August 29th 2015


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COVER STORY Same-sex marriage and the SOGI ideological agenda

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Canada: basic freedoms lost since same-sex marriage came to town

CANBERRA OBSERVED Abbott, Shorten fixin' for some feudin' next year

OBITUARY RIP Frank Scully, last survivor of the Labor Split

EDITORIAL Colleagues digging holes Tony Abbott has to fill in

EDUCATION There must be a better plan than Naplan

HISTORY OF INDONESIA Sukarno makes way for Suharto's "New Order"

HISTORY Fateful indecision: the tragedy of Rabaul

FAMILY LIFE A father's presence in the home: part I

SCOTUS: JUDICIAL ACTIVISM On the having of the cake and the eating of it too

LIFE ISSUES When an abomination becomes good business

CINEMA Spy sequel vies with a spy history repeat Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

BOOK REVIEW An important biography of B.A.

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EDUCATION
There must be a better plan than Naplan


by Kevin Donnelly

News Weekly, August 29, 2015

There is much to learn from the 2015 Naplan results. Victoria is the top-performing state, ranked No.1 in nine of the 20 subject areas tested. NSW, on the other hand, only achieves four firsts, with the other states ranked below.

However, since Naplan was introduced, the results, with a few exceptions, have flatlined and standards have failed to improve.

When it comes to international tests it is also the case that literacy and numeracy test results have failed to improve over time and in some cases have gone backwards. A related problem – given that 92.5 per cent of Australian students meet the minimum standard for the Naplan tests – is that the bar is set so low that the overwhelming majority of students are guaranteed success.

Based on the 2015 Naplan results, only 7.5 per cent of students fail to reach the minimum standard.

This compares with the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, where Australia is ranked 21st and 24 per cent of students are in the low to below low category. The same problem is evident with the Trends in International Maths and Science Study, where, at Year 8 mathematics, 37 per cent of Australian students are at the low to below level, and at Year 8 science, 30 per cent of students underperform.

Given such results, the question has to be asked whether the Naplan standards have been dumbed down and if Australian students are being given a false sense of their ability compared with students overseas.

So, what is to be done to improve results?

The first thing is to ensure that the school curriculum is rigorous and academically based. With teaching reading, for example, schools need to focus on the more traditional phonics and phonemic awareness approach.

Instead of being taught to look and guess and just being surrounded by books, beginning readers need to be taught the relationships between letters and sounds and how sentences are grammatically structured.

While often attacked as obsolete and irrelevant, given the widespread use of computers and calculators, it is also vital that primary school students rote learn their times tables so that they can be recalled automatically.

Remember rote learning?

Research associated with how children best learn proves that mental arith­metic and learning to recite poems and ballads are also very important. The argument is that, before using the new technology, students need to hardwire their brains.

The second thing is to ensure that the way teachers teach is based on what is most effective. Compared with many stronger performing countries, Australian classrooms often employ fads such as child-centred learning, where teachers “facilitate” and children take control.

There needs to be a better balance between child-centred learning, sometimes described as personalised learning, and more explicit, whole class teaching, where there is a clearly structured and disciplined environment.

It should not surprise that research carried out by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Develop­ment (OECD) argues that improving classroom discipline and having well behaved students is one of the most effective ways to raise standards.

With Australia ranked 34th out of 65 countries in terms of having noisy and disruptive classrooms, there is clearly room for improvement.

The third strategy involves making sure teachers are well resourced and have time to mentor one another.

Stronger education systems in highly performing Singapore, Japan and South Korea ensure that teachers are well paid and that they have the time to learn from one another to improve their teaching practice.

Finally, parents need to understand they are their children’s first teachers and have the responsibility to make sure their children are able to make the most of what happens at school.

Again, the research is clear. Children who have been read to when young, where parents talk and interact and where children have played memory games and puzzles, have the edge when it comes to test results.

This means turning off the screens, banning computers, iPads and mobile phones from bedrooms, and teaching children to respect teachers and to be motivated to work hard and to achieve.

And, while some critics argue that testing is counterproductive because students become anxious and stressed, it is important to understand that it is even worse for children to float through school without the basics and giving them a false sense of their ability.

Dr Kevin Donnelly was co-chair of the National Curriculum review. He is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University and the author of Educating Your Child: It’s Not Rocket Science.

This article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on August 6, 2015.




























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