New test to stop stu­dents fall­ing through cracks


A new re­port has backed the need for “light touch’’ na­tional lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy checks to be rolled out for Year 1 stu­dents to en­sure no child is slip­ping through the cracks.

It finds “early suc­cess in read­ing and num­ber sense is a pow­er­ful pre­dic­tor of later achieve­ment’’ but also warns that a large numbers of Aus­tralian chil­dren are not meet­ing the ex­pected re­sults and stan­dards in lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy.

One in 20 stu­dents in Year 3 did not meet the na­tional min­i­mum stan­dard for read­ing and math­e­mat­ics in last year’s Na­tional As­sess­ment Pro­gram — Lit­er­acy and Nu­mer­acy (NAPLAN) and this un­der­achieve­ment of­ten spills over into adult­hood.

The re­port by the panel, chaired by ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert Jen­nifer Buck­ing­ham, rec­om­mends a Year 1 lit­er­acy check, con­cen­trat­ing on phon­ics, and a nu­mer­acy check be im­ple­mented. The as­sess­ments could be con­ducted in term three af­ter stu­dents had com­pleted al­most 18 months of for­mal school­ing.

The “light-touch’’ and low­cost checks would be quick fiveminute one-on-one as­sess­ments done by a teacher fa­mil­iar with the child, and would not be a NAPLAN-style high pres­sure, high-stakes test.

In­stead, the as­sess­ments would screen whether chil­dren were learn­ing the build­ing blocks they needed to de­velop the lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy skills piv­otal to fu­ture school­ing suc­cess­ful. Re­sults would be rapid to iden­tify stu­dents need­ing ex­tra sup­port.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Si­mon Birm­ing­ham said: “Aus­tralia can­not af­ford to fol­low the sta­tus quo in school­ing. We’ve seen na­tional and in­ter­na­tional tests that highlight while Aus­tralia has an ex­cel­lent ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, our re­sults have stag­nated or even de­clined in some case.

“This re­port plainly high­lights the need for ac­tion. The ev­i­dence is clear that phon­ics and nu­mer­acy checks will boost out­comes for Aus­tralian stu­dents.

“Im­por­tantly, these skills check are not ex­pected to be a con­fronting test but rather a light­touch as­sess­ment that en­sures teach­ers, par­ents and schools know at the ear­li­est pos­si­ble stage if chil­dren aren’t pick­ing up read­ing or count­ing skills as quickly as they should, en­abling them to in­ter­vene rapidly.’’

The find­ings makes clear that by Year 3, the first year of NAPLAN tests, “it is dif­fi­cult, ex­pen­sive, and in­ef­fi­cient to re­me­di­ate gaps in lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy skills that pre­vent full en­gage­ment with the cur­ricu­lum in mid­dle pri­mary years and be­yond’’.

The panel there­fore rec­om­mends adopt­ing and adapt­ing the suc­cess­ful phon­ics screen­ing check used in Bri­tain for Aus­tralian Year 1 stu­dents, and stresses that in­di­vid­ual school re­sults should not be iden­ti­fi­able, pub­lished or com­pared with other schools, teach­ers or chil­dren.

Dr Buck­ing­ham, a se­nior re­search fel­low at the Cen­tre for In­de­pen­dent Stu­dents and di­rec­tor of the FIVE from FIVE project, said “phon­ics and early nu­mer­acy skills are re­ally highly pre­dic­tive of chil­dren’s later read­ing progress … While we know schools are do­ing as­sess­ments broadly in terms of lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy in the first years of school, none of the as­sess­ments we looked were strong enough, par­tic­u­larly in the ar­eas of phon­ics.

“The phon­ics screen­ing check does not du­pli­cate what the states and other sys­tems in schools are al­ready do­ing. It’s pro­vid­ing ex­tra in­for­ma­tion that is not be­ing col­lected at the mo­ment.’’


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