QTU condemns standardised phonics test

Delegates at QTU State Council have condemned the proposed year one phonics test announced in January by Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham.

The standardised test, purportedly to be based on a similar one administered in the United Kingdom, could be rolled out as early as next year. A decision about the nature and timing of the test will be made by state and federal education ministers at a future meeting of the COAG Education Council.

In Queensland, while the teaching of phonics forms an integral part of literacy learning, in the early years in particular, there is no formal testing of phonics required by the state education department. Queensland has implemented the Australian Curriculum in English (as well as other core curriculum areas) which requires the teaching of phonics, and the content descriptions for language addressing phonics and word knowledge are embedded in the English curriculum area.

In Queensland, teachers use the early start diagnostic tool, a quality tool which provides a useful snapshot of a student’s literacy and numeracy levels upon entry into prep. This information, directly correlated to the content descriptions of the Australian Curriculum, is used by the teacher to support continuous improvement in student learning, and is subsequently passed on to the child’s year one teacher. It is not reported to the student’s parents.

If the federal government attempts to impose a testing regime and/or curriculum program for the testing of phonics on year one students, the QTU will ballot to ban the test. Such a high stakes test would greatly increase student anxiety, as well as increasing teacher workload and creating a dataset that would see students “scored for life”. The data could easily be taken out of context, uploaded to a nationwide database and potentially used to name and shame six-year-olds in schools across the nation that have “underperformed”.

In Queensland, Education Minister Kate Jones and members of the Early Years Forum (pictured), which has representatives from the early childhood education and care settings, such as crèche and kindy, the Early Childhood Teachers Association and The Parenthood, recently expressed grave concerns about the imposition of a standardised test for six-year-olds.

The AEU, our national education union, is opposed to the standardised year one phonics test and continues to campaign for permanent funding for universal access to preschool and kindy education for all four year olds.

Leah Mertens                                                                                                               Research Officer – Professional Issues

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 3, 14 April 2017, p13