Call for national Year 1 test to help struggling students
MANY schools are failing to pinpoint children who are having trouble with reading and maths, according to experts who want a national testing scheme for Year 1 students.
The Federal Government is lobbying the states to agree to standardised tests for children in the second year of school. The tests would check maths skills and the ability of children to identify the phonetic sounds which form words.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham will today release a report by an expert panel, which warns that the systems used to test children’s ability to use phonics to sound out words were, “relatively weak and highly variable”.
Panel chairwoman Dr Jennifer Buckingham said children who were having problems with reading and maths needed to be identified as early as possible so that they could be given extra help or the teaching practices changed.
“It has enormous pay-offs in terms of reducing the need for intervention later in schooling which is hugely time-consuming and expensive for schools,’’ she said.
Dr Buckingham said some schools were doing a good job at using phonics to teach reading – but many weren’t.
“We also know from lots of research – a few decades’ worth – that phonics is a great predictor of later reading ability,’’ she said.
“So if children can decode words accurately and fluently, then they’re going to be able to much more easily go on and become proficient readers in the later years of school.’’
The tests recommended by the panel would be low-key, with a classroom teacher spending five minutes asking a child questions and loading the answers into a computer app. School-wide results would not be publicly released and the “light-touch” tests would be less stressful for children than NAPLAN exams.
Dr Buckingham said South Australia was leading the country in phonics assessment by trialling tests for Reception and Year 1 students in some schools.
The SA phonics tests are based on a British scheme.
Senator Birmingham said national tests were important because Australia’s school education results were stagnating and in some areas declining.
“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 about one in 20 school students didn’t meet the national minimum standards for reading and numeracy.
This problem persisted into adulthood, with between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of Australian adults having numeracy problems.