Editorial - Time for NAPLAN to go
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 2, 20 March 2020, page no.5
Shortly after this article went to print, QTU President Kevin Bates called for NAPLAN to be cancelled in 2020 given the national emergency situation. The following day, Education Minister Grace Grace took a proposal to Education Council for NAPLAN to be suspended. The Education Council determined that NAPLAN will not go ahead in any form in 2020. For more information, see https://www.qtu.asn.au/naplan
The QTU State Council has voted unanimously to conduct a ballot of members in schools to boycott NAPLAN in its entirety in 2020.
The Union recommended that members support the boycott to finally rid Queensland of NAPLAN and its negative affects on students, teachers and education.
There were many speakers in the hour-and-a-half discussion prior to the decision, but only two speakers in formal debate around the motion. Vice-President Cresta Richardson argued that, after all that had been done to try and minimise the harmful effects of NAPLAN, enough was enough. Executive member Natalie Montague-Clarke told of having to attend a crisis conference concerning the results of a year three student who underperformed on the NAPLAN tests because her dog had died that morning.
The QTU, the department and the Queensland Government have worked hard to minimise the negative and unintended consequences of high stakes NAPLAN. The joint statement between the QTU and the department was negotiated to minimise excessive demands for practice tests, reliance on NAPLAN results for promotion and more. The joint statement was well intentioned, but in practical terms has had only limited and inconsistent success.
The Queensland Government, supported by the QTU, initiated a state review of NAPLAN and its effects when no other state in Australia was prepared to. The report of that review is the best summary of the negative impacts of NAPLAN on Queensland students, teachers and the education system – it is the reported effects of NAPLAN, right here and now. It is supported by volumes of research concerning the international experience of high stakes standardised testing.
Despite the Queensland Government's championing of a national review, it was rebuffed by the federal government at the Education Council. The Queensland Government then joined with the New South Wales and Victorian governments (and subsequently the Australian Capital Territory) in conducting a tri-state review of NAPLAN, which provided its interim report in November 2019. Its final report is due in June 2020.
End of the road
The interim report of the tri-state review talks about tweaking questions, tinkering with domains and the possibility of sample tests, but with the capacity for schools to “opt in”. Its flaw lies in its terms of reference – a negotiated compromise which assume the continuation of NAPLAN and its modification, not its abolition. From our experience, only abolition and a fresh start can hope to address the problems associated with NAPLAN.
Even if the review were to recommend NAPLAN’s abolition, it would still face the twin hurdles of the federal government and the Education Council, the regular meeting of the education ministers of all states and territory governments and the federal government. It makes decisions about education policy and issues communiques. Its decisions are made by consensus, with any party able to block a decision. It requires only one vote against to defeat the abolition of NAPLAN.
NAPLAN, for reasons surpassing understanding, is also enshrined in federal legislation. Having criticised the tri-state review from its outset, there is no chance Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan would support changes to funding legislation.
The path of lobbying and negotiating for the abolition of NAPLAN is closed, with no prospect of it re-opening.
A federal problem
NAPLAN is imposed on Australian schools by the federal government, which owns not one school and employs not one teacher. The federal government imposes educational policy on the states and territories by threatening to cut funding. Education is a constitutional responsibility of the states and territories, but the federal government holds the purse strings.
While making its decision, the State Council had access to a letter from the Queensland Director-General of Education, foreshadowing the potential threat to Queensland state education funding from the federal government, and the potential need for the Queensland Government to take action to stop the boycott at the behest of the federal government. The Council’s decision to ballot was a conscious rejection of these threats.
It is likely (as it has been to date) that Queensland teachers will lead the way in taking action to boycott NAPLAN. Other states and territories support our policy position, but are limited in the practical action that they can take. The action of teachers in one state can destroy whatever precarious validity NAPLAN results retain after the debacle of the last two years of NAPLAN Online tests.
For the latest news and information on the NAPLAN boycott, visit www.qtu.asn.au