Time for teachers' voices to be heard
The erosion of respect for teachers’ professional judgments, expertise and autonomy demands our response.
The voice of teachers and their union has been swamped by cycles of government and short-term political agenda.
The misuse of, and over-reliance on, data, testing, reporting and compliance are also to blame — giving rise to work intensification and creating distractions from real teaching.
One factor in the erosion of teachers’ professional standing and exercise of professional judgement has been the misuse of the standardised testing regime by government.
The misuse of standardised testing has long been an issue for those who understand the proper role of testing and data analysis in teaching and learning — but teachers are not listened to.
Standardised tests may have a relevance in describing the status of a student’s learning at a particular point, but these tests have no relevance to whole of school to school comparisons and, even more bizarrely, comparison of one cohort with a later cohort.
Research consistently shows that teachers and their students do not benefit from the implementation of standardised tests — yet the professional judgements of teachers, which do make a difference, continue to be side-lined in favour of these tests.
The Queensland College of Teachers’ (QCT) notes in a recent submission to the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools conducted by the Department of Education and Training that Australia’s decline in student achievement has yet to be measured against the increase in Federal Government intervention in to what schools teach and how they operate.
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said teachers know that international tests such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and national tests such as NAPLAN, provide limited insight, if any insight at all, into the progression of students.
“Yet the Federal Government continues to use simplistic data derived from these tests to criticise teachers and their students,” Mr Burke said.
Complex nature of education
Attempts by government and commentators to use standardised test results to ‘assess’ teacher performance are misguided and inherently obnoxious.
The study Student Assessment Data for Accountability by Margaret Wu suggested that data across 10 years or more would be needed to make an accurate judgement of a teacher’s performance and that teacher and school performance, and the effectiveness of government funding, cannot be measured using student achievement results alone.
Mr Burke said studies such as these show the complex nature of education.
“What has always baffled education professionals is how the government expects meaningful data to be drawn about a student’s progression from one particular test, conducted at one particular point in time, that only assesses a limited number of subject areas that in no way reflect the vast array of skills teachers are teaching in order to provide a well-rounded education.
“Teachers have a fundamental task in their classrooms and that is to craft, differentiate and deliver learning experiences for each student.
“A standardised test cannot measure the impact of these interventions and indeed when administrative exercises become too onerous it is at the expense of true teaching practice,” Mr Burke said.
We must reclaim our voice
The Federal Government continues to devalue the profession by using results of standardised tests to justify incursions on teachers’ practice, and diminish the space where teachers can exercise their professional judgement.
“Our union commends State Education Minister Grace Grace for initiating a wide-ranging consideration of the nature and impact of NAPLAN.
“We will participate in that consideration.
“We also express appreciation for the Queensland Teachers’ Union (QTU) for bringing the issue into sharp focus with their ban on NAPLAN online.
“Our union will support any school Chapter that determines not to participate in the online trials,” Mr Burke said.
The IEUA branches across the country have committed to a campaign to return autonomy and trust to teachers and allow them to exercise their professional judgements inside the classroom.
Mr Burke said as a union we must challenge the Federal Government’s notion of what quality teaching is.
“We must demand that education reforms be informed by the professional judgements of teachers as they reflect on their practice and its impact on students.
“If the Federal Government won’t listen, we must make them listen.
“We must reclaim our professional voice — we must reclaim our profession,” Mr Burke said.