Jane Caro: "Why I'm against NAPLAN."

I do not know a single educator who loves standardised testing. NAPLAN, of course, like the HSC, is a standardised test. Mind you, NAPLAN (unlike the HSC) was not designed as a standardised test, it was originally a diagnostic test (the kind of test educators do support). A diagnostic test does not pit student against student, school against school or state against state. It is designed to be used by teachers so they can see where their students are at and who they need to give extra support.

I do know some education researchers who love NAPLAN and the MySchool website because it is a treasure trove of data. Data which has led to much of the return to public schools, particularly in middle class areas, (but that is another story.)

The English speaking world’s obsession with standardised testing indicates something very important about our changing attitudes to education. Standardising inputs and equipment is the sort of thing we do in factories because it makes mass production cheaper and so minimises costs and maximises profit. Such results are called ‘increasing productivity’ and are worshipped by the economic rationalists who still dominate public life.

Image via iStock.

But what, you may ask, has productivity got to do with real human children? The answer to that is chilling, and to explain it I have to give you a quick economics lesson.

For decades now the western world has been limping along as far as growth in GDP is concerned and that is partly because we are now in an age of saturated markets. Apart from technology (smart phones, tablets etc), westerners have just about everything they want.

In the 30 years after WWII growth leapt upwards as we bought new consumer goods. Now we mostly buy replacement goods - new irons, washing machines, cars, dishwashers and so on,  to replace the old ones. This means that capital has had to look to new areas for growth opportunities.

Image via iStock.

These 'new areas' include security and justice (privately run jails), what used to be public transport, infrastructure projects and, sadly, education. Standardised tests are part of a great opportunity for global business. Just as things like B.O. were turned into problems by advertisers so they could present us with a solution in the form of deodorants, so our kids performance at school has been made into a source of anxiety so business can present us with solutions like tests (designed & marketed increasingly by private companies), tutoring (just look at the growth of those businesses), text books, packaged curriculum and teacher training and professional development.

But how do you make children more 'productive'? Well, you could test and measure them; and then design and sell supposed solutions for the 'performance failures' your constant tests uncover.

Brilliant, isn't it?

But what does it do for our kids? Not much, frankly. It creates heightened anxiety. It dumbs down learning. It narrows the curriculum. (Could it be to the areas more profitable for the global education businesses? Surely not!) There are already international reports of huge and increasing student disengagement across all schools but particularly secondary schools - and no engagement means no learning.


Check out all the ways schooling has changed over the past few years. Post continues after video...

If standardised testing is combined with performance pay, as the Turnbull government appears to intend, it demoralises teachers and makes them stick rigidly to their script - which may also be written by a private business, which then trains the teachers in its delivery. The best and most creative teachers then leave (we already lose 50% of the profession within 5 years) and we can hire cheaper ones who turn into the educational equivalent of call centre staff, delivering pre-scripted lessons by rote.

We'll have a cheaper and more 'productive' education system as a result but at the cost of the imagination, creativity and unlimited potential of our children's minds.

That's the trouble with standardised tests. They risk the standardisation of everything.