The NAPLAN results of Australian school children have remained relatively steady despite a rise in withdrawal rates according to the annual NAPLAN report released by the Australian Curriculum Assessment Authority (ACARA) today.
The 2014 NAPLAN National Report has revealed that, relative to 2008 and 2013, student achievement has remained steady for each year level and most domains. It reported moderate increases in reading achievement, relative to 2008, for students in Years 3 and 5, and a moderate decrease in the writing performance of Years 3, 5 and 7s.
This year also marks the first time the progression of a cohort of school students that undertook the NAPLAN test from Year 3 to 9 can be tabled, as those that sat the test as Year 3 students in 2008, sat it for the final time as Year 9 students in 2014.
Following the preliminary report in August, the national report provides comparable data for the 2014 national and state/territory results for each year level – 3, 5, 7 and 9 – and for each test domain – reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and numeracy. It also gives comparisons of national and state/territory achievement in each year and test domain between 2008 (2011 for persuasive writing) to 2014 and 2012 to 2014.
This year’s report showed the level of withdrawals, where a student was deliberately kept from sitting NAPLAN, were at a record high. The withdrawal rate for Year 9 reading and numeracy recorded one of the greatest rises, up 1.4% since 2010.
Dr Stanley Rabinowitz, ACARA’s General Manager, Assessment & Reporting, called on parents to have their children participate in NAPLAN, and said all parties are better off getting the information the test provides.
“Parents who do not allow their children to sit for this test are not getting the benefit of a second set of eyes on how well their children are doing,” he said. “Schools are not getting that benefit, and the trends that we’re presenting are still 95%, which is normal attendance, are still fully valid but not as complete as they could be.”
To combat the rise in student withdrawals Dr Rabinowitz said ACARA would emphasise the value of NAPLAN test results and why they’re important, not just for the state and territories but for the schools and the students, and show how the information can be positively used.
“The best strategy for a school is to understand the value of these results and to make students comfortable as they sit for this test and not put undue pressure on them.”
ACARA’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Randall said although the results show steady student achievement, there are some great examples of sustained effort and improvement in school level results, which will be evident when the My School website is updated in March 2015. www.myschool.edu.au
Australian school students will sit their NAPLAN tests online from 2017 which has been touted to be able to provide better assessment, more precise results and a faster turnaround of information.
There has been significant recent press coverage given to the decline in the number of students taking advanced maths or science subjects both in the later years of secondary schooling and at university. Read more
Renowned author and educator, Dr Pasi Sahlberg, visited Australia this year and spoke about the need to value teachers, the ‘excellent’ Gonski model and why it makes sense to invest in equity. During his visit he spoke with Education Matters magazine’s Kathryn Edwards.
Bob Burstow looks at what could be done to make continuing professional development more appropriate and effective.
Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to take a very small sample of the variety of continuing professional development (cpd) practices around the world. A group of Education Masters students I was teaching happened have representatives from almost every major land-mass around the world and, as they were all practising teachers, this was too good a chance to miss.
The outcome was fascinating. The range of experience about as diverse as you could imagine. It ranged from “nothing” in some European countries (typically those where initial teacher education lasts for more than five years), to a written exam every three years (in South Korea) to check that the teacher was keeping up with developments in their subject area. In between there was a wide-ranging set of accounts given to the group as we shared our countries varying approaches, with very little obvious commonality.
Looking at this range in another way, the most frequent comments made about cpd fell into three categories:
Teachers have to attend imposed professional development programmes to introduce them to a new technique, recent development or process. This was not always related directly to teaching or pedagogy – it might, for example be an update about the correct use of Epi-pens or a new form of data collection or pupil monitoring. What was noticeable was the treatment of all teachers as identical for the purposes of the training – “one presentation fits all”.
More rarely there were accounts of professional development based on developing and increasing shared knowledge, through coaching or seminar groups. These, in their turn, ranged from an imposed system, where the coach or seminar chairperson was invariably a senior leadership team member (and hence acted as an evangelist for the school vision) to a much more egalitarian, process and knowledge driven, organisation – which allowed staff members to develop their own expertise and to make decisions about the usefulness of any newly considered development (I was struck both by the account of seminar/study groups in Singapore as well as some of the more whole-hearted implementations of Teacher Learning Communities (see the SecEd article – http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/the-potential-of-teacher-learning-communities-in-education – for one example).
Many of those who responded commented on the lack of time or inclination for any impact evaluation on the practice of the teachers who had taken part. There seemed often to be a desire to deliver the course and then move on to the next good idea, with little pause between one innovation and the next. The most obvious effect of this, said my students, was innovation overload and the continuous dropping of one new approach in favour of the next, to no perceptible outcome.
This, then, is the professional development world as related to me by 45 enthusiastic and committed young teachers from around the world in January 2014. (You will have noticed, of course, that they were all also taking part in some significant professional development – as masters students at my university – and so made the sample subject to considerable bias – but this was hardly a rigorous piece of research.)
What is beyond doubt is the importance attached to professional development for teachers by most countries education policy makers. What is not so obvious is why this should be so. What is the purpose of all these courses and sessions? How can the purpose be best identified and then matched with the most appropriate solution?
It is these questions that I intend to address here.
Before trying for a solution, a little more ground-work is needed. Consider these three issues:
Firstly, what does this wide range of cpd programmes tell us about the view held about teachers and teaching?
It is possible to identify the standard two extremes from these accounts. The seminar and Teacher Learning Community approach tends towards a view of teachers as independent, informed professionals, who are very capable of making sensible enquiries and considered decisions.
The imposed, all teachers are the same, instruction sessions suggest a view of teachers as technicians, there to carry out instructions without question or discussion.
So the method of delivery may betray the viewpoint of the course organiser. The issue, I suggest, is not that this variety of stance exists – rather whether it has been consciously considered as a factor at the design and preparation stage of the cpd. The course content may be important and need to be “delivered” to all teachers – but to jump from there to treating every staff member as identical is a false move and not one that any thoughtful teacher would ever do in the planning of their own lessons. Why, therefore, should this be applied to cpd?
Secondly, what is the direction of the cpd? Is it being imposed (by government, district or school principal) in a top-down manner – or is it of a shared, collaborative nature and hence bottom-up in its origin and development?
You will be able to think of examples of both from the accounts at the start of this article and from your own experience. Again, it is not the existence of these contrasting methods that is a cause for concern. The question here is whether the direction was ever considered during the planning and development phase of the individual cpd programmes.
It is tempting to suggest that the answer to this question is “No” – that cpd developers will tend to stick to their own comfort zone and familiar practices, rather than considering what might be the most effective approach to maximise the required effect (which begs the question about how much the consultant or course designer has considered outcomes).
Thirdly – and weaving through the whole of these accounts – is the issue of the content, and the thought that has been given to that.
My particular concern is that constant stream of “good ideas” or “new developments” or “important new techniques and approaches” that schools are flooded with. Consultants, governments and others alike are encouraging or demanding teachers to adopt their ideas.
What consideration is given to the validity or the provenance of these inspiring ideas? How is the average, pressured teacher (or indeed principal) supposed to distinguish the genuinely innovative idea from the false?
So, given the identified problem of cpd today and the three contextualising issues – what might be done to make cpd more appropriate and effective?
These suggestions may be familiar to many. The variety of practices around the world that were identified in my quick and dirty sample (earlier in this article) make it a near certainty that some regions and districts may already be doing this. However, nearly 40 years of experience in England suggest that what I am proposing here is rare. More commonly, senior leadership teams in England are faced with a series of training “slots” in the year planner, which need populating – and a number of ideas and initiatives that need to be implemented. The result of this is often a series of disconnected and isolated training sessions that introduce staff to a series of ideas. More adventurous schools may be trying a form of Teacher Learning Community but which too frequently is hijacked by senior leaders in the school who require specific areas of school practice (developmental needs as perceived by them) to form the working agenda for the groups.
What follows is an actual example of the developmental route that I am proposing:
1. The school identified a group (in this case the senior team in a school teaching 5 to 11 year olds – about 220 pupils) responsible for designing cpd and gave them the tools and the time to prepare a coherent plan.
2. The team initially focussed on the desired outcome from the cpd. This might be, for example, “raising the level of teaching in the school to outstanding” (this is in the terminology of the school inspectorate). It may be – as here – too vague or ambitious to be readily addressed, so a period of discussion may be needed to render the original idealistic aim more readily addressable. In this example the team stepped back from their initial objective to consider what blocks and hindrances were preventing this goal being reached. They decided that a major factor was a teaching staff who had become over-reliant on top-down advice and reassurance, almost to the point of helplessness and a high aversion to risk and failure. So the outcome was revised – to improve self-reliance and an active enquiry among all the teaching and classroom-based support staff. The initial objective was still present, but the actual outcome of the cpd programme was more realistic, attainable and (importantly) open to evaluation.
This latter is highly significant. If the outcome is not clearly defined, then how can cpd participants or school leaders know whether it has been achieved? Unless the outcome is clearly defined, how is it possible to accurately evaluate its impact?
3. The next stage is toconsider how the potential participants are positioned with respect to the proposed outcome. To assume that all teachers are equally knowledgeable or ignorant is obviously incorrect. It is not an assumption that any teacher would make about their pupils. Indeed, to view cpd in the same terms as lesson planning – in terms of differentiation, say – is another way of raising the awareness of the planning group to the demands that face them.
(I was intrigued to learn recently of a school who require all staff, up to and including the principal, to deliver any in-house cpd session in a way that models an outstanding lesson. This is a challenge – especially to all those deeply reliant on PowerPoint – but is still missing the point – by still being focussed on the mechanics of the cpd sessions rather than the deep developmental part of the process.)
Consideration of the variety of starting points, in terms of expertise in the field that is the subject of the outcome, will then allow for a meaningful discussion about the actual cpd sessions themselves. In the example, it was realised that the Early Years teachers – who, in England, are constantly observing and recording their pupils’ behaviours, work and approaches to learning and other children – were in a different league when it comes to enquiring into their own classroom practice. This immediately focussed attention onto the contribution that they could make in discussion and analysis. It also had a marked effect on the final content of the introductory sessions for the resulting cpd programme
4. The penultimate stage in this process (which is so often the first in many planning meetings) is to decide what form the cpd should take. Questions that might now be considered include:
What is the time that will be needed to deliver this programme? A whole school year in our example. It was immediately apparent that this was not an outcome that could be addressed in a one hour twilight session. It also meant that the whole staff were focussed on one aspect of their development over the whole year.
Is the cpd best delivered by an in-house team, or is an external expert/facilitator a better solution? In the case of the example the answer was “Both”. I was invited in, as a university lecturer, to introduce the staff to the idea of classroom enquiry. We also discussed possible methodologies for observing learning in a class. There was also a hidden agenda in the layout of the programme – early sessions were delivered in a largely didactic and familiar cpd format – but this changed over the year so that the meeting where teachers brought back the results of their observations for discussion and advice was run by the teachers themselves as a series of floating discussions within the framework of a poster session – teachers presented their findings and questions on a poster that everyone else was invited to write on with answers or comments. This promoted extensive and intense discussion among small groups that changed as staff moved from poster to poster.
What obstacles to success can be diminished? Time and capacity are always issues in cpd – in this case the head employed an extra 0.5 of a teacher for the year. This time was available to all staff on request so that they could take the time to observe their pupils without trying to teach at the same time.
5. The final stage (and the most frequently ignored – despite the work of Guskey and others) is to plan the evaluation of the programme. Most often the only visible evaluation is the reaction sheet handed out at the end of a cpd session, which is little more than a knee-jerk response to the session itself and too often reflects the mismatch between the content and the existing knowledge of the participant.
I have found that evaluation over a longer time serves not only to provide an opportunity for progress towards the outcome to be assessed, but can also act as an extension of the cpd. By this I mean that it acts a reminder to participants about the programme, encourages them to keep considering its relevance and may provide an incentive to seriously work at embedding what they have learned in their continuing practice.
It is my experience that cpd in schools is often too short term, too reactive, too prescriptive and too varied to stand a chance of making a significant impact.
To stand a chance of improving success – and hence being demonstrably cost-effective (we have to keep the accountants happy) – cpd should be: well-planned, carefully paced and thoroughly evaluated (preferably before yet another new idea is introduced to the school).
There is one final thought – and this is for every teacher, everywhere. Do we not owe it to ourselves and more importantly to the children we teach to maintain our own reading and learning so that we can discriminate between the genuinely useful innovation and the quick sure-fire cures of the “snake-oil salesmen”?
Bob Burstow spent much of his working life as a teacher of 11-18 year olds. During that time he became involved in the first use of computers in schools (in the 1980s) and at that time first questioned the effectiveness of cpd provision for teachers and began to produce materials to reflect on and address his concerns. Upon moving into teacher education at Kings College, London in 2007 he was able to focus on this long held concern and now researches, lectures and publishes in this field.
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has announced an additional $5.4 billion will be provided for primary and secondary schools across Victoria under a re-elected Coalition Government.
Dr Napthine said the Coalition Government had a comprehensive plan to build a better education system for a smarter Victoria.
“Kids are our future,” he said. “Our plan will deliver better facilities and better learning experiences for all young Victorians, whether they are pre-school children in early learning centres or students who are in their late teens and completing VCE.
“We will invest $1.2 billion in new schools and school upgrades over the next four years, because we know that having access to new, modern learning facilities helps young people reach their full potential – this investment will fund more than 200 school infrastructure projects around the state.
“We will also deliver on our commitment to deliver additional funding through the Better Schools Agreement with the Commonwealth Government. This means we will provide an additional $4.2 billion for primary and secondary education over the next four years.”
“The Government has had four years to invest in Victoria’s public education system,” she said. “Instead he has created a significant backlog of problems across the state. He should have been addressing those issues while he was in government, but he’s failed to do that.
“His cuts have seen programs in schools disappear, TAFEs have been decimated and his Government has denied the promised additional funding from Gonski that our students and schools desperately need.”
Peace also highlighted the urgent maintenance needs of schools and lack of funding for new school buildings during Napthine’s term of government.
“Schools are facing problems with gutters, with rooves, with toilets,” she said. “We should have new schools in growth corridors up and running now.
“The Premier’s announcement today does little to address the significant needs of schools. $1.2 billion over four years for capital works represent $668 million less than what Labor spent over their last four years in Government.
“Premier Napthine knows that the real story about Gonski is his refusal to transparently allocate hundreds of millions of dollars of additional federal funding to schools. Victorian educators and parents need a government that will invest in Victorian children and provide the resources schools need to deliver programs and support for their students.”
Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews has previously announced the Victorian Labor Government will reintroduce Tech Schools and boost the state’s TAFE system with a $320 million cash injection.
The Victorian election will be held on Saturday 29th November.