National Testing & Professionalism


Janina Trotman




In a recent letter to all Education Department of Western Australia (EDWA) principals, the Director-General, Cheryl Vardon wrote that while the Department publication School Matters is a significant means of communication to all staff, she will '... from time to time write to you directly, in order to provide information at an earlier time' (Letter from the Office of the Director-General, Term 1, 1997).

She also indicated that she and the Senior Executive of EDWA - pruned to six - intended to work in close association with the presidents of the W.A. Primary Principals' Association, Tony Misich, and the W.A. Secondary Principals' Association, Jan Little. Both presidents have been seconded to Central Office in order to undertake joint work with the Executive on one of the objectives in the draft Plan for Government School Education, namely, 'to enhance the profession of teaching'.

Ms Vardon continued her message by reminding principals of their need to have 'strong business and financial acumen'. A further comment about accountability makes it clear that managerialism is here to stay. Is the next step marketing?

If so, the Federal Minister's national testing of the '3Rs' may be the first move in providing parents with the kind of 'league table' consumer guides that the British educational scene has witnessed.

Dr Kemp's announcement in March was coupled with the usual persuasive rhetoric of a withdrawal of funds if States did not comply. Haven't we heard this somewhere before? Like in July 1993 when Kim Beazley took a similar stance on the then A.E.C.'s halt to the National Curriculum. Much 'states rights' rhetoric flowed on that occasion.

For a while it looked as though the W.A. Minister, Colin Barnett, was going to stand his ground, but within a few days, all was settled. On March 14, State and Tertiary education ministers agreed on Kemp's proposal. It is interesting to note in the Weekend Australian of the 15 March that the ministers came to agreement after senior education staff had been requested to leave.

Barnett's initial response was that W.A. already had a highly acclaimed Monitoring of Education Standards programme. Since 1989 random samples of pupils in Years 3, 7 and 10 have been assessed in order to provide information about educational standards in English and mathematics across the state. In addition, individual schools can use these assessment materials to gain information about pupil performance. The major purpose is bench marking and monitoring.

The national testing initiative, however, seems to be for a rather different purpose - that of ranking. Mr Barnett's statement that the two assessment procedures would be integrated seems a recipe for hyper-rationalisation!

In all of this, teachers, and parents, have not been consulted. How can we 'enhance the profession of teaching' if educators are bypassed in such a way?

Janina Trotman, Department of Education Policy and Administrative Studies, Mount Lawley Campus, Edith Cowan University.

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