Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Science May be Added to NAPLAN Tests

Gonski infographic
Gonski infographic (Photo credit: Greens MPs)
by Ashley Hall and staff, ABC News:

The Federal Government has proposed expanding the literacy and numeracy NAPLAN testing to include science tests.

The change is included in the National School Improvement Plan, which will be considered by state and territory leaders at a meeting with Prime Minister Julia Gillard next week.

Yesterday, Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT agreed to endorse the plan, but the other states and territories are holding out until more details are known about the funding arrangements.

Federal School Education Minister Peter Garrett says it is sensible to expand NAPLAN to include science.

"We're seeing less numbers of students in year 12 who are studying subjects like chemistry and physics," he said.

"We've got an increasing gender gap in the study of these subjects - science, maths subjects - than we have previously".

"We've set ourselves the goal of being in the top-performing nations in the world in education by 2025 in science and maths and also in reading, so we need to able to track how our students are going in science. Having a science NAPLAN opportunity is the way in which we can best do that."

Mr Garrett says science testing could start from 2015.

"The science literacy component of that assessment would be aligned with the science curriculum itself but obviously that would depend to some extent on negotiations with states and agreement from the ministerial council," he said. "But the majority of ministers didn't raise significant objections about this issue."

Mixed response

The plan has won support from scientists like Professor Bob Williamson, the secretary of science policy at the Australian Academy of Science. He says any extra focus on science is a good thing. "These days most pupils actually use their computers and they cant use their computers unless they have a certain level of science literacy," he told The World Today.

"The mining boom won't go on forever and we're going to have to depend upon our brain power, our wits and in particular our scientific and technological ability. "In many primary schools there is very little science teaching at all."

But Associate Professor Debbie Corrigan, who works in Monash University's faculty of education, has warned against focusing too much on test results.

"I'm not quite sure why we have such a preoccupation with tests, because they don't actually necessarily give you feedback about how well a student is doing in terms of their education or in terms of their learning in science, in this particular instance," she said.

She compared the experience of Year 12 science teachers in Victoria, where students sit an end of year exam, with those in Queensland, where student assessments are carried out by the teacher.

She says her research shows that teachers do tailor their lessons to ensure students do well in tests. "The Queensland teachers could still maintain teaching towards what they thought was important because they actually had the power to actually set the test and or exam or whatever it was," she said.

"In Victoria clearly the teachers wanted to do the right thing by their students, as we all expect them to, and so they'd had to teach towards the exam."
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