Peter Garrett: encouraging signs (a Kiwi perspective)
By Kelvin Smythe
Peter Garrett: encouraging signs (a Kiwi perspective) - Click here.
Peter Garrett: encouraging signs (a Kiwi perspective)
The plot and main characters
In Australia, in 2008, NAPLAN (National Assessment Programme – Literacy and Numeracy) began in Australian schools. Every year, all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are assessed on the same days using national tests in reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, grammar, and punctuation), and numeracy.
Targets were set for states and financial rewards for states that did well.
The scheme had its beginnings in a Julia Gillard meeting with Joe Klein in New York. Joe Klein is an academic corporate entrepreneur who sets up such plans round the world under the auspices of News World and Rupert Murdoch.
So far the national testing plan has cost nearly $(NZ)750 million, including $(NZ)400 million being paid to the states in rewards.
In 2011, the auditor-general of the Australian National Audit Office undertook an audit into the effectiveness of the plan.
On Monday, 23 January, 2012 Peter Garrett, minister for school education, timed a media statement release in anticipation of the auditor-general’s report.
Garrett said he ‘welcomed the results of the final NAPLAN 2011 report, which reveals that more than 93 per cent of Australian school students are achieving at or above the national minimum standard in reading, writing and numeracy.’
Is that good or not? Pete seemed pleased with it. Let’s see what he goes on to say.
‘The report shows that while overall results have remained steady since the first NAPLAN tests were held in 2008, there have been encouraging signs of student improvement in many year groups.’
‘Results remained steady’: is that good? If they were on a steady upward trajectory, I suppose that would be good.
If they were steady on a flat trajectory, though, that, surely, would seem to leave something to be desired.
‘Encouraging signs’: I’m a bit confused about what kind of encouraging signs they could be? Surely the only encouraging signs that matter in testing are the kind that reveal themselves as increased marks. To be honest, in testing any other kind of sign tends to the discouraging. Are these the same kind of encouraging signs that are sometimes observed in the Australian rugby team? Or to be Trans-Tasman fair, the New Zealand cricket team?
Perhaps, in Australia, if someone hears a kookaburra call at a seminal moment, that is an encouraging sign.
Pete who had obviously been burning the midnight oil on this one proceeds: ‘But it also confirms that there is still work ahead for governments, schools and the community to improve the results of regional, remote, low SES, and indigenous students, as well as lift our overall national performance.’
In our hunt to identify those encouraging signs, we could be on to something here. By eliminating those parts of education that weren’t providing encouraging signs, the parts that were left would be revealed to us as sources of encouraging signs.
Let’s see: no encouraging signs in the regions, with remote students, with low SES students, and with indigenous students – that leaves the cities and all children above SES for possible sources of encouraging signs. They must be it.
Hold on – what’s that?
Pete has added something at the end.
We need to ‘lift our overall national performance.’
Oh dear – that’s everything.
Pete’s encouraging signs are showing signs of becoming the heffalump of Australian education.
But all hope is not yet abandoned.
I’m sure Pete is trying to be transparent and helpful. Perhaps it might have been better if he’d set the encouraging signs to music.
His next paragraph seems quite masterful, perhaps that will be an augury for the clarity we’ve been seeking.
‘Our best performing students are not doing as well as they were 10 years ago, while the gap between top and bottom students has increased. This is not acceptable in a country as wealthy and well-resourced as Australia.’
Masterful – yes – but in the matter of encouraging signs seems rather short of the mark.
Perhaps, to Pete, encouraging signs mean something different to those who haven’t sung at an Olympics closing.
Now he’s didactic but in a plagiaristic way.
‘NAPLAN is a powerful tool which means we now have detailed data on how our schools and students are performing, identifying where extra support is needed as well as learning the lessons from schools that improve their results.’
Come on; own up Pete, you took this sentence from the New Zealand National government’s media advisory handbook.
But could this lead to the encouraging signs?
Pete – now that you have the detailed data on how students are performing, does that mean you and a host of education bureaucrats and associated academics are going to fan out to schools and do some teaching?
Teachers already have that data, well not that data, actually better data, their own data, from their own tests, and actually working with children, because we all know national testing data is rubbish.
But if your data, even though rubbish, is a stimulus for fanning out, well, that could be an encouraging sign: you and your bureaucrats and academics, might learn something about real education, well not much but a bit, and be better politicians, bureaucrats and academics as a result, well perhaps.
It could be an encouraging sign for generations of Australian children.
It’s so you can allocate extra support. Well fair enough, I suppose. Mind you, it would have been a lot simpler and cheaper just to ask teachers to send in requests for extra teacher aide support for those struggling children.
(Imaginary interlocution: What’s that? It won’t be in the form of teacher aides but some kind of advisory support: education functionaries peddling the official, standardised, generalised line. That’s what we have too.)
Then you deliver:
‘In reading and numeracy, across all year levels, an average of 93.77 per cent of students are achieving at or above the national minimum standard, up from the average of 93.4 per cent in 2010.’
Or do you?
I think we’ll leave it there, and try somewhere else for those elusive encouraging signs.
Pete’s media release was in response to the auditor-general’s release of his report. Perhaps the encouraging signs could be there.
Para 34: An audit office ‘analysis of NAPLAN data from 2008 to 2011 indicates that the LNNP is yet to make a statistically significant improvement, in any state, on the average NAPLAN results of schools that received LNNP funding, when compared to schools that did not receive funding.’
‘In 2008, there was a significant gap between the proportion of indigenous achievement and non-indigenous in reading, writing and numeracy … as measured by NAPLAN in 2011, there continued to be a significant gap.’
To be honest, at first reading, encouraging signs in the auditor-general’s report seem to be few and far between. Indeed, to be even more honest seem to be none and none between.
‘Yet to make a statistically significant improvement’ has a certain definitive and end-of-argument ring to it.
But perhaps, I’m relying too much on statistics and not seeing it as just a matter of language.
Perhaps, it is just a matter of language.
After all, why should we choose the auditor-general’s language over Pete’s; after all did the auditor-general ever have an Australian No.1 or even more significantly a New Zealand No. 1?
Why should we go with the auditor-general’s no ‘statistically significant improvement’ as an expression of where NAPLAN is over Pete’s assurance that overall results ‘remained steady’?
What Pete is really saying is that we’re looking in the wrong place for signs of improvement: instead of looking for signs of improvement in improvement we should be looking for signs of improvement in avoiding going backwards. In that sense, ‘staying steady’ or, if you insist, no ‘statistically significant improvement’, is an encouraging sign of the most encouraging sort.
Peter Garrett you have done badly. You listened to the wrong voices, as so many politicians have done before, because those voices are the beguiling ones suggesting power and aggrandisement.
The way to help Australian children is to empower schools and classroom teachers, not self-serving academics and bureaucrats. I suppose they pulled the evidence-based trick on you did they?
To help Australian children go Australian, not American corporate.
As a Labour politician and an idealistic songwriter why didn’t you go to the people, the teachers, the people who work with teachers?
No ‘statistically significant improvement’, but that doesn’t take into account the harmful effects national testing has on the reading, writing, and numeracy being tested; the wider curriculum, especially the opportunities for imaginative and flexible thinking; the professionalism of teachers … and the benefits that would have accrued for indigenous and non-indigenous children if that $750 million had been spent differently.
And I want to say Peter Garrett that the non-indigenous children would have been the most harmed – the opportunity of recovery for them is all that more difficult. Shame on you.
Peter Garrett you have done badly, and you know. With ideological corruption, as Orwell explained, comes language corruption – your media release is execrable.
National testing does not work. It is incongruous to successful teaching.
Put on ‘SORRY’ it is the honourable thing to do.
They are still burning – even worse.