A Government-appointed panel has recommended the national rollout of a new literacy and numeracy test for all Year 1 students.
- Panel was appointed by Education Minister to investigate options for Year 1 screening
- Panel chair Jennifer Buckingham says testing must be age-appropriate
- For literacy test, panel has recommended phonics screening check
The assessment would be conducted in term three as a one-on-one interview with a teacher, rather than a formal test such as NAPLAN.
The panel was appointed by Education Minister Simon Birmingham earlier this year to investigate options for Year 1 screening.
Panel chair Jennifer Buckingham from the Centre for Independent Studies said testing needed to be age-appropriate.
“Children of that age aren’t necessarily familiar at that point with doing formal types of assessment,” Dr Buckingham said.
“A one-on-one assessment between the teacher and the child allows you to have an oral assessment, so you’re not relying on handwriting, for example.
“You can determine what they know by them reading aloud, or if it’s a numeracy assessment by telling you what the answer to the question is.”
Literacy test would focus on phonics
For the new literacy test, the panel recommended the phonics screening check developed by the UK Government be adapted for use in Australia.
What is NAPLAN and is it important?
- The National Assessment Program tests the literacy and numeracy skills of students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9
- Students cannot pass or fail the assessment
- The annual testing is designed to help governments and schools gauge whether students are meeting key educational outcomes
- The results help identify strengths and address areas that need to be improved
- Schools and parents can see how an individual students learning is tracking compared to their classmates and the national average
Phonics is a method used to teach children to read by learning the way letters sound.
Dr Buckingham said current literacy testing in Australian schools did not drill into the detail of phonics to establish what children know.
“There is abundant research in the last several decades that has shown phonics is an essential prerequisite to learning to read, and it’s a really strong predictor of how well children will go on to read and how quickly they’ll become proficient readers,” she said.
She said a more detailed assessment would give schools a much better idea of students’ strengths and weaknesses.
The panel also recommended an electronic scoring method be developed so the results were available immediately for teachers and schools.
“One of the criticisms or the difficulties with NAPLAN-style testing is that it takes a while for the results to get back, and this is the key difference with this assessment,” Dr Buckingham said.
Teachers’ union says test is unnecessary
The Australian Education Union was critical of the proposal for a new test for six-year-old students.
Union president Correna Haythorpe said teachers already knew where there were learning gaps.
“We don’t believe it’s necessary to have a standardised test for six-year-olds when they enter school. Our schools already assess their students and they are able to identify what those students need,” she said.
“What they need are the resources to back that up so we can cater for children who need that extra help.”
Dr Buckingham’s panel recommended extra support for teachers to give them time to conduct the checks and training to help them interpret the results.
She has also cautioned against using the test results to compare different schools.
“There isn’t any appetite, I don’t think, among teachers and principals to make that sort of school level data available to the public,” she said.
“There’s no clear benefit of that, and it does add a level of stress to teachers.”
Senator Birmingham said the panel’s report highlighted the need for action.
“The idea behind these checks is to ensure students don’t slip through the cracks,” he said.
“By identifying exactly where students are at in their development early at school, educators can intervene to give extra support to those who need it to stop them slipping behind the pack.”
Senator Birmingham said he would discuss how the testing could be trialled and rolled out with his state and territory counterparts.