The Billion Dollar Blunder

The Treehorn  Express

[Maintained by NZ educator Allan Alach]

 Treehorn is the hero of a masterful children’s book The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Heidi Parry that cleverly illustrates adult concerns for the welfare of school children. The little fellow kept shrinking and became so small that he could walk upright under his bed. Nobody – nobody – his parents, his teacher, his principal took any real interest in his well-being.except for an occasional nod. The message is a clear and simple one for all parents of school children, for less-than-ethical teachers and principals who just don’t care enough.



The Billion Dollar Blunder

Yes. NAPLAN testing has cost the Australian taxpayer over a billion dollars just to test Years 3,5,7.9 once every year without showing a positive result of any kind. Having drowned our schools in data-driven trivia, the experience is now recorded in our history as an exceptional waste of human resources, effort and public money. Our contemporary cohort of school children have been seriously short-changed and they may never recover the spirit of learning that should have been theirs. For one-third of each of the past 5 school years, serious efforts at learning challenges have been placed on a back-burner and parents’ money has been ill-used. The price is vast…and not just in money terms. It’s time to tidy-up.

MONEY  Mr. Swan and Mr. Garrett. Wouldn’t this amount of money be better used by [a] implementing the recommendations of the GONSKI in full at any early date ? or [b] restoring the ‘kids’ bonus’ in a better shape than it is now? or [c] running high-impact Asian language classes during after-school hours.  {There’s not much room in the school day for any more add-ons, is there?. You’re pushing your luck with school management arrangements, fellas]  Do you like creating stress?

The $540million+ federal costs,  supplemented by millions from each state’s budget, are too much to pay for a zilch return. The waste has been shameful. If you bothered to gather all the financial data starting with the cost of ACARA and the costs of various federal and state agencies that supervise the activities, then adding the publishing, correction and technology costs, the expenses of maintaining a vigilante force, the administrative time of principals and their schools…. and presented a detailed balance sheet, you will be surprised yourselves. The public deserves to know how much. Despite the difficulty of extracting genuine totals  from the myriad accounting mechanisms in various localities, surely a reasonably accurate picture can be drawn. Can we Australia citizens please see a balance sheet?

Surely a few competent auditors can do a cost analysis within a short time frame.

If, at the same time, an investigative education-oriented journalist or sociologist  or curious student, was to follow the caprices of NAPLAN’s founder, Joel Klein A.O. now test-publisher and on-line marketeer, NAPLAN would finish tomorrow; although there is some considerable doubt that the Australia press would bother to highlight the outcomes of such a news item.

The Washington Post article of 24 Oct. How to save taxpayers billions of $$- really  commences “Companies that create and administer standardized tests are making a fortune in this era of test-based accountability, and business keeps growing.”


 This image, found on Bruce Hammonds’  , represents a NAPLAN testucating machine, illustrating what happens to school children when they are subjected to the routines of test preparation and practice. Within its bowels, individual competencies and interests in various parts of the curriculum are crunched, re-modelled and replaced by exercises and practice routines that promote one-size-for-all outcomes. Holistic school systems based on pupilling, that recognises individuality in all school learnings and routine subjects and emphasise and celebrate personal achievement  become a thing of the past.  The illustration recognises that each child is different in so many ways when they arrive at a GERM-supported school. The NAPLAN machinery, installed by order of the government,  crushes their individual interests and  the teacher- sponsored subject-based challenges, giving way to the dull ‘one-size-fits-all’ routines of the measureable aspects of literacy and numeracy. Aiming its standards-arrow at the middle of the tree instead of the top, its products are usually mediocre, as the past five years of NAPLAN, Australia’s testucating-based version of GERM, have clearly demonstrated.

In the Washington Post article, Marion Brady asks us to suspend our thoughts about money for a moment, and think about the effects [of this machine called NAPLAN ]: Okay Marion. You want us to our base money thoughts and….“Think about the long-term consequences of taking control of kids’ minds away from homes and parents, away from neighbourhood schools and teachers and handing it over to people for whom quality education is far down the list of priorities, if it appears at all.”

Yes. Think about it – all you Australian and New Zealand testucators in schools and you non-school supporters of high-stakes testing. You are costing us adults a lot of money and our kids some critical years of  their development by denying them the  chance to achieve the highest of heights at their own rate…not yours.

Tell Her Immenseness that, if the only two goals of the Australian education system is to learn an Asian language and to be in ‘the top 5 by 25’, then she needs to drop NAPLAN quickly. LOTE is extremely demanding and….If  Her Immenseness  is so entranced by the peculiar PISA  international tests then the system had better produce some high-quality learners, not mediocre, cubed test-takers.  PISA is a piece of cake for learners.

NAPLAN must finish asap. The alternative is very, very scary.  When the government recklessly dumps further curriculum additives on schools without school-based consultation, things can go crazy. Serious choices have to be made.

Marion Brady concludes his article : “After our sick fascination with testing and ranking has run its course, after we finally decide to listen to real experts rather than politicians….after the best teachers have been driven out of the profession; after math and reading drills have replaced productive childhood play, art, music, and other forms of personality development, creativity and ingenuity; after all the non-standardized kids are out on the street with nothing to show for the work they’ve done, after a bedrock of real democracy has been destroyed rather than thoughtfully enhanced, attention may be paid.

But the damage, irreversible, will have been done.”


Check and read the submissions to the Senate Committee of Inquiry into Teaching and Learning


Says Esther Quintero : “A colleague of mine recently wrote that “NCLB  ‘…has helped to institutionalize the improper interpretation of testing data’ True. But I would go even further. NCLB has helped to institutionalize not just how to handle data, but also, and more importantly, what counts as data.”   Esther Quintero,22 Oct. 2012 [See Allan Alach’s ;’Readings’.]

Greg Thompson’s research becomes particularly relevant for Australia ! “Since when” Esther Q. asks “ are qualitative data unacceptable in social and behavioural science research and as a guide in policy-relevant decision-making?”  Dr Thompson’s work reveals a disturbing level of pessimism amongst NAPLAN workers.

Yes. There are greater truths in opinions and  observations than in gathering data by force.

Recommended Links


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