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Wrong move Phonics test in Year 1 won’t help falling results We should be looking to independent schools for the answer Kate Hadwen

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by July 27, 2017 General

Gonski 2.0 has again ignited conversation about improving school achievement with a new taskforce established to generate recommendations.

This decision comes off the back of the announcement in January that the Federal Government will look to implement a Year 1 NAPLAN style phonics test, in addition to tests delivered at Year 3,5,7 and 9.

This could have been a knee-jerk reaction in response to the December release of the Program for International Student Assessment testing data.

As a nation, it’s true our PISA results don’t look good. We have continued to fall in all three areas (science, reading and mathematics) since first sitting these tests.

It’s natural to ask questions about why this might be the case and what can be done to address this.

Let’s take a closer look at PISA and why implementing a Year 1 phonics assessment, fundamentally based on the British screening test first implemented in 2012, is not a good idea for Australia.

In 2015, results from the literacy component of PISA showed Britain achieved an average of 497, Australia 503, and Singapore, topping the tables, at 535.

Interestingly, while Britain has the lowest results, it also spends the most on education with 5.7 per cent of gross domestic product invested into this sector in comparison with 5.2 per cent in Australia and an incredibly low 2.9 per cent in Singapore.

It is fast looking like adopting British practices is not the smartest move to improve educational outcomes in Australia.

The PISA results also reveal vast differences between school sectors across Australia.

Government sector students achieved an average of 484, Catholic students 517 and independent school students achieved 544, topping even Singapore.

The independent sector, comprising low as well as high-fee schools, is clearly out in front.

Nearly one quarter of teachers think students get too much homework

Perhaps instead of looking to overseas education models to improve outcomes, the Government could learn from some of the outstanding work our Australian independent schools are achieving.

So why is introducing another suite of tests to NAPLAN going to have little impact on outcomes?

Schools wait about three months from the time the NAPLAN test is taken to when results are released.

Dr. Kate Hadwen, PLC Principal
Dr. Kate Hadwen, PLC PrincipalPicture: Robert Frith/Acorn Photo

Don’t get me wrong, standardised assessments are important, but not ones where when the results are finally released they are close to irrelevant given the learning that has taken place over the waiting period.

In addition, independent sector schools in WA pay $50 per child for the privilege of a test that is practically useless; in a school of about 1200 students, that adds up to approximately $18,000 a year.

Schools have been volunteering to test an online version of the test with the promise that results would be released in a time frame that made the test worth while.

“While Britain has the lowest results, it also spends the most on education with 57 per cent of gross domestic product invested into this sector in comparison with 5.2 per cent in Australia and an incredibly low 2.9 per cent in Singapore”.

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Unsurprising to educators, the move to online NAPLAN was abandoned this year, as the Government struggled to find successful ways to effectively implement it.

It is with great interest those who educate the 3,798,226 students, according to the 2016 Census data, enrolled in schools across Australia wait for the findings of the Gonski 2.0 task force.

As the leader of Perth’s 2016 top ranked non-selective school in the State I hope I’m asked to give input into what truly leads to an exceptional education.

I will be sure to say a Year 1 phonics test taken from an underperforming country isn’t the answer.

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