Spent yesterday playing cricket in the local competition. A first step in returning to a “normal” life. As it happens one of the guys I was playing with – and have known for a long time – is also a Deputy Principal at one of the local primary schools. He asked if I was still working at the Uni and I explained no, I was heading into high school teaching. From there the discussion turned to teaching and its issues and benefits. Before too long I asked about NAPLAN testing and its impact. “It’s all we’re teaching at the moment”, was the response, essentially much the same as I I mentioned in a previous post.
Over the last six months or so, I’ve been listening to and reading a lot of K12 education related material. All of it, especially that by folk with first-hand knowledge of actual teaching, has been aware of the negative implications of standardised testing, especially when tied to rankings or funding. It corrupts the teaching process and becomes the almost primary focus of learning. At the core, this seems to be a wonderful example of Goodhart’s law which Wikipedia describes as
states that once a social or economic indicator or other surrogate measure is made a target for the purpose of conducting social or economic policy, then it will lose the information content that would qualify it to play such a role
It is obvious that school performance on the NAPLAN test has become a target. School’s and teachers are being told by regional management to focus on improving performance on that target. Consequently, I believe that NAPLAN test scores have lost any value, the information content in such scores does not represent the quality of education. It represents how well the educators have been able to prime students for the test. More importantly, it fails to measure what has been lost in the chase for good NAPLAN scores.
What is the alternative
The idea of standardised testing, like the NAPLAN tests, arise from the idea of managerialisation which is seen by some as a key component of globalisation. It is the idea that it is important for government to measure and assure the quality of services like education. Measurement that requires objective, quantifiable measures. It is unlikely that this requirement for measurement is going to disappear anytime soon.
Given, as described above, that I believe the current approach to this measurement is having extremely negative effects on what it is trying to measure. Then the question is, what are the alternatives? Is there a way to provide government and society with the “measurement” that shows the quality of the education being provided to children?
Surely there has to be some folk within the educational research community coming up with alternatives? Even some folk trying them out in real education settings.
This is not a problem limited to K12 education. Universities, especially those in Australia, are increasingly having to deal with this problem and they aren’t doing it any better.
This is likely to become one of my underlying questions for the next year or so.