Education minister attacked over plans for literacy checks
Aug 26, 2016 | News | by Learning Press staff
New literacy tests planned for all Year 1 students have come under fire this week despite the education minister’s assurances that they will be "personalised, gentle, individual" checks.
A leading academic, the Queensland education minister and the nation’s main teaching union have all questioned the validity of extra testing in a system which already subjects students to significant exam pressure.
The test is based on a phonics screening check in the UK, introduced in 2012, which assesses children for reading and numeracy skills and aims to pick up early signs of learning difficulties.
It is one of a number of conditions imposed on schools as part of the Government’s extra $1.3 billion funding commitment to states and territories.
Federal education minister Simon Birmingham says the skills check “is not a test, but rather a light-touch assessment that ensures teachers, parents and schools know at the earliest possible stage if children aren’t picking up the reading skills as quickly as they should and that they can intervene rapidly”.
The policy has the backing of Dr Jennifer Buckingham, director of the FIVE from FIVE reading project at The Centre for Independent Studies, who in May described the early phonics check as “an excellent proposal”.
But Queensland University of Technology associate professor Linda Graham told the Courier Mail this week: “Bringing in a literacy and numeracy-type test in Year One will just increase the pressure on prep teachers and further squeeze any time for play-based learning.”
Dr Graham said any diagnostic screening test should instead be undertaken at the beginning of the prep/kindergarten year to assess the skills children arrive at school with, rather than what they learn in their first year.
Queensland education minister Kate Jones also expressed concerns about the new assessment, telling the newspaper: “No parent wants more exams for their children.”
The Australian Education Union has used the controversy to press home its message on the importance of Gonski funding.
Federal president Corenna Haythorpe said: “Students who are struggling with literacy need support and extra help at school and that takes resources.
“What is the point of a test if it is not followed up with support for students who need it?
“Schools already have their own procedures in place to determine which students need literacy support.
“The missing link is giving them the resources to deliver targeted programs to students who need them.”
Jennifer Buckingham says education research shows that children who receive explicit instruction in phonics - how to decode words using letter-sound relationships - are more likely to become successful early readers.
“One in four Year 4 children do not achieve international literacy benchmarks, which reading specialists say is because many schools do not use effective, evidence-based reading instruction, including explicit teaching of phonics,” she said.
Senator Birmingham argues the assessment will ensure that “teachers, parents and schools know at the earliest possible stage if children aren’t picking up the reading skills as quickly as they should”, allowing early intervention in a child’s schooling.
The AEU says the best way to ensure educational success is to retain the funding model specifically designed to target resources at disadvantaged children.
“We know that one-in-five students arrives at school not ready to learn, and that the rate is higher among disadvantaged students. These students need support at school to lift their skills and help them catch up,” said Ms Haythorpe.
“Schools are already using Gonski funding to provide extra literacy and numeracy programs, so why does the Federal Government want to stop this funding going to students who can benefit from it?”