Firing teachers on the basis of NAPLAN scores? Really?

Using NAPLAN data to fire teachers is ludicrous

Controversy surrounding NAPLAN testing is old news. Many educators are critical of the standardised test, claiming it creates a culture of ‘teaching to the test’ and unreasonable levels of anxiety in both teachers and students. Further, criticisms have been raised concerning the manner in which test data is published, and the six-month wait for schools to recieve results.
Ray Martin explored NAPLAN testing, particularly the test’s affect on students, in Sunday night’s 60 minutes program which airs on Channel 9. Of particularly concern is the burden of testing on students’ mental health, such as extreme levels of anxiety and stress concerning the test, and even depression.
Martin interviewed NAPLAN opponent, Principal Paul Thompson, who likened the test to child abuse, due to the strain it places on students. Thompson considers “NAPLAN punishes children for learning from mistakes.”
These are genuine criticisms of a test that is failing to meet its potential.
One of the most concerning, and disturbing aspects of Martin’s story was that involving Lawyer Joel Klein, former chancellor of New York City Department of Education. Klein believes that accountability through standardised testing is the only way to ensure performance of teachers.
Klein’s assertion that teachers are the most significant impact on student outcomes is almost true. University of Melbourne’s Prof John Hattie in a meta-analysis of 800 studies, determined that teachers account for 30% of variability in student outcomes. Students themselves account for 50% of variance.
Klein considers that standardised tests are a way of comparing ‘apples to apples.’ This is another sentiment I disagree with. Too often NAPLAN results are misreported in the media: just recently there was coverage claiming the ACT was the top state in Australia. Technically this is true, but it is unreasonable to draw up a league table of states and territories, comparing vastly different populations. It provides a skewed view of what the reality of NAPLAN data really is.
As chancellor Klein implemented a practice in which teachers are sacked on the basis of poor student results in standardised tests: a concept I find ludicrous, insulting, and incredibly narrow-minded. In addition firing teachers, Klein closed schools that didn’t measure up and used standardised test scores as grounds for performance pay.
Is this yet another example of someone without an education background (Klein has no formal education in teaching and has not spent time in the classroom) making decisions on education?
I would not have the sheer arrogance to tell the director of medicine at a hospital how to do their job, and how I was going to evaluate them on their performance. Nor would I start critquing the performance of a bank CEO, engineer, botanist, or construction worker on the basis of a criteria I’ve decided is the most appropriate.
It would be insulting to their profession.
Yet in Australia there exists the culture that it is entirely appropriate to blame, shame, humiliate, and measure teachers. A constant barrage of non-educators, with no background in teaching or classroom experience, critise teachers for being lazy, overpaid, underworked babysitters.
The sentiments raised by Klein are yet another example of the bullying attitude towards teachers.
Klein considers that teacher evaluation is always going to be controversial, and teachers being evaluated on the basis of test data is not always going to be popular.
It’s not popular for a reason.
I do not object to teacher evaluation. I welcome evaluation. Evaluation is an incredibly powerful tool for personal growth. In my first year of teaching I regularly invited more experienced teachers, such as my head of department, principal and mentor teacher, to visit my lessons for the purpose of providing feedback. This feedback was helpful in acknowledging what I was doing well – a massive confidence boost as a beginning teacher. In addition, the feedback provided me with different perspectives and strategies for aspects of teaching I found valuable. I believe that as a result of this feedback I was able to develop into a better teacher more quickly.
I discussed the topic of teacher evaluation previously in an article about performance pay. To evaluate teachers’ performance requires a more holistic view than simply standardised test data: to reduce teachers contributions to their profession to a single test score is to deny the complex nature of work teachers do.
Indeed the complex nature of adequate teacher evaluation is a significant argument against performance pay: it is difficult to create a clearly defined, objective system for measuring teacher quality.
It was suggested that in Australia we have the opposite culture of New York: instead of teachers shouldering the entire responsibility of standardised tests, in Australia the entire responsibility falls on the students to perform.
I agree that students are under pressure to perform, but teachers too, are equally under pressure from a variety of sources. It is difficult as a teacher to resist the temptation of ‘teaching to the test,’ when results are so widely published. As a beginning teacher I feel insecure as to whether I’m doing a ‘good enough’ job: I don’t want my classes to perform more poorly than other teachers’. With so much emphasis on quantifiable data we are stripping students of the opportunity to be more creative, thinking, communicating, problem-solvers.
NAPLAN is not a stepping stone to a better education system: Mr Klein, it is not ‘critical’ to Australia’s future academic success. The reality could not be further from this. NAPLAN is an expensive, time-consuming, burden on education in Australia.

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About madelinebevs

Mathematics teacher and researcher. Runner. I'm excited by mathematics education. Having taught high-school mathematics for several years I am currently studying a Master of Education (Honours) in mathematics education, with the aim to ‘upgrade’ to a PhD later this year. My research is addressing how the constructivist epistemology (more specifically explicit instruction in metacognitive and self-reflective strategies) influences students’ affective domain. Mathematics education and research excites me greatly. I’m thrilled that I have the opportunity to write and work in this area. This blog will be (mostly) a collection of opinion pieces published several times a week on contemporary issues in mathematics education, with an Australian focus. More often than not topics will be generated from recent news headlines.
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3 Responses to Firing teachers on the basis of NAPLAN scores? Really?

  1. Pingback: Pyne: a pain for education in Australia | matthitude

  2. zdravko rajic says:

    Indeed, i agree with the writer. I have been a teacher for over 35 years and have worked mostly with dedicated, caring, knowledgable and creative teachers. The best thing happened about 10 years ago when we created a team atmosphere in the school. We work in teams, our results are deeply satisfying, and we take objective data as a basis for the assessment of our work. Not just one set, as that is not reliable enough. Performance pay would unpick our teams and set up competition rather than cooperation. Performance pay is a checking tool. Research on motivation indicates that solving of complex problems more money offered actually works as a demotivator. But giving teachers access to high quality free professional development and time to think and work on areas they see as needing improvement would surely yield good rresults. And as I have asked many teachers about this I can categorically state that everyteacher wants more learning and thinking time, rather than money.
    Let us hope someone with greater insights into how education works gets to make the important decisions.

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