What is going on?

Treehorn Express:

Shared opinions soaked in knowledge & experience – all well tested.


What Is Going On?

For Parents

Many parents will have only heard of the word, NAPLAN, and wondered what it means and, perhaps, why it seems to be causing a lot of fuss? Why is it the cause of all the fuss?

This Treehorn Express here tries to provide a compendium of terms and issues and references for those who would like to understand and use the associated terms with more confidence during discussion with their child’s teacher or principal. This is for you, Mum or Dad.

NAPLAN is an acronym for National Assessment Program Literacy And Numeracy. It is a program that is fully controlled by the Federal Minister for Education. State Ministers are required to follow.

National – Every school in Australia is expected to provide pupils from Grades 3, 5, 7, 9 for testing during May each year. It is ‘expected’ that every child will participate. The tests themselves are compiled by a central authority. The scores are gathered by the same authority, which then makes various judgements about standards of schooling, pupil ability, teacher ability, administrative effectiveness. Scorers and measurement experts are in charge of the detail. While this notion breaches basic tenets of the principle of subsidiarity when applied to evaluation of pupil progress, it remains in force.

Assessment is the term applied to this gathering of scores and assignment of opinions for public information. Only political leaders are allowed to express an official opinion. The reliability and validity of the tests and their use in this manner for assessment purposes has been criticised by school-oriented expert statisticians and by classroom experienced educators. [See ‘testucators’ or ‘educators’] from around the world. The scores are released in September. Being so remote in time and distance from the measuring authority’s conclusions, the results are, obviously, of little use to anyone.

Program – Test construction has an range of sources. The Testing Industry, world-wide, is one of the most profitable. Once test questions have been purchased or arranged by the central authority, there is intense security in the arrangements made for testing procedures. Since 2008, Australian-issued tests have been of the paper-and-pencils variety. Pupils, for most of the tests, fill in ‘bubbles’ next to compiled questions. [Samples are readily available on-line and practice tests can be purchased. www.nap.edu.au ] Intense test practice is generally encouraged and supported in schools that want to get higher scores than some other school. Manipulation of testing administration’s orders is generally called ‘cheating’ and the guilty are ‘counselled’. Some details of such misdemeanours are available on-line in a subtle name-and-shame way. There has to be strict loyalty to good order and routine. Cheating on a wide scale, however, is approved and encouraged. That is : schools may practice as much as they like using published and supplied practice tests. That creates impure results, but it doesn’t matter.

Literacy refers to Reading, Writing and Language Conventions [once called ‘Grammar’]

Numeracy refers to the usual measureable mathematical basics.

History of Standardised Blanket Testing of which NAPLAN is a sample. Every now and then a cultural meme spreads around the world without apparent sponsorship. It could be a philosophical or political thought [e.g. Domino Theory, Reds under the bed, fascism, democracy], fashion statement [e.g. tattoos, torn jeans. long hair], health care [e.g. sun screen, water bottles] that cross national and cultural boundaries speedily in mysterious ways. Ever wondered? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme  Some are beneficial; some can be loosely classified as ‘peculiar’; some are downright dangerous.

One of the most dangerous educational meme was a persistent criticism of basic school achievements that spread world-wide during the nineties, sponsored and supported by corporate interests and managerial mis-fits. Increased enrolments at tertiary institutions had reduced the quality of the left-over intellectual pool, so businesses who had to hire lower level workers thought that schools were not doing their job properly. The meme spread. The previous scato-memo of the seventies had started for similar reasons. British University snobs could only handle top-quality intellectuals in their classes. When attendance of the mere-bright students grew through the 1960s and 70s and challenged their teaching ability, some academic British chappies wrote ‘The Black Papers’, a series that blamed schools for a fall in standards; then academic snobs in other countries adopted their forte. Australian children of this second decade of the 21st century are now tolerating the 1990s’ scatty notions of a New York macabre system, which based its schooling philosophy on left-overs from the 70s. Education policies, powered by stubborn political behaviour has yet to be successful in advanced countries.

Schooling per se has been a busy host to quite a number of memes over the past few decades. There have been some really beneficial ones that have assisted the delivery of the school curriculum. Some, such as Standardised Blanket Testing, however, are pure scato-memes, more scatological than epistemological. When the 1970s’ scato-meme cut loose, it had more drastic consequences for U.SA. and U.K. than anywhere else. In the U.S. the Black Papers ‘Back to Basics’ scato-meme of this time led to the destructive Minimal Competency Movement invented by legislators to control graduation requirements in almost all school districts in the USA. The establishment of the Assessment of Performance Unit in the U.K. at the same time, proved to be a very costly exercise that led to the cessation of the kinds of British-based classroom activities that the rest of the world envied. [The world described what the Brits had been doing by semantic tags like ‘Integrated Day’, ‘Open Plan’. ‘Freedom to Learn’, all sorts of tags. The Brits just went ahead, however, teaching with the belief that a child’s natural love for learning can be happily integrated with a deep-seated desire to learn more and to achieve to the limits of personal ability….forever. No tags.]

Over the centuries there have only been quixotic responses to such ‘school basics’ issues, powered by mediocrity-bound sciolists who move into control positions where they exert their coercive and reward powers on schools with such detrimental damage to children’s cognitive development, that it takes years to repair. As Forest Gump observed, “It happens.”

The term Standardised Blanket Testing ensures that exactly the same test is given to the same sort of school cohort at the same time, without account for individual, social or human differences. NAPLAN is the Australian version compiled by non-school measurers following strict orders… for three days each May. ‘National Standards’ tests, as they are called. are imposed on schools in New Zealand and the UK countries; NCLB [No Child Left Behind] and Race to the Top tests are names given to required SBTs in the U.S.A…..all the same dogs, different leg action. It’s a pandemic which only child-oriented curriculum-wise countries [e.g. Finland] have avoided. Finland decided to call a halt to schadenfreude-based teaching and think about how children learn best at school and then put the thoughts into action…. over 30 years ago. It now avoids SBTs, recognising their threat to learning outcomes. SBT is opposed in each and every GERM-ridden country by highly reputable educators whose concern for basic achievements and children’s love for learning is obvious. Testucators are a different brand of fish. In each GERM country, Testucators maintain a high-stakes testing climate as compliant glautiers and kleinists, who have suspended normal educational principles to follow, blindly, all government directions without question.

If enough serious teachers and loving parents said that they wanted to re-introduce child-oriented learning into schools, NAPLAN and its dysfunctional cohort or SBT-freaks would disappear forthwith. There is no doubt. Australia would take that Finnish step…and think.

Sadly, children in classrooms in each GERM country have no sincere advocacy. That’s the basic problem. They have been deserted by those they love and respect. Fictional Treehorn typifies a contemporary school child.

GERM stands for Global Education Reform Movement, a term that Pasi Sahlberg created to describe those countries that believe in the use of fear to motivate higher achievements in ‘basic’ subjects, that concentrate on basic subjects, high stakes testing and then construct opinions about teacher quality and school leadership based on children’s scores. As a rule, they compile SBT tests, then write curriculum material without learning in mind, without classroom knowledge of the teaching-learning, pupilling exchanges. GERM-infected SBT relies on zombic functionalism to survive.

By the way, Mum and Dad, we imported the current Australian GERM system of schooling direct from New York with little to no modification. Fear-based, it was the modus operandi of a NY lawyer called Joel Klein who [as some American states are wont to do with inexperienced ‘know-it-alls’] was placed in charge of a large school district. His fearsome tactics, based on the coercions surrounding test performance. worked to a degree for a while, so much so that he was head-hunted by Rupert Murdoch to run his test publishing industry, worth billions. Get the connection? Klein proudly claims ownership of the Australian system. We call it Kleinism in his honour. He must be proud of how Julia, his protege protects it.

One day we might be able to have a system all of our own….based on love for learning and for achievement, teaching our children how to test their own progress as they are self-motivated towards high-level personal achievements while they outreach their diverse learning needs.

Let’s try a “Love for…..” rather than NAPLAN’s “Fear of….” credo, when we talk about schooling. One day SBTs will go! It’s up to you, as to how quickly. You’re a voter.


The seventh heresy is the apparent belief that the sole purpose of education is academic achievement. High marks, good test scores – that’s all that matters. No one denies the central importance of academic achievement in schools. But it is not all that matters. not historically. Schools are places where children come together to learn, and it turns out that the coming together is as important as the learning. Or rather the coming together enables learning of a different kind – establishing an identity among peers, taking responsibility for one’s own actions, learning to tolerate and maybe appreciate diversity, balancing one’s own interests and desires with a sense of the common good. A good education helps children become competent, wise, and just. Competence is not enough. Our education system efforts need to be informed by a deeper and more spacious conception of teaching and learning.

Reducing the potential richness of a child’s education to a standardized test score is indeed heretical.”

Tom Sobo, former N.Y. State Commissioner of Education. 2003. http://practicaltheory.org/serendipity/index.php?url=archives/757-A-Smarter-Mind-than-Mine-Takes-on-NCLB8serendipity[cview]=linear


Let’s make sure that NAPLAN eradication becomes a top election issue.

Click: ‘Care for Kids’

Phil Cullen

January 31 2013



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