Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!
As a School Principal, in collaboration with a committed and highly skilled staff who developed the will to achieve in our students, I have taken schools from low performing levels, in terms of student achievement, to high performing schools recognised for their success. Hence today’s NAPLAN’s report for 2019 is disappointing to say the least, particularly when funding for school improvement has never been higher and where advice to schools from supervising agencies is incessant.
Yes, there will be those who once again make statements that the tests provide ‘old data’ given that they are conducted in term 2, the results of which are not received until towards the end of term 3. There will also be those who rebuff the results on the premise that it is only one set of tests when there are many other indicators of student achievement.
This is true, but it cannot be denied that NAPLAN provides a ‘point in time’ analysis of where the students are in their literacy and numeracy learning between Prep - early year 3: Yr. 4 - early year 5: Yr. 6 - early Yr.7 and Yr. 8 - early Yr. 9. When viewed in this way, the relative gain of each individual student is the key indicator of the success of schools and in determining the employment of effective strategies to assist students to continuously improve.
Additionally, if the data is telling us that by Yr. 9 literacy and numeracy skills shows a decline then what has been the purpose of the previous years of schooling in preparing our students to be successful global citizens?
There is no magic involved in students achieving highly in Literacy and Numeracy knowledge and skills. As one who’s ‘been there’ it’s all about leaders, teachers and students knowing their data, (yes students- they need to know where they need to improve and how they aspire to do so). Knowing the data enables educators and students to collaboratively design strategies for improvement and regularly monitor the effectiveness of those strategies. High expectations of students, staff and indeed ourselves, as principals, are key to the above.
Furthermore, expert teachers know the importance of informed teacher-led learning. It is fundamental to student success and must be the first step in teaching students the basic of literacy and numeracy. Please be assured that I am totally supportive of teachers being the ‘guide by the side’ but only when the student is capable of self-directed learning in the true sense rather than simply trying to find answers for which they do not have the basic skills. I am also an advocate for student personalised learning to ensure that every student reaches their highest potential with instruction and support suited to their needs.
The recipe teaching models to which I referred to in a blog last year at jamesglobalconsultancy.com need also to be reviewed in light of this year’s results. Expert teachers know how to teach the Australian Curriculum. They should not be enticed into using step by step lesson plans and assessment that leave much to be desired in terms of rigour, content and proven success. Unfortunately, in schools that have adopted such an approach “the baby may have been thrown out with the bathwater.”
And where do we find expert teachers? They are the ones who expertly know their subjects, know how to analyse, interpret and apply data and possess the skills of engaging students in learning, who build quality relationships with students whilst at the same time do not back away from setting high expectations. Is this being taught in our universities?
John Hattie (2015) in his report What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise wrote:
“the greatest influence on student progression in learning is having highly expert, inspired and passionate teachers and school leaders working together to maximize the effect of their teaching on all students in their care” (p. 2).”
The additional funding of schools is most welcome, but it must be spent correctly. Who is monitoring this taxpayers' money? Yes, schools must provide documentation to explain where the additional funding is being spent but one has to wonder how subsidising a new building block or extra-curricular venues and activities improves students’ literacy and numeracy skills.
And then we have the instances where additional staff are purchased at all levels without a clear explanation or proof as to how such staff will improve the students’ skills or indeed the current staff’s capability.
Could I suggest that more rigorous checks and balances occur to ensure the funding reaches its intended destination in an effective and productive manner and, just as importantly quality well proven teaching strategies be allowed to prevail. Education is littered with the skeletons of fads.