–National tests for year one students under government plan

September 17, 2017

All year one students would undergo national tests in reading and maths under a federal government proposal. 

Education Minister Simon Birmingham wants to see students screened in a “light touch” test to better detect kids with learning difficulties.

Education system questioned after NAPLAN results

Despite billions in extra funding, the latest NAPLAN test shows children’s reading and math skills aren’t improving.

The federal government first flagged checks for year one students in 2016, before commissioning an expert panel to provide advice on implementation.

The report, headed by Centre for Independent Studies senior research fellow Jennifer Buckingham, was presented to states and territories last Friday and publicly released on Monday. Education ministers will meet in December to further discuss the plan, which could be fully implemented as early as 2019. 

While many schools assess students in the first year of school to pick up developmental issues, there is no nationally consistent process. 

“The first time we have any national assessment is in year three [with the NAPLAN test],” Dr Buckingham said. “Year three is actually very late to intervene if there is a problem.” 

The report calls for screening of basic literacy and numeracy skills “around the middle” of the second year of schooling.

The literacy component would focus on “phonics” or decoding words, which Dr Buckingham said was a strong predictor of later reading ability. The report recommends Australia models its phonics assessment on the United Kingdom’s test, which lists words like “beg”, “sum”, “vap” and “osk” and asks students which ones are real. 

The numeracy component would focus on “number sense” and “position/location”. Dr Buckingham said students might be asked a question like, “here are five objects, can you add two more?” Or to show an understanding of how things fit on a grid.

The report says the testing should be done in a one-on-one setting, with a teacher the child knows. Students would give oral answers, which teachers would plug into an online app that could deliver results quickly to schools and parents. All up, Dr Buckingham said the testing would take between 10 and 15 minutes.

Unlike the NAPLAN results which are then used to compare schools in league tables, school-level data would not be publicly available for the year one assessment. 

The proposal, which is yet to score the approval of states and territories, suggests trials are conducted before the literacy tests start in term three 2018 and numeracy tests begin in term three 2019.

The push for national testing comes amid growing concern about Australian student standards. About one in 20 year three students in 2016 did not meet the national minimum standard for reading or numeracy. According to the Program for International Student Assessment in 2015, 18 per cent of Australian 15-year-olds were low performers in reading proficiency by international standards. More than 20 per cent of 15-year-olds were low performers in mathematical literacy. 

Senator Birmingham said the tests would mean students “don’t slip through the cracks”. 

“These skills checks are not expected to be a confronting test but rather a light touch assessment that ensures teachers, parents and schools know at the earliest possible stage if children aren’t picking up reading or counting skills as quickly as they should, enabling them to intervene rapidly.”

The Australian Education Union has previously expressed concern about the idea of tests for year one students, saying schools already had assessment processes in place and extra tests were not necessary. 

Labor’s education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek said the “most important thing” was that kids who were struggling got the individual attention they needed to catch up. 

“It’s hard to see how that can happen while the Liberals fail to give our schools the support they deserve,” she said. “The government has had this report since April, so it’s about time it was being released.” 

A Victorian government spokesperson said the state government would consider the findings of the report. Victorian government schools already conduct an online English and maths “interview” in the first year of school. 

“Any consideration of new or additional national approaches to formative assessment should be informed both by a full consideration of current state and territory practices and by the full report of recommendations from the Gonski 2.0 Review due to report in March 2018,” the spokesperson said.

How would the tests work? 

  • Conducted in term three of year one
  • One-on-one with a teacher the child knows
  • Be short enough to accommodate a young child’s attention span
  • Focus on “phonics” (decoding words) and numeracy 
  • Students to give oral answers, with teachers to score responses via an app – #1 News in a FLASH

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