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"Is this what we want for six year olds?" Teacher speaks out against new testing.

I’m sure you heard that Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham wants to introduce mandatory phonics, literacy and numeracy standard tests for children in Year One. Tests. For six year olds.

If you’re like me, you probably thought, “enough already – let our kids be kids.”

As a teacher myself and a parent of four, I know the pressure testing puts on kids, their teachers and their families. You can’t help but feel the tension when it’s a NAPLAN year (currently years 3, 5, 7 and 9) and the parents I’ve spoken to can’t believe we would want to put that pressure on six year olds.

The thing is – kids know. You tell them time and again that the tests only capture a ‘moment in time’ – they don’t tell us about the kind of person that child is or the progress they might have made to get the results they have….but they know these tests are a BIG DEAL.

They talk about it among themselves beforehand, they compare their results afterwards. They make judgements about themselves based on how their results measure up against those of their friends.

Is that what we want for six year olds?

What I want for my own children, and what I wanted for the children I taught, is for kids to develop a deep love of learning, a love of inquiry and of curiously investigating their world and their place in it. I don’t want them stressing about a test.

Listen: The Parenting Code explores the great homework debate.

Anyone with a child in Year One would know that teachers are constantly assessing and observing our children. Your child’s teacher will know that for one student 100% on a spelling quiz means assigning more challenging words next time, or that a result of 50% for another child is a sign of huge progress that should be celebrated. They differentiate their lessons to play to the strengths of each child and they do this without the pressure of another standardised test.

There is plenty of time for comparisons later on, and there’s no question that making sure both parent and teacher know where our kids are at is important. But that needs to be backed up with the resources to help those children who are identified as needing that little bit extra attention and we haven’t seen any proposal for that in conjunction with this announcement.

A burnt old six-year-old, is that what we want? (Image via iStock.)
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We all want the best possible education for our kids but it seems strange to me, and many parents, that Minister Birmingham’s answer is to impose a new test on six year olds, but at the same time take billions of dollars out of the Federal education budget – money that would have otherwise actually helped those kids whose test indicates they’re not doing so well.

And let’s not forget we’re still waiting to see if the government will actually go ahead with more funding for childcare (as promised over three years ago) or whether they’ll continue to fund Universal Access, ensuring every child can go to preschool or kindy.

If the Minister wants to make evidence-based decisions, he should begin with the mountain of research showing kids do well at school when they’ve had access to quality early learning in the years before they start.

It’s time we trust our teachers, make sure they have the resources they need to help every child succeed from day one.

But most importantly, it’s time we let our kids be kids.

Nicole Lessio is the Principal Campaign Manager at The Parenthood. Nicole is a mum of four - Megan, Alex, Kate & Luke - from grade 12 to kindy and is a former high school teacher.

The Parenthood is Australia’s leading campaign and advocacy organisation for Aussie parents. For those keen to have their say on "letting kids be kids" visit the website.

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