Dean backs students in high-stakes testing

26 February 2013

Dean of the Faculty Professor Rob Tierney has appeared on national television to voice concerns about high-stakes national testing.

In the space of 12 hours, Professor Tierney appeared on both Channel Ten's late night news bulletin (right) and Channel Nine's breakfast program Today (below, right).

He told both viewing audiences that high-stakes national testing regimes such as NAPLAN inevitably caused the focus of educators to narrow, so that the purpose of teaching became more about producing good results for the institution in the test than about broadening and developing individual students.

"As soon as you make tests like NAPLAN high stakes - and they are high stakes - guess what happens, teachers teach towards it, and it becomes a form of corruption of the education system," Professor Tierney said.

He told Channel Ten's anchor, Hamish McDonald that NAPLAN was being positioned in a way that was counterproductive to the interests of students.

"No single measure ever adequately measures achievement of any group of students, and NAPLAN is like any other measure. It represents a limited sub-sample of what it measures. It becomes problematic when that becomes the object of what teachers are teaching towards.

"I would say it verges on malpractice when parents and policymakers overdepend on any single measure. No single measure will adequately give a full sense of what is needed for the type of decision making that teachers do. What becomes also corrupted is when you teach to that test, and NAPLAN has become sufficiently high stakes that it is actually leading to that type of impact.

"Australia - with the HSC and the NAPLAN - is overemphasising those tests for measuring students en-route to the types of decisions that are being made about their lives...and the types of decisions parents are making about what school they will send their children to or whether - and hopefully this isn't the case - to assess whether a teacher is effective or not." Professor Tierney told Channel Nine's Today that NAPLAN works "for the politicians" but not for any of the major stakeholders.

"It gives them some control of schools. I don't think it works for teachers. I don't think it works for parents. And I certainly don't think it works for students," he said.

"A test like that doesn't really measure the effects of instruction. For the students, you want them to engage in their own learning and the test really doesn't give them feedback on their own learning."