going to revolutionise everything also included HOW to teach certain subjects such as perhaps reading? Would we all think it so benevolent and non-invasive then.

I’ve railed and wailed here about national curriculum before but Caroline Milburn’s article in the AGE today opens a new line; that methodology might also be part of this nationalist zeal. Summarising an ACER report the article says:

The major challenge in improving teaching lies not so much in identifying and describing quality teaching, but in developing structures and approaches that ensure widespread use of successful practices: to make best practice, common practice,” says the report, written for the BCA by senior researchers at ACER. The Rudd Government has signalled its intention to take an unprecedented role in influencing teaching methods. The first steps of a more interventionist approach in areas traditionally the preserve of education authorities and teacher training institutions were announced this year.

I like the response of literacy expert Dr Ilina Synder who writes:

The national curriculum initiative is an exciting opportunity to forge new directions and aspirations for school education, but she warns that teachers will resist it if it tells them what they should do in the classroom rather than setting out principles to inform the curriculum. Teachers will not welcome a heavy-handed approach that requires them to perform specific tasks without having control or input in the way they are conceived and evaluated. “Teachers expect to be accountable as professionals but they also expect acknowledgment of their professional knowledge and expertise,”

The debates moves on, but it’s currently only being had among politicians and academics. If teacher aren’t careful they’ll wake up to find that the debate is done and dusted and we’ll be told new ways of operating based on what looks good in Finland and what might get a politician re-elected in four years time.