Standardized Blanket Testing - A Moral Issue for Principals.
By Phil Cullen
I was motivated to write this after reading the efforts of Bruce Hammonds and Kelvin Smythe in Leading and Learning http://www.leading-learning.co.nz/ and http://www.networkonnet.co.nz/
(This view comes from Australia where national testing is in place - it is presented warning to New Zealand schools - Bruce)
Standardised blanket testing on a national scale in schools is a malady that has spread over a number of countries under different names.
The United Kingdom calls it ‘National Testing’; New Zealand 'National Standards'; the U.S.A. calls it 'No Child Left Behind' [NCLB] named after its emotional political launch ; Australia calls it 'National Program Literacy And Numeracy' [NAPLAN] introducing the concept of minimalism and political control of the curriculum. Naplan testing is a serious indwelling threat to Australia’s future.
Its introduction to Australia from New York was a political stunt, pure and simple. High stakes testing has nothing to do with learning nor achievement in any school subject.
Bruce Hammonds, New Zealand schooling guru, accurately describes these tests as ‘pseudo-scientific incoherent accountability measures.’
In each country, the politicised use of them has had a profound effect. Legislators in each country mentioned, support the school culture of ‘drill and grill’ that treats children as test scores. If school children had any say, they would plead for mercy and justice. The legislators, though, continue to ‘play dumb’ about the dehumanisation of the acts of learning. Because of their disregard, the concept of holistic based learning and development of a love for learning is disappearing, except in countries like Finland, which prohibits blanket testing. Finland respects school children and provides well-trained professional teaching for them. Australian politicians don’t even give it a thought and should be ashamed. They used to know better. No present-day political party publically cares about the plight of Aussie children. Check their ‘education’ credos and policies.
The concept of fear-driven test-oriented schooling is now in vogue, acclaimed and supported by the politically powerful in the U.K., U.S.A., N.Z and Australia and, sadly, appears as if it will last for a few more years. There is no reliable evidence in any of these countries that, apart from promoting fear, blanket standardised testing works. Results are unreliable and untrustworthy. There is ample evidence that children fear the tests and their consequences; and that distress and counter-learning habits are increasing. Australia has a blatant fear-based curriculum. Ask your child’s teacher.
In each place, the administration of the tests is forced on the unfortunate, uncomplaining children, mandated to be administered by compliant principals. Nothing was first negotiated with pupils, parents, teachers nor state governments prior to Naplan’s introduction to Australia. Expectations were announced and commands given. It was introduced through deceitful, arrogant, mischievous bullying. This makes for an uncomfortable position for those principals who believe that their position is a responsible one and that their professional task is to care about kids. This leads to a serious consideration of ethics. If any principal believes that they have been dealt a fair hand, that Naplan enhances learning and that it is okay to continue to threaten children to participate in it, they should seek some other job. Really. They don’t know what is going on.
The politics of reform.
We have 'Job principals' - who just work at it - some of whom are 'Poster principals '[Smythe] – show offs - and we have 'Professional principals'. All behave as one at present, willingly submitting to corporate notions of managerialism [ introduced in the 1990s ] and treating children as if they are warehouse products that can be pushed and shoved into shape with force [ introduced in 2009 ]. The primary principal’s national association in Australia supports Naplan and, therefore, this style of schooling!! Scary. Unwilling to resile from its early support for Julia Gillard’s introduction of the hard-data system, many members are now in a cleft stick. They have been eichmannised or they believe in the imported ‘State Theory of Learning’ or they have just succumbed. If they don’t believe in fear-driven, blame-and-shame testing, they have yet to proclaim it above a whisper.
Australian principals and their groups have remained resoundingly silent on issues affecting ‘Naplan in the classroom’. This hurts lots of old dogs like myself with limited years available.
It was Martin Luther King Jnr., who said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” You’ve sure got it right, Reverend.
Almost everywhere, principals are the victims or products or supporters of stalinism; that is they tolerate overt centralised, totalitarian, coercive leadership; ... or of fascism: that is, approving a totalitarian and authoritarian political mentality, with uncompromising, strong leadership [ “ I will reform education !” ] that mandates for punishment and economic class differences. Whatever it is that controls such attitudes, it is not related to respect for nor love of children, nor professional concern for their progress, nor personal professional pride. None of the mentioned countries seems to have sufficient principals with gumption or a professional, democratic attitude towards the country’s most precious citizens. That’s for sure. Is injustice to children so hard to recognise?
The NAESP, the largest primary/elementary school principal’s association in the USA, could take the ethical high-ground, stand up for children now; and such an action would spell the end of hard-data testing around the world.
Time for moral courage.
There is despair that many principals have gone “....beyond acquiescence to active participation and become the willing executioners of our ideals.” [Kelvin Smythe] He was referring to the appointment of 50 New Zealand S.A.P.s [ Student Achievement Practitioners] whose counterparts exist in other places, willing to accept pieces of silver to straighten out those schools whose scores are not acceptable to the controllers. There are other ‘principals’ as well, offering advice to the overlords on how test compilation and scores can be improved, writing booklets that advise on how to practice for tests, preparing tests, counting the bubbles on the examination papers and marking the efforts of the children who have endured the test. Blood money.
The term ‘quisling principal’ seems a tough description when it is applied to those for whom one once had great respect; but that is the present state of schooling. One presumes that the aforementioned need the money. Our non-schooling measurement storm troopers, busy with their calculators, don’t care, as long as they have recruits. They live in a different world from the classroom. Naplan, NCLB and ‘national testing’ has split the schooling community in a way that has never occurred in the history of schooling. As far as Australia is concerned, she knew that it would happen. She said so at the outset. She arrogantly continues to encourage internecine blood-letting. She will have her way.
A few true-professional, child-oriented, curriculum-savvy Principals [capital P] in Australia have stood up for their children and their schools; and the parents of the school children have joined them. Since these are perilous times for school children, the names of these Principals and the names of their schools should be writ large in the history of schooling. They need more support from other professionals, their learned societies and their organisations; while observers like we wrinkled practitioners all await next May when the children in Naplan schools in Years 3,5,7,9 are assailed again with the evil purulence. Will there be increased numbers of conscientious objectors before then; those with the moral courage to support their pupils and shake the shackles? Ethically-concerned but worried principals who see the times as demonian, but hope to survive quietly until ‘it’ all passes are probably in the majority. What will they do?
Dante cautions them : ”The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
Ex Director of Primary Education Queensland