Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Two

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 2

Fidelity to Truth in Educational Discourse

‘We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because the lie is more comfortable.’  Solzhenitzyn

In his book “Truth: A Guide” Simon Blackburn, editor of the “Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy,” concisely states that truth is “the control of belief by fact.”  Seems quite simple!  But in his book Blackburn outlines the many battles fought over what truth is over the course of at least the last two millennia by many philosophers, thinkers and writers.  Almost all the well-known names of the Western canon—Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Hume, Descartes, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein to name just a few, can be sorted into differing alethiological camps.  Anyone who has studied the subject soon understands that determining a final answer to the question “What is truth” more likely than not realizes that it is quite difficult to firmly answer (not counting those of a faith belief tradition who claim to have “The Truth”) and that perhaps the best way to address the subject is to just leave it alone (a minimalist position).

But just leaving truth alone is not feasible for a study such as this.  Far too many believe that they have truth, however they determine it, on their side. At the same time many mistake expediency for truth.  What happens when it is shown that their truths are actually falsehoods and their conclusions are invalid and that the results of their false beliefs and practices are unjust and harm the most innocent of society, the children?

Yes, truth matters!

Realizing that all truths are contextual not only in time, space and experience this study is limited to examining the veracity of claims of truth and validity (for how can something be truthful if it is not valid?) for the fundamental positions upon which educational practices of today are based.  The educational practices examined—grading, educational standards and standardized testing–in this study are found overall to be riddled with error therefore lacking in validity and truth.

The flip side of truth is error.  Truth implies that something is without error.  How does the concept of error play into the discussion of truth?  Noel Wilson elaborates: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”  In other words all the logical errors involved in the aforementioned educational practices render any conclusions invalid.

Now, let’s delve into Comte-Sponville’s concept of “fidelity to truth.”  What is meant by fidelity to truth, that of being faithful/true to truth?  Preliminarily and primarily, Comte-Sponville states “All fidelity is—whether to a value or to a person—is fidelity to love and through love.”  Since he considers love to be the greatest and hardest to achieve virtue that statement rightly precedes all his other thoughts on the subject.  We can follow that up with the consideration that fidelity is the “will to remember” truthfully and that fidelity “resists forgetfulness, changing fashions and interests, the charms of the moment, the seductions of power.”  Fidelity to truth means “refusing to change one’s ideas in the absence of strong, valid reasons, and. . . it means holding as true. . . ideas whose truth has clearly and solidly established.”  At the same time fidelity to truth means rejecting discourse that has been shown to have errors, falsehoods and invalidities.  However, “Being faithful to one’s thoughts more than to truth would mean being unfaithful to thought and condemning oneself to sophistry.”  To be unfaithful to truth, to be in error, then is to reject that which makes honest communications, policies and practices cogent and a human good, a virtue.

The characteristics of truth in public educational discourse can be understood as encompassing fidelity to truth in the following:

  • Speech and/or writing accurately describes policies, practices and outcomes (discourse).
  • Using the correct/intended meaning of a word in light of the context.
  • Discourse serves to enlighten and not obscure meaning.
  • Discourse is free of contradictions, error and falsehoods.
  • The “control of belief by fact” (S. Blackburn).
  • Discourse is based in skeptical rationo-logical thought processes in which a “scientific attitude” holds sway.
  • Discourse based on/in faith conventions is eschewed and rejected outright due to separation of church and state constitutional concerns.
  • Discourse of expediency based on the rationalizations of “Everyone is doing this”, “It is dictated by the State Department of Education” or “NCLB mandates that we have to do this” is firmly and rightly rejected.

In rejecting expediency over truth as a guide to or rationale of instituting practices that are based on fundamental errors and falsehoods resulting in invalid conclusions that many times harm students, we should keep in mind Hanna Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil.” She concluded that the Holocaust did not occur because of the monstrosity, the evil of the people involved but by the small everyday functioning of ordinary people, perhaps at best not knowing of or at worst of turning a willing blind eye to the results of their daily task along with the daily work of others that compounded into the atrocities of the Holocaust.  The vast majority of “Good Germans”, including Eichmann, believed that they were just following orders as they had been brought up (educated) to do.  Eichmann even believed that he was “saving” as many Jews as he could by instituting certain procedures.

Now, I am not suggesting that some of our current public education laws, policies and practices are the equivalent of the Holocaust.  What I am pointing out is that in order for everyday banal evils to occur, as with some public education practices that cause harm to innocents and that do not allow for students to enjoy their constitutional mandated benefits and rights in utilizing public education, are made possible by teachers, administrators, boards of education, state departments of education, the federal department of education, etc., many have to and have put expediency over truth.  And in putting expediency, especially expediency of self-interest, over truth we regrettably allow unjust practices to flourish and cause untold harm and psychological violence to be perpetrated against the students who have little means to refute and reject such malpractices.

As Comte-Sponville puts it:  “Should we therefore forgo our self-interest? Of course not. But it [self-interest] must be subordinate to justice, not the other way around. . . . To take advantage of a child’s naivete . . . in order to extract from them something [test scores, personal information] that is contrary to their interests, or intentions, without their knowledge [or consent of parents] or through coercion [state mandated testing], is always and everywhere unjust even if in some places and under certain circumstances it is not illegal. . . . Justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number [quoting Rawls]. To what could justice legitimately be sacrificed, since without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy? And in the name of what, since without justice even humanity, happiness and love could have no absolute value? . . .  Without justice, values would be nothing more than (self) interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.”  [my additions]

And in speaking of justice one must consider its various meanings and aspects and how it plays out in examining educational malpractices.  Which I shall begin in the following chapter. 

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter One

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 1

The Purpose of Public Education

‘Honesty is the first chapter in wisdom’ Jefferson

Ask any teacher or administrator “What is the purpose of public education?” and more likely than not they will recite their district’s mission statement, perhaps one as succinct as the Nebo School District’s in Utah We engage, empower, and collaborate to ensure student success.”  Or perhaps it more typically reads like this one from a rural Missouri district “The mission of the Warren County R-III School District is to empower each child to fully reach his or her potential as a life-long learner, a responsible adult and a contributing member of a diverse society.”  Or it may even come with a disclaimer as this long mission statement from a Pennsylvania district:

Mission Statement

The Mission Statement, Beliefs, and Goals presented below are the result of work completed by Cumberland Valley School District’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee. These philosophy statements are not an attempt to state how things are, but rather are intended to give impetus and direction toward meeting the needs of all children who attend the schools of this district now and in the future.

Our Mission

The Cumberland Valley School District, in collaboration with students, educators, parents and the community, is committed to developing 21st century learning and thinking skills through a rigorous, relevant, and comprehensive curriculum, while preparing students to be innovative, productive citizens in an interconnected world. (italics in original)

Does each mission statement, being used as a proxy for the fundamental purpose of public education, help fulfill the fundamental purpose of public education?  What is that fundamental purpose and where can it usually be found?  Is there even a fundamental purpose?  To answer the last question first, it depends!  Well, what does it depend on then? In answering that question we also answer the where question—the constitution of each state.

But there’s a catch, not every state constitution gives a purpose for its authorization of public education.  It’s a 50/50 split with 25 states not giving any purpose such as West Virginia’s authorization “The Legislature shall provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.” (Article XII, Sec. 12-1) and 25 states providing a rationale.

Those 25 rationales can be divided into three types.  Those that declare that the purpose of public education is to ensure that the state’s form of government will continue, such as South Dakota’s “The stability of a republican form of government depending on the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools. . . .” (Article VIII  § 1).  Those whose fundamental purpose focuses on the individual and his/her rights such as Missouri’s “A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools . . . .” (Article IX Sec. 1a)  And those that are a combination of both.  As it is, fifteen mainly focus on the benefits of public education to the individual citizen and the preservation of his/her rights, five on the benefit to the state and five that state both citizen and government benefits.

All together then, there are 25 states with no stated fundamental purpose, five with a purpose that extol the benefits of public education to the state, fifteen commending the benefits to the individual and five a combination of benefit to both state and individual, resulting in 80% of those with a stated purpose of having the benefits for the individual as the primary rationale.  Is it possible, then, to discern a fundamental purpose of public education?  Yes, I believe it can be ascertained, by starting with the fundamental purpose of government in this country as stated in each state’s constitution (sometimes as troublesome to recognize a stated purpose as that of public education).  Since public education is a function of each state and not the federal government we must begin at the state level to determine what the fundamental purpose of the state is.  In examining the constitutions one finds that there many and varied exhortations.

For example Alabama’s constitution states:  “Objective of government. That the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.” (Section 35)  Or this from Nebraska “All persons are by nature free and independent, and have certain inherent and inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the right to keep and bear arms for security or defense of self, family, home, and others, and for lawful common defense, hunting, recreational use, and all other lawful purposes, and such rights shall not be denied or infringed by the state or any subdivision thereof. To secure these rights, and the protection of property, governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Art. I, sec. 1)

All well and good, eh!  Quite compelling is the Missouri constitution’s wording on the purpose of government:  “That all constitutional government is intended to promote the general welfare of the people; that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry; that all persons are created equal and are entitled to equal rights and opportunity under the law; that to give security to these things is the principal office of government, and that when government does not confer this security, it fails in its chief design.” (Article. II, Sec. 4. § 3.)

Tying together the aims of our constitutional government with the purpose of public education as stated in some of the state’s constitution allows us to propose a common fundamental statement of purpose. Since 20 of the 25 state constitutions give a reason attending to the rights and liberties of the individual through public education combined with the mandate of state constitutional government as reflected in Missouri’s constitutional language of “That all constitutional government is intended to promote the general welfare of the people; that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry. . .” it follows that the rights and liberties of the individual in being educated as each sees fit supersede those of supporting and maintaining the government.  And that one can logically conclude that if the educational wants and needs of the citizens obtain then those of the state will follow.  But without an educated citizenry who can promote their own interests, and who can understand and tolerate others thoughts, opinions and desires, the state would surely be subject to tyranny by those whose knowledge and wants exceeds most.

I propose, then, the following statement of the purpose of public education with which, hopefully, most in the United States could agree:

“The purpose of public education is to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.”

Any educational practice that is shown to hinder, block and/or otherwise cause an individual to not be able to indulge in any of aspect of his/her rights as stated has to be considered as harmful and unjust not only to the individual but also to society and therefore must rightly be condemned as educational malpractice and ought to be immediately discontinued.  Trampled rights are rights that are non-existent and the educational malpractice that tramples any right is unjust and as noted in Alabama’s constitution “is usurpation and oppression” and as Missouri’s declares “. . . when government does not confer this security, it fails in its chief design.

I contend that many of today’s federal and state mandates and even long standing educational practices are, indeed, malpractices that trample the rights of the most innocent in society, the children, the students of all ages attending public schools, in essence “it [public education] fails in its chief design.”  Should the government through the public schools be sorting, separating, ranking, and/or grading students through logically bankrupt invalid practices discriminating against some while rewarding others?  I contend it should not!  Where is the justice in discriminatory practices?  By evaluating those malpractices against the aforementioned purpose we will be able to ascertain whether or not they are just.

In what follows concepts of truth and Sponville’s “fidelity to truth” will be illuminated, justice concerns will be discussed, professional ethical issues delineated, and the error and falsehood filled conceptual bases of standards and measurement and grading as now used in public education will be elaborated.  It will be shown how using the epistemologically and ontologically bankrupt schemes of grading, educational standards and standardized testing come together in causing untold psychological harm to the students, discriminating against some students while rewarding others and begetting structural injustice causing public schools to “fail in their chief design.

In which Piglet looks for a 21st Century Education Part 1

By Kelvin Smythe

(Originally published in Networkonnet)

One day, when Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet were all talking together, Christopher Robin finished the mouthful he was eating and said carelessly: ‘I saw a 21st Century Education to-day, Piglet.’

‘What was it doing?’ asked Piglet.

‘Just lumping along,’ said Christopher Robin. ‘I don’t think it saw me.’

‘I saw one once,’ said Piglet. ‘At least I think I did,’ he said. ‘Only perhaps it wasn’t.’

‘So did I,’ said Pooh wondering what a 21st Century Education was like.

‘You don’t often see them,’ said Christopher Robin matter-of-factly.

‘Not now,’ said Piglet.

‘Not at this time of year,’ said Pooh.

Just as they came to the Six Pine Trees, Pooh looked around to see that nobody else was listening, and said in a very solemn voice: ‘Piglet, I have decided something.’

‘What have you decided Pooh?’

‘I have decided to catch a 21st Century Education.’

Piglet asked, ‘But what does a 21st Century Education look like? Then continued thoughtfully: ‘Before looking for something, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it.’

What follows is something I look at as a kind of written doodle thus subject to continual revision (contributed to by what you have to say). In such a matter it is difficult to be comprehensive or fair; if I tried strenuously to be so, I would probably never get going.

We are, it seems, getting ourselves tied in knots about something called 21st century education – before looking for it, as Piglet suggests, it might be wise to find out what we are looking for.

This could be done in respect to how it might differ from what went before, how it might be the same as what went before, how it might be worse than went before, who is supposed to benefit from it, who is calling for it, does it exist, should it exist, what are its aims and, being education, how much is career- or self-serving bollocks.

I intend this posting to be a search for something called a 21st century education.

As part of that I declare my prior understandings about the concept – a concept because there has never been any discussion about something called 20th century education, it was never conceptualised in that way, so why for 21st century education? The formation and high usage of the concept label suggests powerful forces at work – forces, I suggest, taking control of the present to control the future. Those active in promoting the concept of 21stcentury education are mostly from political, technology, and business groupings, also some academics: the immediate future they envisage as an extension and intensification of their perception of society and education as they see it now. And in the immediate future, as well as the longer term one, they see computers at the heart of 21st century education, which is fair enough as long as the role of computers is kept in proportion as befits a tool, a gargantuanly important one, but still a tool.

Neoliberalism is dominant in current economic, political, and education thought so to understand what 21st century advocacy is about, there is a need to recognise the nature of that philosophy. But because it is neoliberalism we are dealing with a complex of abstract and polysyllabic words that need to be uncovered to reveal their true reality, a control, market-oriented, and anti-democratic one. But it is a Russian doll. Those words do more than cover anti-democratic, control ends; they also express a colossal ignorance of our best education understandings about how children learn, which, however, is not irrational, because that ignorance is partly a self-serving slipped-into ignorance.  And the reference to our ‘best education understandings’ is a highly qualified one, because neoliberalism has been hard at work under Tomorrow’s Schools undermining our best understandings and replacing them with their own, meaning the number of people ‘our’ refers to is a dwindling one.

Children have no choice as to what century they reside in, 21 carries no more significance to how one should approach the education of children than 20. I believe that people in education, or around education, should stop looking over the top of children to look at those before them: the best way to prepare children for the future, no matter the century, is to meet their needs now. Those needs would be along the lines of empathy [of which reading should be seen as a key contributor], fairness, independence, collaboration, creativity and imagination, problem-solving, commitment to democratic principles, critical thinking, ways of thinking [for instance, for science, arts, drama, history, mathematics], key knowledge [everything in education or life is by definition value-laden but that doesn’t mean children should be denied access to culturally important and cohesive knowledge – computer advocates are for skills and spasmodic knowledge based on children’s often passing superficial interest which is paraded as some kind of 21stcentury transcendental insight].

School education is being pressured to inappropriate purposes by groups who claim a hold on the future and from that hold generate techno-panic to gain advantage in the present.

Another prior understanding is that the inappropriate use of computers for learning has contributed to the decline in primary school education (though well behind the contribution of national standards and the terrible education autocracy of the education review office). For all the talk of personalising learning, of building learning around the child, of individualising learning, the mandating question for 21st century education seems to be: how can we build the digital into learning instead of how can we best do the learning? And even further: how can we build schools for digital learning instead of what is best for children’s learning environment? Large open spaces are not the best environment for children’s learning, meaning that in combination with the heavy use of computers to make large open spaces ‘work’, a distinct problem is developing. Computers and large open spaces are being promoted by 21st century advocates as the two key ideas to carry us forward to the education for the 21st century.

In respect to computers, learning about them and using them is both necessary and inevitable, how could it be otherwise, but from that necessity and inevitability comes the responsibility to protect schools from their disassociating effects. The neoliberal advocates of a computer-laden future are putting at risk the potential of human thought, behaviour, and imagination. Their judgement, based on what computers can do, remains undisturbed, it seems, by any understanding of what the best of learning can be. Computers are going to be everywhere, beyond the imaginations of most of us; all the more important to appreciate the decisive contribution of learning beyond and apart from the computer and the need to challenge the social control that pervasive computer use brings to bear on school and beyond.

The use of computers should not become the defining characteristic of what is called 21stcentury education but it has, and an education and social tragedy is unfolding.  The defining characteristics of 21st century education should be the same as the defining characteristics of 20th century education (expressed above) before the neoliberal philosophy took hold.

In the following paragraphs I will refer to trends deriving from the greatly increased use of computers, also the effects of the neoliberal changes to the education system such as national standards, the narrowing of the curriculum, the fear-laden functioning of the education review office, and the government control of education knowledge.

The particular form of learning most associated with computers is inquiry learning. For all the talk of discovery, creativity, and thinking claimed for that approach precious little seems to be forthcoming. Inquiry learning is the main curriculum practice developed to suit computers and neoliberal education. No matter what a teacher does, if it is called inquiry learning, the teacher is safe; the use of any other name puts the teacher at risk – the system likes conformity, even more obedience, and throughout a teacher’s practice and records the authorities are looking for those little signs of deference that communicate the teacher has got in behind.

Despite a lot of cute tricks and manoeuvres, inquiry learning is simply swept up old-style projects using google and computers. It is considerably an empty shell – yes, children are often interested, but what is missing is the development of the vital ways of thinking particular to a curriculum area. An empty learning shell is a prime characteristic of 21stcentury education.

Another 21st century prime education characteristic is the priority of skills over knowledge – meaning for ends any knowledge will do.  As stated above ‘everything in education or life is by definition value-laden but that doesn’t mean children should be denied access to culturally important and cohesive knowledge – computer advocates are for skills and spasmodic knowledge based on children’s often passing superficial interest which is paraded as some kind of 21st century transcendental insight.’

Because the neoliberal education system puts a low value on the arts, drama, and dance there has been a diminution in their quality and quantity, also contributing to that diminution is the cramping effect of national standards which, admittedly, is just another expression of that lack of valuing. In open space schools, which in some respects one would think ideal for the arts, drama, and dance a further diminution derives from the pressure to avoid the noise and activity that typically comes from children’s participation in those activities. The shush factor of the newer open space schools is not as noticeable and inhibiting as in the older ones, but it is still there.  And I miss the independent advisers throughout the curriculum but in the arts their absence is particularly painful. It was a team of art advisers dropping in at odd times that was the crucial stimulus to Elwyn Richardson – oh that they could come knocking again.

Open space schools lack the spontaneity available in conventional classrooms, for instance, allowing the varying of the timetable and being able to carry on with a programme, say for most of a day – a cherished part of the primary school tradition.

A heavy use of paper templates is common in schools today, with iPads providing digital ones, and exerting a decidedly deadening effect on learning. Another deadening effect is derived from an idea imported from America for use in open space classrooms in association with computers, but is also being used in some conventional classrooms as well. It is called ‘the wall’. Its purpose is to have children work independently on activities from a range of curriculum areas but especially the basics. Activities are displayed on ‘the wall’ and a place for the children to sign off when completed. In New Zealand, a direct duplication of the practice has largely been avoided but many classrooms especially open space ones, employ something like it. The crucial pedagogical point is that to avoid organisational confusion and a lot of demands on teachers, the activities provided are routine and a little below the level of challenge for children. If the activities are ability grouped, the activities for the top group are closer to being OK than the lower groups. The practice is unstimulating and limiting in all curriculum areas but especially in mathematics.

Twenty-first century education has also become associated with two harmful language practices – in reading, a trend to more phonics and words in isolation – oh champion; and in writing, on the basis, it seems, that primary children should be prepared for university from early juniors, the emphasis in writing has shifted to the expository and argument and away from children writing imaginatively and expressively. This combined with the use of templates and the asTTle emphasis on using adjectives and adverbs willy-nilly, is resulting in writing in New Zealand schools being smashed.

Another prime characteristic is the way the role of the teacher is defined. The role of the teacher as carried out in the past is first belittled, pouring water into bottles apparently while standing at the front holding forth (which seems quite a trick). And having established that, the 21st century teacher is then defined as being a facilitator (my hunch is that if that facilitator worked out from what to where and how, the facilitator would, in fact, be a teacher).

One of the substantial problems with computer use and learning is the way it encourages or allows teacher to forgo their responsibilities (as I see it) to deepen and extend children’s learning before they go out on their own (so to speak). Learning experiences need an introduction (with all sorts of open questions and activities), gaining of knowledge (interestingly and pertinently), use of that knowledge (with investigation or activities), and a conclusion (presentation and discussion). But the 21st century way is to quickly hand it over to computers and inquiry learning, with the teacher congratulating him or herself on the independence being encouraged.

The reason why the Treaty of Waitangi is hardly touched is because teachers are unwilling or unable to take children into such a topic, to build up the knowledge, to develop a feeling for what happened, and to identify the issues for the children to investigate from there. And a reason why teachers are so fixed on inquiry learning (leaving aside hierarchical insistence) is a lack of knowledge of alternatives. It is important for teachers to know, even if they don’t feel able to change, there are.

Where is the social studies thinking? that is, the comparative thinking based on the interaction of knowledge with the affective.

Twenty-first century social studies is children choosing their own topics or being asked to investigate large, abstract impersonal topics like communication. There is very rarely a true social studies challenge in a topic like that, or a source of empathetic development.

The social studies thinking will be absent.

Where is the science thinking? that is, thinking based on science investigation.

The question: The question that guides the investigation.


What I know now: The child records all he or she knows about the question. If the child already knows the answer, then there is no point in investigating it further. The teacher can also at this stage make a judgement as to whether it is possible for the child to investigate it in the time available. Many topics like volcanoes and dinosaurs lend themselves to study-skills rather than investigation processes.

What I did: This is the vital stage and what differentiates science from point-of-view? It is a step-by-step record of what actually happened; it can be in diary or note-taking form. It records the observing, testing, and trying out of the question. The failures as well as the successes are recorded. Others can read what went on and may suggest ways to revisit the investigation by another route. It may help show others not to go along that path. The child also includes references about those who helped and testing methods used.

And so on.

The science thinking will be revealed.

Where is the language way of thinking? that is, sincerity expressed in writing.

Imagine: the discussion, encouraging but not obtrusive to the child’s thinking; the child knowing how previous writing had been used and that imagination was valued; the art that had occurred or might follow; the urging to intensive observation and accurate expression that preceded the writing by the nine-year-old girl who decided to view the world through the grass not toward the grass:

Small balls of rain fall down and spit up in tiny streaks of white.

Leaves knotted by strings of weeds.

Leaves like cups hold blobs of water.

Drops of water trail down leaves and peak at the top.

Bird’s wings doubles as it flies.

Twigs uneven like a fork.

The dripping tap splits into tracks.

‘Did you find what you were looking for? asked Piglet.

‘Yes,’ said Pooh in muffled tones.

‘But I have decided something.’

‘What have you decided Pooh?’

‘This honey pot is a lot more interesting.’

Continued in Part 2

The effectiveness of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy.

Special Guest Writer

The Treehorn Express

‘The Treehorn Express is a tribute to those children who are forced to encounter Standardised Blanket Testing in GERM countries and are forced to suffer from the distress, a narrowed curriculum and loss of progressive cognitive development. Like little Treehorn, they are wonderful young citizens, ignored by those who are expected to care and exploited by those who don’t.




Ken Woolford has been an educator for 45 years. He has worked in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, overseas(International schools) and in two states and one Territory. He has taught in aboriginal community, State, Catholic and other private schools and currently manages a centre for about 50 homeschooling families. He has seven children (mostly graduate and postgraduate) and 14 grandchildren. He believes in empowering local professionals and parents in relation to children’s educational journeys.

Home-schooler and friend to many, many concerned parents, in this introduction to his Senate Inquiry Submission No. 61, Ken presents a succinct view of public schooling’s return to the archaic performances of by-gone years, which generated the reasons for him and his wife to “take their children away from the State”. He then provides cogent reasons for his dislike for NAPLAN. He says : ”Parents who trust their children loathe NAPLAN.”

 “Back when I attended Teachers College I was thoroughly drilled in how to run a class and a lesson – any subject, any grade. All the current Naplan texts would have fitted beautifully. Then I began to continue my professional readings and discussions, did further studies, and just sat and thought. I could ‘perform’ as a teacher, but I did not feel I was an educator.

Becoming a parent (and step parent) challenged me further. More reading, observing, thinking. After about eight years of teaching in a variety of situations, I knew I could not continue as merely a teacher. Education demanded so much of me and I loved it. Happy years.

 Now, my eldest daughter is a Head of Special Education in a State school, and feels exactly as I do. She loves her work – except the line she says she must walk, the line which allows her to keep her superiors happy and yet serve the children she works with to the degree that allows her to sleep at night. I never felt like this.

I, fortunately, have been able to set off on my own with my wife – working with parents who have taken the education of their children away from the State. They are exciting people to work with – they think, read, discuss and ‘educate’ (themselves and their families). Naplan means nothing to them – a test of old thinking. Their educational thinking has matured.

I watched Kevin Rudd at the Press Forum this week. He dwelt mainly on finance, but did mention Naplan – a ‘good idea’ he called it. Then moved on. None of the media present referred to education at all. My feedback is that parents of children in Australia’s schools overwhelmingly are indifferent to ‘big picture’ Education policies or love the ones now on offer. I’m stunned Naplan even got as far as a Senate Review.

Personally, I’m confident that anyone who listened to a panel of say, five top educators and three leading child psychologists, each talking for one to two minutes on children, brain development and education, would have to come away not just angry about Naplan, but flabbergasted at how the whole concept of education has been allowed to slowly drown by being anchored to the concept of ‘School 1960’ – which is what our governments have dragged us back to. But hey – they have done it because – that’s right – it’s popular and wins votes. Just like the boat people issue!

 For me it seems simple. Parents who trust their children loathe Naplan. Parents who do not trust or do not have confidence in their children see Naplan as the perfect intellectual pacifier – for the parents, of course.”

Phil Cullen.


 The effectiveness of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy.

Ken Woolford

The Naplan testing has been operational since 2008, but prior to this similar testing had been taking place, mainly at a state level, for some years.

It is almost universally (ie, worldwide) accepted that designing any type of competition will require the competitors to focus their skill and knowledge training on the requirements of the competition.

Naplan is basically a competition, with all the limitations that entails. It is a natural outcome that schools will require their staff to focus their attentions on having children perform (I repeat -perform) well in the Naplan competition. The major difference here is that Naplan is generally believed to be compulsory for children to engage in (nip out to any local school and ask staff – if they do know it is optional then they will also know they are forbidden to inform families of this fact). So the first pieces of misinformation about Naplan regards what it actually is and the right of parents to refuse it for their children.

Naplan’ s importance in identifying ‘needy’ schools is an incorrect assumption. Postcode is the simplest clue. Second clue is – ask the locals. Look at University admission demographics. There are already many ways to locate needy schools. Naplan is unnecessary duplication. Naplan undermines local educational expertise. Parents are now encouraged to have a distant education ‘expert’ second guess the local education team. The assumption is that the in loco professionals are not fully trustworthy and that someone at a distance, who knows neither parent nor child, can better assess the student. Someone who is objective. Unfortunately, education is a very subjective field and requires strong bonds of trust for maximum benefits. Naplan has done nothing to promote confidence in educational professionals.

Wherever Naplan came from, it was not from a panel of classroom educators and parents looking for best practice when it comes to reporting on their children’s progress through school.

  • Standardised testing is just that – standardised. It assumes participants will perform at, above or below a norm. Results are merely an indication of a child’s capacity. Naplan is a competition, it’s results are seen as conclusive.
  • Standardised testing allows for the professional to decide when and where the testing is carried out. She can optimise the situation for the child. Naplan does not.
  • Standardised testing allows the professional to access its information (via results) almost immediately. Naplan does not.
  • Standardised tests are meant to be applied in response to individual requirements. Naplan emphasises group results.
  • Standardised tests assume that a suitably qualified educator is administering the test. Naplan needs no professionals to administer it.
  • Standardised tests are repeated to ensure consistency of results. Naplan is constantly changed, so no consistency is available.
  •  Standardised tests are professionally constructed based on a wealth of data and designed to help educators narrow the options for optimising assistance to individuals. Naplan is not and does not do these things.

Creators of Standardised tests per se would be appalled to think the tests were being used to publicly compare the results of those tested. Naplan is designed PRIMARILY to compare schools and classes within schools.

I could go on.

 Teaching and learning practices can best be improved through the teaching profession, parents and children collaborating on mutually agreed practices and outcomes. Naplan offers nothing of this. The tests are designed by people who are far removed from those taking them, without consultation, and to the specifications of politicians who are responding to – well who knows? A meaningful attempt to benefit ALL students would not include a one size fits all test. No professional would recommend such a creature. Indeed, the very idea would be considered child abuse. Yet Australian governments have forced Naplan on schools and refuse to allow professionals to inform families that they can withdraw their children from it.

 Naplan is probably the most unsophisticated response any government could have to improving outcomes for children. It assumes education is located only in the school; that it is centred around a few academic areas (thus diminishing the many aspects of life that most of us find most rewarding and are not integral to the Naplan topics); that professional educators are not compromised by the unquestioning presentation of such tests and the pre test teaching required; and that parents should not be informed of the limitations of the tests and the negative opinions of many (most?) of the education profession – and indeed of other parents. Naplan needs to come with a warning label. Naplan needs to be dropped. There are any number of well designed, subject based competitions students can compete in if they so wish. Monitoring of children’s educational (not school) progress is best done through a collaborative approach of educators, parents, children and other support/family people – the proverbial ‘village’ it takes to raise a child. These teams can be supported, in turn by advisors who can be invited to offer ideas and direction. Distant bureaucrats are generally impediments.

 They answer to political masters and have no commitment to local needs.


 Phil Cullen AM FACE FACEL FQIEL Gold Medal ACEL Founder : Treehorn Express. Former State Director of Primary Education, Queensland.

41 Cominan Avenue, Banora Point 2486 Ph.: 07 5524 6443

Why Are Our Schools NOT Places of Joy?

Distinguished Guest Speaker

Lorraine Wilson Lorraine Wilson was the first Guest Writer for The Treehorn Express on 3 Feb. 2013. Remember her dynamic description of education as a ‘processing of oranges’? She presented the brilliantly persuasive tableau that clearly delineated the differences between EDUCATION AS A CHILD-CENTRED, INDIVIDUALISED operation and EDUCATION AS A STANDARDISED, MASS PRODUCED one, the latter process using the ‘the processing of oranges’ as its model. The article referenced C Leland & W Casten: Literacy Education for the 21st Century: It’s Time to Close The Factory [Reading & Writing Education].

[I’d like to see this tableau lined up against my Pasi Sahlberg sponsored one in Submission No.83….the almost last one. I’d also like to read a critique of either tablet or both.]

Lorraine’s submission to the Senate Inquiry, below, needs to be read by all teachers who are concerned about the treatment of teaching literacy at school and how it is regarded and handled by NAPLAN measurers.

Her attachments should not be ignored either.

This is a powerful, thought-provoking article. It’s No 11.

Phil Cullen


 Why Are Our Schools NOT Places of Joy?

by Lorraine Wilson


I write as an experienced educator with expertise in language and literacy curriculum.

I consider the literacy tests to be totally invalid for today’s children. The type of literacy able to be measured by multiple choice, machine marked tests, is low level literacy. It is the type of literacy we taught in the 1950’s, 1960’s in Australia. Since that time there has been much excellent research which has illuminated the types of reading and writing necessary for a changing, global, highly technological society, as well as research about how children learn language (both oral and written). I take time here to briefly describe some research of recent decades which has changed dramatically what we know about the teaching of reading, and writing in schools.


a) The Four resources Model (Luke & Freebody 1990)

One example of such research is that of two Australians Alan Luke and Peter Freebody (1990), where they identified four different reading practices necessary for today’s highly technological, global, society. These practices are:

Reader as code breaker: the reader starts off outside a text and uses different strategies to get inside that text.

Reader as text participant: inside the text the reader needs strategies to participate with the ideas of the author; this practice involves the reader as meaning maker

Reader as text user: the reader uses texts as he negotiates life each day in the big wide world, of the 21st century. It is not enough that students read with understanding in school classrooms, they have to experience texts which relate to their life purposes, or else they will not read outside the classroom. Children must know and experience texts which relate to and inform about, their life interests and purposes.

Reader as text analyst: the reader steps back out of a text and identifies the author values. What is this author’s underlying message? What bias or stereotypes are evident in the author’s writing? Which position on this issue is the author ignoring? Whose voice is silent?

The text analyst practice (critical literacy) is so important today with the control of the world’s mass media belonging to fewer and fewer individuals, and, simultaneously with the world wide web, any individual can now send information around the word within a matter of seconds. How does one determine the veracity of such information?

The reason I am describing this model of reading, respected by literacy educators all around the world, is because we know that reading is much more than getting words right, or, being able to find right answers to literal comprehension questions, as the majority of NAPLAN reading questions require. Today’s children are wasting time, learning to colour in bubbles, as required on the multiple choice test papers, learning how to find specific right answers to some unknown person’s questions – and never given opportunity to ask their own questions. Such practices are dumbing down the reading curriculum; are dumbing down children’s lives.

b)The Reading Process (Goodman 1968)

The research of Kenneth Goodman in which he identified what became known as ‘the reading process’, describes what a reader does to get inside a text and to make meaning. Until this research, it was believed that reading was a visual process; that it was important when reading, to name each word in the text, correctly.

There is a widely held misconception in the general community that reading is solely a visual activity- that what the eye sees is all important, that the identification of each individual word is necessary and that if one does not know a word, one sounds it out. (Wilson,2002. P45)

In Goodman’s very extensive research, running records were made of children’s oral reading. As the child read the text aloud from a book, the researcher, on a copy of the text, ticked the words named correctly by the child, and noted all oral reading errors, or, miscues. These miscues included words repeated, left out, or added to the text. At the end of each reading, the child was asked to do a re-telling of the text. The re-telling was taped.

What this research showed was that the quality of the child’s understanding as revealed in the re-telling was not automatically linked to the number of oral reading errors. Rather a good re-telling was linked to the type of miscues, not the quantity. Some children’s miscues revealed their focus was getting each word right, and so their reading errors looked like the word in the text, (visual miscues), but made no sense. What was very worrying was that these readers did not stop and re-read, when what they read did not make sense. Their purpose in reading was getting words right, rather than putting the language together to make meaning.

CH: break. (visual miscue)

TEXT: I heard the dog bark.

In contrast the children whose taped re-tellings showed good understanding of what they had read, had a different class of oral reading errors. Their errors always made sense even if the words looked different to the text. These oral reading errors or miscues were informed by the readers’ knowledge of the subject being read about (semantics) and the reader’s personal grammar. (syntax)

CH: was (syntactical miscue)

TEXT: Once upon a time there were three little pigs.

CH: yelled noise!’ (semantic)

TEXT:The kids were naughty. Mum shouted, ‘Stop that racket!’

Goodman’s research highlighted what code breakers do, in their efforts to get inside and make meaning of a text. They take a visual sampling of the text and allow the brain to predict the text drawing upon syntactic and semantic knowledge . When the reader’s predictions do not make sense, that reader stops and re-reads or reads on, in an endeavour to connect with the ideas of the author.

In a formal, silent, reading test situation, one cannot listen to a struggling reader read aloud, to determine, if he believes reading is a purely word centred activity where he must name each word correctly. That is, the NAPLAN test cannot evaluate the code breaking strategies, or reading process being observed by the reader.

In addition, trying to find reading materials which allow young readers equal chance of interpreting or meaning making, by drawing upon their related life experience (semantics), is impossible. See the enclosed article from the Year 3 Reading Magazine 2013, NAPLAN, ‘Earthworms.’

How much easier it will be for a child who has multiple experiences of earthworms, perhaps helping Dad with a worm farm in the back yard, to read this factual text and to answer the test questions. These children will have much life experiential information to use to help predict the text and to answer the test questions.

Think of other eight year old students. Think of the ones living in the high rise housing commission flats in North Melbourne. Some years ago the then local school principal decided to dig up some of the school yard asphalt to start a vegetable garden. His students from the flats were absolutely amazed that there was dirt under the asphalt. They had never seen loose earth. They thought the asphalt was a natural phenomenon. They did not realise it was put there by man. What experiences would these children have of earth worms? What pre-existing knowledge would they have to bring to this text?

c) SPEED READING The children who answer most questions in the NAPLAN Reading tests have the best chance of gaining the highest scores. Children soon learn that rather than reading the test article first, it saves time to read the questions first and then quickly skim the text to find the literal answer. This is low level reading. It is not about bringing meaning to text; it is not about making use of a text; it is certainly not reading as text analyst to identify author values. It is measuring nothing of value. Speed reading to find specific right answers, serves no authentic life purpose. It tells us nothing of value about a child’s reading. It does not inform whether the child reflects upon a text to clarify meaning, whether the child makes connections between the text and his life, whether in fact there are any connections in the child’s life upon which he can draw, or whether, the child reader identifies cultural bias in a text.

NAPLAN is promoted as being diagnostic. It most certainly is not. Reading as described by the Luke/Freebody Model, by the work of Ken Goodman, and by the research of many other linguists, is in no way compatible with the model of reading upon which the NAPLAN test is based. The NAPLAN Reading test cannot measure a child’s reading ability nor identify where assistance is needed.


a)NAPLAN method of testing Spelling

NAPLAN spelling is assessed in two ways.

A misspelt word presented in a sentence, is circled. The child has to write the error again, correcting the spelling.

A misspelt word is presented in a sentence, but not circled. The child has two tasks here. Firstly, identify the misspelt word, then, write it correctly.

For some strange reason each of these types of test questions is worth one mark. That is, in b) above, a child is given no credit for being able to find the un-circled misspelling. Of more importance though is the fact that the learning of spelling includes both the production of correct spelling, as a writer is writing, and recognition of errors, by proof reading for misspelt words. In the NAPLAN Language Conventions Tests, a child’s ability to generate correct spelling is not assessed.

As a method of testing a child’s spelling ability, both the NAPLAN strategies are questionable. Each strategy used in the test includes misspelt words. These misspellings can impact on how the child then spells the word. Misspellings may introduce incorrect letters which the child might never have included in his production of the spelling, but seeing it in the test question, causes confusion.

‘NAPLAN makes a pedagogical assumption that proofreading can act as a proxy for a student’s spelling ability.’ (Bartlett & Buchanan 2012)

A research study by Willet and Gardiner (2010) in which they compared student NAPLAN results, with these same spelling items being tested via oral dictation, found that an astounding 75% of children had improved spelling scores. They suggest the NAPLAN spelling scores are misleading.

NAPLAN: Incorrect descriptions of skills assessed

Literacy educator Di Snowball has analysed the ACARA reasons for the inclusion of each particular spelling item in the NAPLAN Language Convention Tests. She has found that every single analysis is incorrect. I include just two of her examples.

Quest No Test Item Correct Answer Skill Assessed (ACARA) Actual Strategy Used


What is important in the teaching of spelling is a child’s knowledge about, and application of, a wide range of spelling strategies. Children should be able to discuss the strategies they have used in words they have spelt. Where one strategy fails, they have others in their repertoire to try. Spelling strategies play no part in NAPLAN spelling, further evidence that NAPLAN is not diagnostic.


The 2013 writing assessment involved all Grade 3 and Grade 5 children writing to the given topic ‘Hero Award’. See copy below. Just think – all grade 3 and grade 5 children across Australia, writing to the very same topic. How unfair that is.

Added to this, the children are told exactly how to shape their texts. ‘Start with an introduction.’ A very detailed structure is set out for them

What is this writing activity measuring? It is measuring the child’s ability to read with understanding and follow, the suggested out line for writing a persuasive piece. A child may have no knowledge of how to write a persuasive text, but in this test, a complete structure is printed there for the child to follow. I repeat, What is this measuring?

WRITING: the Writing Process

During the 1980’s, an American researcher Donald Graves revolutionised the teaching of writing in primary classrooms. Up until this time, teachers always chose the class writing topics. The children were expected to get the ‘composition’ right in one draft. The only audience for the writing was the classroom teacher.

Graves (1983) pointed out to teachers that in the real world, this is not the way, writers write. Generally they choose their own topics. They do not get their texts right in just one go. Writing one piece may take one draft or it may take many drafts. Often real world writers try their writing out on

2013 NAPLAN Writing task, Yr 3 & 5 sympathetic friends as a way of getting helpful feedback, and, often their writing is published. Graves outlined what has become known in schools as ‘The Writing Process’.

Schools across Australia adopted the Writing Process, with children of all ages selecting their own topics, conferencing their drafts with their teachers, re-drafting when necessary, taking some drafts through to publication. Thus classroom libraries came to include many attractive books written by the students. Allowing children to choose their own topics, helped value the children’s lives. They were free to write about their families, their worries, their interests, not just the tired old topics of their classroom teachers. Children could bring their lives into their classrooms.

Sadly the NAPLAN testing has meant much, much less writing of this type is occurring. For three years now the NAPLAN writing test has required a persuasive piece. Every classroom one now visits, one sees evidence of persuasive writing. The children are so sick of it. Many schools have stopped allowing children to choose their own topics, and to choose their own audiences. Classroom publishing by the children has virtually ceased. NAPLAN writing has decimated what were once exciting writing classrooms.

Writing now in many classrooms has returned to writing compositions as in the 1950’s, 1960’s. The class writes to the teacher’s topic. Children have one draft to get the piece ‘right’. Such has been the impact of NAPLAN.

This Inquiry asks what impact NAPLAN is having on teaching and learning practices. I have made reference to the outdated literacy practices valued in the NAPLAN tests. Since 2008, children in classrooms are experiencing teaching and learning practices which embarrass professional educators. Outstanding classroom teachers are now required to do things in the name of teaching which they know, are in direct conflict with best practice. They hate being put in this position.


I enclose a copy of just one of the five pages of instructions to administrators and teachers for the Yrs 3 & 5 Writing Test. (Note: these are for one page of one test.)

As a very experienced educator I cringe when I see these pages. Our teachers are treated as puppets, not able to think for themselves; as automatons, programmed as to how and what to say. Which other group of professionals would allow themselves to be treated like this? Our children, as young as 8 years, are seen as empty vessels with authoritarian adults pouring in information – reading out instruction after instruction. There is a limit to how many orders any one person can remember at any one time. This empty vessel notion of learning is so old. We know that children must be active in learning. We sit them in groups in their classrooms today, so they can talk together and learn from one another. How can we justify this unwarranted cruel, authoritarian, unprofessional treatment of both students and teachers?

The tone and content of these notes epitomise all that NAPLAN represents– a centrally determined, authoritarian manoeuvre to gain some political end, at huge expense to the tax payer. NAPLAN has nothing whatsoever to do with improving educational opportunities for all Australian children.


How can the federal Government testing of students be improved?

No-one would debate the right of Australian Governments to collect data re education, as education is largely funded with tax payer money. However such data should relate to comparisons of different populations across the country eg indigenous students versus non-indigenous; rural v city; different starting ages. Such data need only be collected every three years, certainly not every year, and to collect such statistical information, it is not be necessary to test every child. A random sample is sufficient.

For such data to benefit the learning of the different student populations across the country, the methods of collection need be compatible with modern insights into how children learn, and, they should assess language and literacy relevant to today’s society.

Importantly, experienced, knowledgeable educators need to be involved in the development of any such data collection initiatives. The NAPLAN Reading, Writing and Language Convention Tests are a terrible mismatch with today’s best classroom practice.

Assessment of individual student progress is best done by classroom teachers, who are working with their particular students each and every day. Only individual teachers in individual classrooms are able to ensure each child is progressing, comparing what they are achieving now, with what they were achieving one week ago, one month ago……

Children commence school at many different points along the language learning continuum. What they know about reading and writing on school entry is more a measure of their pre- school literacy experiences than of their intelligence. Curriculum begins with what the children know, not some mythical Prep or Grade 3 standard. It is the teacher’s job to find out what each child knows, what his interests are, and to teach from there. It is grossly unfair and anti-educational to set the same expectations for all children of the one age.

Education does not follow the same narrow path for all children. However, in Australian schools all across the country, that is the impact of NAPLAN. Children’s cultures, children’s local knowledge, children’s individual interests are trashed and discarded by NAPLAN. For any school to do well as judged by NAPLAN, that school must have standardised students.


Classrooms should be places of joy and discovery. NAPLAN is sucking the life blood from our teachers and students. Schools are no longer places of joy. I have worked for five decades in Victorian primary schools. I have never seen morale as low as it is at this point. I have never seen the teachers as dispirited as they are now.

An American educator, Alfie Kohn, writes

‘In a news report about what has been stripped away from children’s education in order that they can spend more time on test preparation, a spokesperson for a large school district defended such policies on the grounds that they were handed down from above. “We haven’t had recess in years,” he acknowledged. “They say this is the way it’s going to be, and we say, ‘Fine.’”

Why are our schools not places of joy? Because too many of us respond to outrageous edicts by saying, ‘Fine.’” (Kohn 2011, P 15

2013 NAPLAN Writing Yr 3 & 5 Test Administration Handbook for Teachers

Notes from, ‘ Test Adminstration Handbook for Teachers, Year 3 &5, NAPLAN 2013’


Graves, D. 1983 Writing: Teachers and Children at Work, Heinemann, NH

Bartlett,B. & Buchanan, J. 2012, “Exploring NAPLAN Spelling Data” in, Say NO to NAPLAN Papers, Nos 1-10. See Literacy Educators Coalition website.

Goodman, K. 1967. “Reading a Psycholinguistic Guessing Game.” Journal of the Reading Specialist: 126-35

Goodman, K. & Goodman, Y. 1977 “Learning About Psycholinguistic Processes by Oral Reading.” Harvard Educational Review 47 (3): 317-33

Kohn, A. 2011, Feel-Bad Education, Beacon Press, Boston.

Luke,A. & Freebody,P. 1999. “A Map of Possible Practices. Further Notes on the Four resources Model.” In Practically Primary 4 (3):39.

Snowball,D. 2012, 2013, NAPLAN Language Conventions, Spelling Charts.

Willett, L. & Gardiner, A. 2009, “Testing Spelling – Exploring NAPLAN”, paper presented at the A L E A Annual Conference, Melbourne.

Wilson, L. 2002, Reading to Live: How to Teach Reading for Today’s World, Heinemann, NH, 45.

Graves, D. 1983 Writing: Teachers and Children at Work, Heinemann, NH

Bartlett,B. & Buchanan, J. 2012, “Exploring NAPLAN Spelling Data” in, Say NO to NAPLAN Papers, Nos 1-10. See Literacy Educators Coalition website.

Goodman, K. 1967. “Reading a Psycholinguistic Guessing Game.” Journal of the Reading Specialist: 126-35

Goodman, K. & Goodman, Y. 1977 “Learning About Psycholinguistic Processes by Oral Reading.” Harvard Educational Review 47 (3): 317-33

Kohn, A. 2011, Feel-Bad Education, Beacon Press, Boston.

Luke,A. & Freebody,P. 1999. “A Map of Possible Practices. Further Notes on the Four resources Model.” In Practically Primary 4 (3):39.

Snowball,D. 2012, 2013, NAPLAN Language Conventions, Spelling Charts.

Willett, L. & Gardiner, A. 2009, “Testing Spelling – Exploring NAPLAN”, paper presented at the A L E A Annual Conference, Melbourne.

Wilson, L. 2002, Reading to Live: How to Teach Reading for Today’s World, Heinemann, NH, 45.



that the Report of the Senate Inquiry into NAPLAN is to be released on this Thursday, 17 June, the birthday of NAPLAN’s ORIGIN? It IS Origin Week after all.

Hopefully, it’s GOODBYE NAPLAN DAY.

It was on 27 June 2008 that Julia met Joel [Klein]….one of the saddest days in Australia’s history. They met at a Carnegie Corporation function in the USA. Corporation? More to come in The Treehorn Express later in the week.


 Phil Cullen AM FACE FACEL FQIEL Gold Medal ACEL

Founder : Treehorn Express.

Former State Director of Primary Education,Queensland.

41 Cominan Avenue,

Banora Point 2486

Ph.: 07 5524 6443

Why Is Australia Following A Flawed Model?

Distinguished Guest Writer

David HornsbyDavid Hornsby One of Australia’s greatest advocate for the rights of children in the school learning context, David was with the Ministry of Education (Victoria) for 28 years and taught every year level. For 4 years, he was a curriculum consultant in primary and secondary schools and then returned to the primary classroom. During that time, he also lectured at La Trobe University and RMIT University. He was a principal for 5 years but now works as a curriculum consultant. David has completed many lecture tours of the United States and the United Kingdom. He has also worked with teachers in Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malta, New Zealand and Singapore. This year, he has been asked to work with teachers in Milan, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.

David has written or co-authored many popular books, including Write On, Read On, Novel Approaches, Sounds Great, Planning for English, Planning Curriculum Connections and others. A Closer Look at Guided Reading won “The 2001 Australian Awards for Excellence in Educational Publishing.” His latest book is Teaching Phonics in Context (co-authored with Lorraine Wilson).

His insightful views on the elements of testing as used in a realistic classroom setting just cannot be ignored. That is why he has asked the Senators and the Australian educational community…..

Phil Cullen



by David Hornsby 


Thank-you for the opportunity to write a submission for the Senate Inquiry. I am writing as an educator, but also as a parent and grandparent. I have been an educator for 48 years and I’m passionate about quality teaching and learning, which includes rigorous assessment. Sadly, NAPLAN is not rigorous — it is deeply flawed.

In 48 years in education, I’ve never seen anything as destructive to quality teaching and learning as NAPLAN.

In view of the short timeline for writing submissions, I am focusing on just a few of the problems with NAPLAN. Other serious problems with NAPLAN have been identified in eighteen 2-page papers available at:

I urge you to refer to those papers. It is significant that over 130 academics from around Australia signed a “Letter of Support” to accompany those papers(letter attached).

Clearly, there is broad concern about the serious problems with NAPLAN.

 A. The score on a NAPLAN test does NOT tell you about student achievement.

When testing literacy or numeracy, there are thousands of possible test items from which test designers can select. In NAPLAN, only 40 items are selected from the thousands available, so they cannot possibly represent all topics. By chance, some students will be advantaged because the selected items test topicsthey understand; by chance, other students will be disadvantaged because the selected items test topics they haven’t experienced or don’t understand. (Indeed, which curriculum is NAPLAN testing? Different States and Territories have adapted the Australian Curriculum in different ways. Some schools are not doing the Australian Curriculum at all; they may be International Baccalaureate schools or Steiner Schools or any number of other school types. We have always valued diversity in Australia. Is this no longer the case?)

So the 40 items selected do not cover all topics. To complicate this, there is an assumption that the topics tested are tested well. However, we know this is not the case. Indeed, it’s frightening to know how many of the items are bad items.

Polster & Ross (2013) have evaluated the test items in the 2012 numeracy test. They found ambiguity in test items, ‘archetypally bad’ tag questions, contrived contexts and contrived wording of questions. There were many questions on which the students performed poorly, but “it is often difficult to be sure why.” The authors accuse ACARA of poor accountability. Who is testing the test items and who is testing the testers?

Buchanan & Bartlett (2012) have shown that the spelling assessment items arenot valid or reliable measures of students’ spelling. They question the usefulness of NAPLAN in improving student achievement. Snowball (2012) addresses the misleading information provided to teachers about spelling after the NAPLAN testing. “It is bad enough that the NAPLAN tests are such poor measures of students’ ability to spell, but the information distributed with the results also shows a lack of knowledge about English orthography and the strategies used by competent spellers.”

Mueller and her colleagues (2012) have written about their concerns regarding the NAPLAN tests of language conventions. After examining the sections relating to grammar and punctuation, they wrote, “an analysis of the 2008-2012 tests reveals that they do not provide an appropriate platform on which teachers and their students can build a sophisticated understanding of English grammar and punctuation.” Grant & Mueller (2010) wrote, “Many items are unclear as to their purpose, or test meaning rather than grammar, punctuation or spelling.”

Wilson (2012) has shown that the NAPLAN reading tests fail to assess what is being taught and how it is being taught. Wilson highlights the differences between the narrow NAPLAN view of reading and the kinds of reading required by 21st century readers.

Clearly, the tests only test a very small part of any one curriculum area, and the few topics tested are not tested well because the test items are often poorly written, or ambiguous, or they don’t test the skill or concept they intend to test.

There’s another important reason why we can’t use NAPLAN results to tell us about student achievement – the errors of measurement are unacceptably high (see Wu, 2010).

Important questions to ask: Why aren’t the measurement errors of NAPLAN pubished? Why is the Technical Report only available through Freedom of Information? Is there something to hide? Polster & Ross are right to ask, “Who is testing the testers?”

 B. Timed, standardised tests are NOT able to assess important learning.

Timed tests actually advantage students who are happy to race through a test and give superficial, quick responses just so that they get finished. On the other hand, students who are thoughtful and reflective are disadvantaged because they want to consider each alternative of a multiple-choice item carefully. Because the test is timed, they may not get finished. “Studies of students of different ages have found a statistical association btween students with high scores on standardized tests and relatively shallow thinking.” (Kohn, 2000.) If students had more time, they may have answered more items correctly. If they’re not all getting the time they need to be thoughtful and reflective, are we measuring what they really know? Are we measuring what we value?

Some adults in Melbourne were asked to complete the Year 3 reading test in2010. It took them 35-40 minutes. The 8-year-old students had only 40-45 minutes. The amount they had to read, in the time given, was excessive. We also need to ask if 8 year-olds can concentrate on an independent task like a standardised test for 40 to 45 minutes. Are the NAPLAN tests really designed to assess students’ abilities as fairly and accurately as possible?

 C. NAPLAN tests are not diagnostic tests.

The standardised NAPLAN tests give population data, not individual data. The population data from NAPLAN tests can be used to answer questions such as:

– overall, are boys doing better than girls?

– overall, are urban students doing better than rural students? and so on.

It should be noted, of course, that we could answer these questions by testing a sample of students every 3 or 4 years. Testing every student in Years 3, 5, 7 & 9 every year is a massive waste of taxpayers’ money. Schools have been bullied by bureaucrats in Regional Offices and higher levels of the education system. They have been required to spend hours and hours analysing NAPLAN data as if it were diagnostic data. The level of ignorance is astounding and bureaucrats get away with the bullying because most people, including teachers, do not have statistical literacy. Because NAPLAN tests are not diagnostic, the data do not help teachers plan for individual students. On a 40-item test, one item about the appropriate use of a comma does not assess a student’s knowledge and understanding about

comma use! One item on subject-verb agreement does not assess a student’s knowledge and unerstanding about subject-verb agreement! Even if the tests were diagnostic, the results would be useless because teachers get them 5 months later. ACARA acknowledges this and they have said that they are planning to put the tests online so that results can be provided more quickly. Teachers wonder how that would be possible. In Victoria, when the education department tried to connect teachers online, their new and expensive software system collapsed – and it was only one State. How does ACARA believe that all students across the whole country can be tested online at the same time? Even if programmers developed an incredibly advanced system, schools don’t have a computer for every child! Unless there is massive investment in upgrading school computers and providing one computer for every child, whole-scale online assessment will be impossible.

 D. The average result for a school cannot be used to evaluate the teachers or the school, and schools are not the only influence on test scores.

Harris (2011) remind us that test scores cannot tell you whether a school is good or bad because schools are not the only influence on test scores. Teese (2012) reported that the country’s top 100 primary and secondary schools have students from well-to-do suburbs. He claimed that, “It’s not an even playing field in which talent can blossom from whatever location – it’s people excelling through social advantage.”

Ocean (2012) asked pre-service teachers to analyse NAPLAN results and compare them to the wealth of the school’s parents. They were all greatly concerned when they realised the truth of Teese’s claim that there is “not an even playing field” and shocked to discover how NAPLAN compounds the lack of fairness.

Dinham (2012) says, “We cannot ignore the effects on learning and development of socioeconomic status, family background, geographic location and the funding and resources available to schools. Every teacher is not going to be able to bring every student to an average or above average level of performance but the vast majority of teachers will try very hard to do this.”

Berliner (2009) has shown that powerful out-of-school factors greatly influence achievement gaps. These factors are “related to a host of poverty-induced physical, sociological, and psychological problems that children often bring to school…” Clearly, NAPLAN results alone cannot be used to evaluate teachers or schools. Teachers and schools have no control over many of the factors that negatively impact on their students’ potential.

UNICEF (2007) also acknowledges the relationship between test scores and poverty. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to talk about a “poverty gap” than an “achievement gap”.

Given that there are many factors, including out-of-school factors, effecting students’ NAPLAN scores, it’s dishonest to link the results to high-stakes issues.

Publicly, I’ve heard the CEO of ACARA say that NAPLAN is only a snapshot of students’ learning. However, these same “snapshot results” are then used to give a school ‘red’ or ‘green’ on the MySchool website and to make statements about the quality of teachers and schools. Appallingly, parents are also told that they should use the flawed information on the MySchool website to make decisions about school choice. I believe that parents are actually being misled.


I have commented on only four of the problems with NAPLAN.

All are serious problems.

  1. A student’s score on a NAPLAN test does not tell us anything worth knowing about that student. Many test items are not testing what they are claiming to test. The tests are unreliable and have unacceptably high errors of measurement (see Wu 2010; Hornsby & Wu 2012).
  2. Timed tests are not able to assess important learning. Indeed, timed tests advantage superficial, shallow thinking and disadvantage critical and reflective thinking.
  3. NAPLAN tests are standardised tests that provide population data; they are not diagnostic tests and they cannot provide valid or reliable data about individual students.
  4. Teachers and schools are not the only influence on test scores, so test scores cannot establish teacher or school accountability. Many academics, including statistician Prof Margaret Wu, have repeatedly warned about the abuse of statistics for inappropriate purposes. However, the abuse continues, and unreliable NAPLAN test scores are still linked to high-stakes issues such as funding and teacher/school accountability.

Finally, I hope the Senate Inquiry considers these questions:

How is it that Finland, one of the top education systems in the world, achieves such remarkable standards without the use of standardised tests?

Why is Australia following the flawed US model instead?


[For print-out to distribute this article with its full bibliography please go to list of Senate Inquiry submissions]

 DID YOU KNOW? Another anti-Standardised Blanket Testing opponent, Sir Ken Robinson’s talk about changing paradigms in education has been viewed by over 300million people?

Phil Cullen,

[Former Director of Primary Education, Q”ld] ,

41 Cominan Avenue, Banora Point 2486

07 5524 6443

What If We Have Got It All Wrong?

Distinguished Guest Writer

Bruce Jones is a very active, former primary school principal. I was fortunate to be able to visit his schools at Yungaburra, Atherton and Coolum where one could actually feel the learning in the air. Children were always busily active at learning experiences that they obviously enjoyed and the size of the classrooms went well beyond the school fence.

A super-active well-known critic of school standards, fond of stating her beliefs to  the world, lived on the Atherton Tableland west of Cairns. Bruce invited her to join him in his classroom and stay as long as she liked for as many days she liked and do as she pleased.  To her credit, she tried. Her advocacy for a return to the old chalk-talk, fear-based conditions ceased.

Bruce began his teaching career as a student in Group X, Kelvin Grove Teachers’ College, 1960, the last one-year teaching certificate course ever offered. Maybe the shortness of the training, with prac school one day every week and three extended prac school sessions in the year, set the foundation for his continuing interest in teacher education as crucial to the success of schools, and the concern for the education of children at their most vulnerable.

As a school principal he cut his teeth in large city schools, which gave him gum ulcers, being there when Scholarship ceased and primary schools were reconfigured. Well some were. From his first one teacher school, Teviot near Boonah, where thirteen children taught him the values of Family Grouping, to Coolum by the sea, where four mini schools operated, two fully multi age, two traditional 1960s format, and a nine day teaching fortnight for all, convinced him that economic rationalist policies spelt the death knell for primary school education in Queensland.

Throughout his career he was active in a number of community based projects including a public swimming pool at Pentland, the Yungaburra Markets established in 1977 (the school still the beneficiary of the event), the Atherton District Education Centre (ADEC) at Tolga, the Tinaroo Field Study Centre at Black Gully, Tinaroo, as well as a number of school/community based programs. His unpublished book, “Copycats, Stickybeaks and Scallywags, our Children All” is looking for a publisher.

After his long association with education he and wife Trish embarked on a decade of management rights, caring for properties in Wynnum West, Kangaroo Point and the Tinaroo Lake Resort with his family. Currently he is working with Parkinsons Queensland in event marketing to raise funds for Parkinsons and other neurological disease research. His hobbies include aquaponics and sustainable organic food production, plus abolishing NAPLAN.

If you are on a tourist jaunt around the Atherton Tableland, you are sure pass a beautiful park called ‘Bruce Jones Park’ – a public tribute to his community involvement.

Phil Cullen


What if we have got it all wrong

Bruce Jones

My dad suffered for almost all of his life with stomach ulcers and I well recall the vile chalky mixtures he was dosed with and the agony he suffered, always watching what he ate and driving my mum mad. He was never given the proper treatment, for it hadn’t been discovered. The Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium was identified in 1982 by Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who found that it was present in patients with chronic gastritis and gastric ulcers, conditions that were not previously believed to have a microbial cause. It was commonly thought that stress, smoking and diet were the principal causes. Today’s treatment for stomach ulcers includes the use of antibiotics to kill the infection, and acid-suppressing drugs. How wrong the doctors were for so long. (source Wikipedia)

So were you going to ask if schools cause ulcers? Maybe the way we’re going with GERM (global education reform movement) it might be a real possibility. In western culture, schools were established in the nineteenth century for the education of a society’s young for fairly simplistic reasons, to prepare them for the basics of life (“Duck your head” for a mining child to read was life or death); and to provide some respite for their parents who had to work to make ends meet. For the privileged there were private tutors and colleges, then universities. Depending on one’s place on the social scale children were kept mainly to the class into which they were born. Schooling of the masses was a direct result of the Industrial Revolution that led to the exodus of many from Britain. Social class education was soon established in the colonies, but for those wanting a real education the opportunity to return to the motherland was highly desirable.

So what has changed in the ensuing almost two centuries? We’ve found that a really good education is a highly desirable asset and it costs a lot of money, so preferably should be available to only those who can afford it. The massive growth in private education since the freeing up of federal funding by Dr. Kemp and John Howard in recent times has given a new slant on class based education, cleverly done through the political catch cry of Parent Choice. Are we sure that we are educating our future citizens the most effectively, knowing what we now know about learning and the brain?

Or have we abrogated our responsibilities as educators completely to the political whim of our politicians? They change their position according to their quest to win votes to rule. What if we have got it all wrong?

In Britain for a short period after World War Two, when resources were stretched to the limit, schools of all kinds had to be very creative and frugal as both material and human resources were in short supply. Primary schools became far less structured and far more supportive of the children in their care, many having been through great trauma. Classes were often of mixed ages with older children assigned to look after the younger ones and everyone tended to unite to survive. Teachers were forced to adopt a different view of the world and determined to lift the spirits of the young by celebrating the joys of childhood and take life one step at a time, to enjoy the moment.

The process towards an open education platform, tagged as progressive by staunch traditionalists, took more than a decade but by the late fifties many schools, which had adopted this pathway, began to stand out as good examples as to how children might better learn to live. The needs of the child were used as a platform to work from, not the needs of the vocal electorate as we now witness. The ideas of the great American educator of the early twenties, John Dewey, made a significant presence in educators’ thinking. Some gave these new methods a title, Family Grouping, and schools which encouraged the family ethos into their culture found that their charges were not only learning beyond their greatest expectations, but were much happier in a supportive and collaborative environment.Relationship education had real meaning. Teachers also began to change into a far more collaborative role, sharing their successes and problems, often teaching co-operatively, celebrating the joy of learning, for everyone.

The Scholarship examination regime ended in Queensland in 1962 signaling the transfer of year eight pupils from primary to secondary school. Within a few short years and with the more flexible opportunity provided for primary schooling some heard of these new methods from the UK, the US and NZ. As a result primary education in many schools took on a new child centered approach for almost two decades. In Queensland we even had a Director of Primary Education appointed, guiding the sector that had such different needs to pre-schools and secondary schools. Not only were teaching methods changing, school architecture was also. All new schools constructed in Queensland after the new Petrie Terrace State School opened in 1969 were built to an open structure formula, wrongly spoken of as ‘open area classrooms,’ a tag copied from the United States, which was also going through somewhat of a similar educational revolution.

The revolution lasted almost exactly two decades before the introduction of economic rationalism began to change our schools and the lives of our young learners back again to a more structured and Back to Basics regime. It must be noted also that very few secondary schools ever adopted the model of the ungraded classrooms. High schools have always been based on the subject first model, ruled by the timetable, with tests and results paramount. Teenage children can be a handful and need structure and discipline everyone agreed.

In the late eighties a new business model for all schools was being touted by our politicians, heavily supported by businesses and the private school sector, who saw the benefits to themselves by competing on a more business like footing, without the usual impediments of paying taxes yet still receiving ever increasing government grants to get their businesses established, or added to. Parents in the public sector were confused, often made to feel inferior, as the concerted media attack on public schooling ramped up and children’s needs were lost in the melee. Primary school architecture even reflected the loss of the child centered primary education as double teaching spaces were walled off, back into single, secure, secret rooms where ‘true competition’ could once again flourish. Testing came to the fore, beginning with the Year Two Net, sold as the necessary prerequisite to know who needed extra resources to help them. No account in graded classes can be taken of the fact that chronologically the children range by at least a whole year, three or more in other measurable traits. Kids don’t vote so why would we consider them in our decisions to pull down their castles?

In Queensland there was a glimpse of light in the mid nineties with the trial of Professor Alan Luke’s New Basics project with the accompanying Rich Tasks and Productive Pedagogies. Like almost all other educational leap forward programs the quick sand of inertia slowly but surely took hold and in 2006 Lesley Friend, team leader of the Rich Task Team, Education Queensland, wrote “In the current climate of negativity, blame and open attack, one wonders if there is capacity to sustain what is good, what has been so richly achieved by the hard work of teachers and schools. Governments are often guilty of leaping before looking and find ways of dumbing down the serious and complex nature of educating our precious youth for tomorrow.”

Truer words were never spoken for only two years later NAPLAN took over and subsumed all that had gone before, and the Murdoch press went into high drive to appropriate as much of the future market Rupert could consume. New Basics, costing many millions, had hardly lasted a decade, and was only taken on board by a small number of schools. After all it was just a trial, the same as Pre-prep and Prep, and Yr. 7 to High Schools were/are. Is there a joke there somewhere? New Basics didn’t fit the testing regime that was now biting into all classrooms. Multi age classrooms didn’t fit the testing regime structure either. When NAPLAN rose to national dominance the then premier of Queensland, previously the Education Minister, on ABC radio advised her schools to “Practise, practise, practise!” All lights turned green and a new industry called NAPLAN Support was born. Great news for publishers. Poor kids.

So now it is complete. We educate our must vulnerable and impressionable, our little children, our copycats, our stickybeaks, our scallywags, according to a structure devised by our politicians, foreign ‘experts’ and publishers whose eyes boggle with delight at the opportunity our education system has provided. We have truly adopted the high school culture the then minister of education promised me in the early nineties. We now ensure all children are taught the same content, based on National Curriculum content with C2C electronically prepared lesson plans (we called them Work Books in the early sixties as computers hadn’t yet been invented). We are also able to directly link teacher pay with NAPLAN results and our ministers of education across the country have a common tool and a common curriculum with which they can sprout their noble quest for the best education for all Australian children, so authentically supported by the media and the private sector schools. Our Education Queensland has decided to make our state schools clones of the private system. I think the US calls them Charter Schools.

Forget the wise words of the noted US educator Thomas Sergiovanni (deceased 2012) when he addressed a large gathering of educational leaders at the Wesley Hospital auditorium in 1998. He asked what the audience thought were the greatest problems schools in the US faced. Not drugs, not gangs, not poverty. It was disengagement of learners from schooling, from learning. Disengagement. The two strategies he advocated to reverse the trend were to have pupils educated in a multi age classroom structure within a small school environment. As simple as that. We called ours mini schools.

NAPLAN has it all, just as my dad had vile chalky medicines and a strict dietary regime. Only it didn’t work, but we     knew no better then.


Phil Cullen

41 Cominan Avenue

Banora Point 2486

07 5524 6443

Does high Stakes Testing (MySchool website) improve education?

Distinguished Guest Writer

Breen Stephen Breen is the President of the Western Australian Primary Principals’ Association and is also Treasurer of the Australian Primary Principals’ Association.

Stephen has been in primary education for over 35 years graduating from Edith Cowan University and holds post graduate qualifications in computer education and professional accounting

In his career he has taught in a number of city and regional schools and has held the position of teacher, deputy principal and principal of District High schools and primary schools. He has also worked in private industry in a seconded position with the ANZ bank.

Stephen has held the position of President of WAPPA since December 2007 and has been on the Board of Management for over 8 years.

In 2005 he held the position of General Manager of the Western Australian Government Schools Leadership Centre. Stephen also sits on the Boards of the non-profit organisation ‘Millennium Kids’ a self-help youth group who fund and organise projects both within Western Australia and internationally and Nature Play WA a community group setup to get children more involved in outdoor activities.

Phil Cullen

Does high Stakes Testing (MySchool website) improve education?

Stephen Breen

We all know that the existing education bureaucracy and our politicians look upon the MySchool website as their vehicle to develop education as a priority within the Australian culture. The website has been developed by politicians to give the general public a simple and easily understood mechanism to understand if Australian kids were improving in their basic skills.

“Among schools with similar students, those achieving higher student performances can stimulate others to lift expectations of what they and their students can achieve. The schools with higher performing students can be a source of information for others on the policies and practices that produce those higher performances.” (Barry McGaw, Chair ACARA)

The proponents of the MySchool website argue on a choice and transparency platform and the one that I particular like is that ‘the government has to be sure they are getting value for money’.

Other ‘educational experts’ use the left and right political rhetoric slant, “As popular as the league tables were with parents, they also enraged teachers unions and the public school lobby which saw them as the education equivalent to opening the gates of hell.”(Nine Network Investigations Editor Kelvin Bissett)

These reasons for the initial popularity of the MySchool website were easy to understand however they dismiss what is actually happening in schools and what has occurred throughout the world with the introduction of high stakes tests.

High stakes testing in Australia is developing a culture of compliance that is clearly, counter-productive to what the average parents wants for their child. Parents of primary students that I have spoken to clearly want their child to be given an all round education that includes the basic literacy and numeracy skills coupled with social and physical development and most importantly a sense of the world and the ability to get on with their peers.

Unfortunately due to this top down push a greater number of schools are narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test and developing assessment strategies that use NAPLAN as the sole assessment strategy.

We also have educational authorities (sadly to say nearly all in the government sector) who use the NAPLAN results as the sole gauge of a schools performance while there is little reference to evidence of attainments levels based on socio economic issues. If you have a red mark then you will receive the ‘inspector’ but if your squares are green you will be left to get on with the job. Our leaders are at pains to say that they do not want the NAPLAN results to be such a big issue however when they put such huge accountability on one test no wonder schools have reacted.

The basic fact is that authorities have taken their eye of the ball and now look to NAPLAN as the gauge of school success. After a period where the skills and knowledge of Teaching and Learning where the most important priorities of the profession we now have a compliance culture based on a one off test.

Before I move on it must be said that Principals from around Australia acknowledge that the NAPLAN evaluation process is an excellent analytical tool however due to the development of the MySchool website and its ‘inspectorial’ accountability regime the testing has in many schools negatively affected the average parents’ aspirations and for the school it has become anti-education.

Are we alone in this view, certainly not!

In trawling the internet you can find arguments for and against high stakes testing with the ‘for’ argument highlighting the practicality and ease of the testing, objectiveness and preparation for entry to higher education while the ‘against’ argument centres on equity, stress on students and impediments to improving a holistic education environment and the detrimental development of educationally based assessments

The political ‘experiment’ of high stakes testing has been going on in America for many years with spectacular failures.

“We have had a full decade of No Child Left Behind, and we now know that the law has been a disaster. True, it has documented the shocking gaps in passing rates between different groups of children, but it has done nothing to change the conditions that cause those gaps.” [Diane Ravitch, formally Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of President George H.W. Bush]

An interesting article can be read at that chronicle a decade of test scores in New York.

This failure is also evident in England

“Many of the fears in Australia about the dysfunctional effects of national testing, an excessive focus on and unrealistic expectations for standards, the narrowing of curriculum, and high levels of stress for students and teachers have been borne out in experience in England.” The impact of high stakes tests driven accountability”, Brian J. Caldwell

If you believe the argument ‘against’ the highlighting of high stakes testing in Australia and most educators would, we need to ask ourselves what is to be done by the teaching profession if we are to stop the problems escalating within our schools.

The idea of not participating in the tests in many ways is self defeating since we all agree the tests themselves give good information to schools. Our concern, as the association has always articulated, is not the tests themselves but the effects of the high stakes testing on the educational environment within schools and community understanding of schooling.

The answer I believe is a ‘Ghandi like’ approach, proactive non-participation! In that I mean schools should approach the NAPLAN as one of the ‘tools of the trade’ and get on with the work of educating the students but distance themselves from the MySchool website and the whole of system accountability measures.

It would be suggested that schools should not participate in any areas that highlight or assist the high stakes testing of students:

Look very carefully on any program (Department or commercial) that plans a run-up to the ‘big week’ by taking away valuable instruction time in all the learning areas.

Resist scheduling a program of special run throughs of previous NAPLAN questions. This is not to say schools should not educate their students on the interpretation of questioning for tests but it should be completed within a year program and not leading up to the ‘test’.

Do not highlight the NAPLAN score in any article to parents. You could inform the parents the week of the test but keep it very low key.

Try not to publicise any changes in NAPLAN scores from year to year other than in annual reports. Publicity of the MySchool website will simply breed interest.

Debate with line managers and ERG personnel the educational merit of interpreting test scores based on small cohorts, transiency of students, and evidence of research quoting change management takes time, transient staffing issues.

Be openly sceptical with the community on the use and advantage of the MySchool website as a ‘yardstick’ of education improvement.

At every opportunity with both the public and the education community take a stand and point out that the negative aspects of an overemphasis of NAPLAN scores on schools students and resourcing of schools.

Start to use the slogan, “The MySchool website is anti-education”

Do not talk about the NAPLAN testing process with staff other than in the context of the whole school assessment process.

Downgrade the whole MySchool website hype with staff. Resist timetabling whole of staff meetings to discuss NAPLAN results but work proactively with individuals or with small groups to highlight areas of need from the analysis

Above all look to improving the practices of Teaching and Learning as the cornerstone of your educational improvement program, with better teaching comes better results!

The MySchool website is a political animal rather that one based on educational thought. In time it will be modified and hopefully abandoned however it is up to senior leaders in schools to lead the change.

Article and information you might like to use to push the cause:

Charles Dickens, NAPLAN, and the Corporatisation of Education.



 Paul Thomson. You’ll have seen him in action on TV  Paul is the proud Principal of Kimberley College at Carbrook, a southern suburb of Brisbane. The College website is worth exploring as is a trip through its facebook ;

Paul Thomson was previously a primary school principal, who had done the hard yards in the developmental apprenticeship system of  serving in many parts of Queensland, completing his service at Kimberley Park State School. He had opened this school in 1985 as a multi-aged, de Bono style school [Thomson style really] THINKING school, teaching THINKING. It gained a world reputation for the quality of its work and its achievements. Visitors from overseas and inter-state were constant.
The parents of the school wanted their children to  follow seamlessly, the principles and practices when they moved to high school. There was none available, so they started their own! Foundation principal Paul is immensely proud of his school and its pupils. Kimberley College is a serious pupilling school, a private school that charges low fees, a thinking school in all of its elements.  Paul Thomson and the parents of Kimberley College share the same philosophical beliefs based on the notion that children develop and progress better from styles of teaching that are tailored to individual differences; not standardised according to state-controlled tests. They believe that evaluation devices should be used to improve learning; not judge it. They believe that intelligence is not the same as memory; that blind compliance devalues democratic beliefs; that pupils need to develop a moral intelligence that can positively influence their social behaviour at that same time as it questions values posed by media on behalf of the powerful. They believe in analytical thinking. They believe in children and their worth.
That’s why 140 of the 150 Year Nines are NOT contesting the contra-learning NAPLAN testing this month.



Paul Thomson

Charles Dickens is not the poster boy of the economic rationalists. With the advocacy of canonical tests by the ‘back to’ movement one would expect the Dickens name to be dropped occasionally. This elective silence is for good reason. Dickens’ portrayal of the education system of the Industrial Revolution should be an embarrassment to the education ‘reformers’ of this country. In six or seven pages of ‘Hard Times’, Dickens satirises the stupidities of his era as only Dickens can and, in doing so, satirises the recent ‘reforms’ of the Australian system.

Unfortunately for our children, the satirised stupidities form a catalogue of the vacuous and irrational reforms re-introduced by corporate rationalists of the US, Australia and NZ. The introduction of the reforms has been made possible through the indifference of parents, the indifference of educators, and the bullying culture infecting education nationally.

The predominant philosophy of Dickens’ time was Utilitarianism, the idiot half-brother of economic rationalism. There is little difficulty in finding similarities between these self-serving dogmas with their self-serving notions of wealth-based intelligence as a reward for the ‘fittest’.

The first chapter of ‘Hard Times’ comprises one of the most comprehensive critiques of rationalist-based education since the well-planned emergence of the corporatisation movement of the early 1990’s. Dickens words of the 1850’s are an unnerving reminder of the destructiveness and arrogance of those who count their worth, and the worth of others, in monetary terms.

Dickens clearly loathed the forerunners of such rationalist strategies as Naplan and the National Curriculum. ‘Hard Times’ commences with the words of Thomas Gradgrind:

‘Now what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts.

Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.’

‘Facts’, of course, are easily tested and are easily controlled. The teaching of thinking and the nurturing of imagination, which Dickens called ‘fancy’, were not on the agenda. Some excuse could be made for Thomas Gradgrind as he would not have been aware of Einstein’s injunction; “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

A personal anecdote may be appropriate here. Several years ago, I attended a seminar conducted by a member of the committee responsible for the development of the national curriculum.

She stated that the committee had decided that, in the younger grades, the teaching of drama, dance, singing and art would be allocated 4 minutes a day.

However, by the end of year three, every child would be able to explain the meaning of ‘onomatopoeia’. Chilling stuff. Even more chilling was that the 70 or 80 ‘educators’ sat in dumb silence in response to this expression of petty triumphalism.

Thomas Gradgrind’s Naplanism is well established by these lines:

‘…….Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to.’

Thomas, like the ACARA spokesperson referred to previously,

‘….seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them (his pupils) clean out of the realms of childhood at one discharge’

Sissy Jupe is the next character introduced by Dickens and the juxtaposition of the mechanical mind of Gradgrind and Sissy Jupe’s generous and innocent nature is disturbing. The Gradgrinds of education have gained the ascendancy in this country.

Sissy Jupe, the daughter of a circus trick-rider, is asked to define a horse and she is unable to do so. A classmate, Bitzer, is able to deliver the definition and so receives the praise.

Readings of commercial texts designed for the subject of English as defined by the national curriculum reveal an obsession with definition. One year 9 text has over 80 definitions of parts of speech, figures of speech and so on.

Language is culture; thousands have died to resist the imposition of foreign languages conveying foreign cultures. Who then, would go to the barricades to die for the definition of a verbal noun?

With a little imagination it is not too difficult to see C.O.A.G, A.C.A.R.A., and their minions receive a mention in the extract below. Gradgrind’s continuing admonition of Sissy Jupe is in these words,

‘You are to be in all things regulated and governed’ said the gentleman, ‘by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact.’

Dickens’ relevance is further established through an attack on subject-centred education. His vehicle for this attack is Mr McChoakumchild, an educator and part of a mass produced cohort ‘….. lately turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs.’

Mr McChoakumchild’s expertise included ‘Orthography, etymology, syntax and prosody, biography, astronomy, geography and general cosmography, and the sciences of compound proportion, algebra, land-surveying and levelling, vocal music and drawing from models……’

The pertinence of the above is palpable. The education profession is as vocal as ‘pianoforte legs’. There is a same-ness in silence.

Re-establishment of subject centredness has been accomplished, ensuring that ‘one size fits all’ has returned and standards are a function of the child’s birth certificate.

Birth certificate based education in the form of placing children in grades reveals the fundamental ignorance of those who profess to educate children with ‘one size for all’ teaching technology and practices. These papier mache ‘educators’ are out of touch with the reality that a grade number is a better indicator of difference rather than sameness. For example, when teaching a Grade 8 class, expect an eight year range in ability. Some will be above the (mythological) grade 8 average, and some will be below it. About 2 or 3 will be ‘average’, but good luck with the quest to find an average child.

A propagandist word now appearing frequently is ‘rigour’. We need ‘rigorous’ teaching of a rigorous curriculum to return to the rigorous Golden Era.

A scratch on the surface of rationalism reveals that rigour means a teacher standing in front of the class teaching the same content to all students at the same rate.

Given what we have learned in the past 50 years, this style of teaching is irrational, ideologically based, selfish, and out of touch with reality.

A final question – did Charles Dickens have a crystal ball?

Probably not. He was remarkably successful in portraying social injustice, and this portrayal could be seen as relevant due to our failure to emerge from the Industrial Revolution.

Fossil fuels destroy our environment and fossilised conceptions of education destroy the child’s power to think, imagine and develop fully as an adult.

We have deserted our Sissy Jupes.


Phil Cullen

41 Cominan Avenue

Banora Pint 2486

07 5524 6443


I don’t Want the NAPLAN


Ray Kelley is a well known writer of humorous verse. He has been described by Phillip Adams as “…a clever bugger” and by Bruce Dawe as “…our finest poet of light verse.”

His two publications, “Flight to the Chookhouse Roof” [C.Q. University Press, Rockhampton 1998] and “Go, Lovely Nose” [Five Islands Press, Carlton 2005] are widely acclaimed. He has had more than a hundred poems printed by The Spectator and a fair number of these have won the best entry bonus. During his long career as a Principal of State Schools in many parts of Queensland, Australia, he wrote quite a number of parodies about issues of the day that were sung by his colleagues at their social gatherings. In many of these he was unafraid to take cheeky cock-a-snooks at the powers-that-be.

Born in Sydney, raised in Mackay, married to classmate Lawrie Ross in Mackay in August 1954, Ray attended Kelvin Grove Teachers Training College in 1947-48. After service as Assistant Teacher in Sarina and Marian, he became a Head Teacher [later called Principal] at Miclere Provisional, Mt. Gipps, Oakenden, Mt. Alford, Blenheim, Glenella, Gympie West, Emerald, Richlands East and Moorooka. He retired in 1987.

Perhaps his Head Teacher at Te Kowai State School in the 1930s inspired Ray’s dedication to and admiration for the better features of the profession of primary teaching.


 He wore a coal-black suit despite the chalk,

That starched and ironed man, remote as God,

Whose dark jowls made him look

Like Ginger Meggs’s dad.

Summoned one morning from the littlies’ school

To where the Big Kids sat at work, we stood

Around his table, all

A-twitter to be heard.

Our 3 from 12 twice 7 5 plus 8

Answering in turn, but never fast enough

For him. When he took out

A pocket handkerchief.

We gained a respite; I gained something else.

The unfolded hankie of our awesome judge

Was riddled with small holes

And frayed along one edge!

And so I chanced at seven years of age

In the Almighty’s presence to perceive

Frailty; and felt a surge

Of pity and, yes, love.

One of the great pleasures of taking an interest in the young Treehorns of the world is to share comments with like-minded true-blue educators like Ray Kelley. If NAPLAN has done anything of worth, it has sorted the educators from the testucators. Educators care about kids. Testucators don’t.

 Phil Cullen


 Ray Kelley writes: “When Phil asked me to support his campaign against NAPLAN with a few ditties, I readily agreed. As a teacher I spent more time testing than was warranted. If I had my time over, I’d test only for the purpose of helping me plan remedial learning activities.”

 I Don’t Want to do the NAPLAN

[Tune: ‘’I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard”]

I don’t want to do the NAPLAN,

I don’t want to post a score,

Once my Mum and Dad decided

They object to what it’s for.

 I don’t want to do the NAPLAN,

Just because I’m in Year 3,

And we hear ACARA holler

To imply it’s mandaTREE.

I’m not going to do NAPLAN

I don’t have to any more.

I’ll be carefree on the test day,

Having slept the night before.

Wasn’t granted an exemption

For some disabiliTEE –

Just withdrawn because the truth is

That it’s NOT compulsoREE.


Teacher: Don’t You Waste My Time.

[Tune: “Don’t Fence Me In.”’

Oh teacher teach, teacher teach to our understanding’s reach.

Don’t waste our time.

Help us learn, help us learn – that should be your main concern.

Don’t waste our time.

Don’t spend hour after hour on that testing practice,

For hocus-pocus focus lands us in the cactus;

Save us from the place where NAPLAN cul-de-sac’d us,

Don’t waste our time

Oh no, teacher don’t you waste our time.


 In a brilliant acrostic, Ray describes NAPLAN and its effects on classrooms


[Tune: “Mother’]

N is for the Nervousness it’s causing:

A is for the Angst it’s causing too;

P the Pointless Practice, Practice, Practice;

L the Loss of Learning that we rue;

A stands for the Axe with which to Axe it;

N this Needless Nuisance we deplore;

Put them all together, they spell NAPLAN –

A thing to ban forevermore.



Phil Cullen

41 Cominan Avenue

Banora oint 2486

07 5524 6443