Senator Hanson Young —There has been lots of discussion about the abuse of the My School website and whether it is helpful, who it is helpful for and what that kind of transparency means not just for parents and teachers in schools but also government, in making sure there is accountability across all of those different interest groups. How do you see the role of the NAPLAN test in being able to still be used as a tool by which we can assess students, but making sure that we are of course capturing the true essence of students’ performance in a way that is actually going to be helpful for decision makers?
Ms Bagworth —We have found that parents do greatly appreciate the information they receive from the NAPLAN tests, but there is concern that parents are being directed towards a website and the information provided on that website is presented as if it is the best way to evaluate your school and your child and how they are performing. There is so much more to what makes a good school which is not provided on that website and in fact is completely ignored. We would really like to see the NAPLAN test used as a means to improve communication between teachers and schools and parents rather than people being directed to a website that basically shows this is how they performed in numeracy and literacy. If the website provided more multifaceted information, including qualitative data, parent views, principal reports and information about student welfare and extra curricular activities provided in the school, it would provide a more holistic view of what a school provides and also what makes a good school. Different parents will be looking for different things in schools. At the moment it is just showing the numeracy and literacy scores, and it is just a raw score as well. Focussing on the raw mean average does not really show the distribution of results.
Senator Hanson Young —How do you think government should be engaging with the NAPLAN tests and results? What do parents expect?
Ms Bagworth —Parents expect that governments will be using the NAPLAN results to determine where funding is best allocated, where there needs to be improvements in schools and what the focus should be. Parents do think that governments should be taking a particular interest in what comes out of the NAPLAN results and that they are quite crucial in determining where funding should be allocated and where the needs are in schools.
Senator Hanson Young —Does your association have a view on whether that is adequate at the moment?
Ms Bagworth —It is one means of determining how a school is performing. The different effects on student performance do need to be taken into consideration—the student cohort, the background of students and all the different factors that contribute to a student’s result. But it is one measure that governments can use to better allocate resources.
Senator Hanson Young —My question was more about whether you have an opinion on how government has been responding thus far.
Ms Bagworth —On the issue of how it has been responding thus far, it is emphasising teacher accountability purely based on these results. There are other factors that need to be taken into consideration to determine whether a teacher is actually performing or not performing. At the moment, using the ICSEA averages as a way to compare how a teacher is performing in a particular school is perhaps only showing one part of the picture and is not really taking into consideration other factors.
Senator Hanson Young —How would you suggest we capture those other factors?
Ms Bagworth —It needs to use contributions from different methods. NAPLAN testing is just one means. You need to also look at talking to schools, look at the student cohort and look at measures other than just how a student performs in a numeracy and literacy test, because there is more to schooling than just that. You need to look at what other things are provided in the school.
Senator Hanson Young —Do you think parents feel that the reports they get at the end of each semester or year give them a holistic view of what is going on with their child’s education?
Mrs Singer —Parents in the ACT have been struggling over the last couple of years because we have gone to what is meant to be nationally equivalent grade descriptors in school reports. So we have some schools where none of the children in that school will ever get an A on their school report and parents have found it very hard to swap to that system. Within the ACT, because the rest of the report is not in a standard format, it is really dependent on how your individual school determines to supply the rest of the information and what it puts in. Some of our schools do it really well and some of our schools do not.
Senator Hanson Young —So even the end of semester reports are not going to necessarily give all of the information that a NAPLAN test result would give? Are there things that would be able to be used in the regular reports that would help to add value to the NAPLAN scores to give a more holistic picture?
Mrs Singer —With the introduction of the ABCDE grading that is meant to be across all student reports there should be further information on other subjects that should be equivalent across all of Australia that adds to that picture on schools and the performance of students. My parents would be concerned that schools are actually using that ABCDE measure consistently when they do those semester reports.
Senator Hanson Young —What is the opinion of the association in relation to concerns about teaching to the test and the evidence that we have seen from overseas where NAPLAN-style tests have been used and people report the narrowing of curriculum and the impact that has on individual students?
Ms Bagworth —We see that that has mainly been a consequence of the public publication of these results, which increases the accountability for the test results. It is not necessarily a consequence of NAPLAN but it is the fact that these NAPLAN results are then published publicly. Parents have reported instances where they have felt that the child’s classroom teacher was just constantly repeating work that they could expect in the test and were teaching to the test. They saw this result of the NAPLAN testing as a negative outcome. But that does not necessarily have to be a negative outcome. It is the way that the results are used that generates that.
Senator Hanson Young —Have you seen any increase in engagement by parents with their individual schools since My School became live?
Mrs Singer —We have seen and encouraged engagement around the NAPLAN reports. Within the ACT, in the first year of NAPLAN testing our parents got a short two-page report. The following year, after consultation with our local Minister for Education and Training, there was much more information given to parents in their NAPLAN reports, and those reports have generated conversation. When the My School website came out, that generated a different sort of conversation. The individual NAPLAN reports have a conversation about a child and what the child is learning. When the My School website came out it was: ‘Oh, our school is not performing very well on literacy. How are you going to improve it?’ So it is a different conversation with the two things.
Senator Hanson Young —But you have seen an increase?
Mrs Singer —Yes.