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Linda Darling Hammond discusses the dangers of 'narrow' national testing

NAPLAN has been spreading across the Australian educational landscape with alarming speed. It has begun to devour valuable teaching time in many schools as pressured educators fall under its hideous spell and indulge in highly questionable 'test prep' practices. Practices that do a disservice to what we know about effective teaching. With that in mind, I happened to read this article in the Melbourne Age...

Professor Linda Darling Hammond has been visiting Australia and has spoken regarding the inherent dangers of high stakes testing and the effects such assessments can have on curriculum. I thought her words of wisdom and warning were well worth sharing.

US education expert blasts 'narrow' national testing

Anna Patty            The Age, Newspaper    May 2, 2011
NAPLAN-style testing and reporting have failed in the United States by narrowing the curriculum and corrupting education standards, according to a chief education adviser to US President Barrack Obama. Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford University, who headed Mr Obama's education policy transition team, said the No Child Left Behind reforms that President George Bush introduced a decade ago had narrowed the curriculum to reading and maths and multiple choice formats. The reforms included mandatory national standardised testing each year - similar to Australia's NAPLAN.
''We have learnt about the potential negative effects of very narrow tests, particularly when they are put in a high-stakes context,'' Professor Darling-Hammond, on a visit to Australia sponsored by teaching unions, said. Schools and teachers have been judged and rewarded financially for improving student test scores and punished for poor ones, she said. This led to good teachers abandoning schools in disadvantaged areas.
''We have seen growing student exclusion to get the scores up. Schools either prevent students from taking the test or encourage them to leave school,'' Professor Darling-Hammond said. ''Schools that have choices about who to admit will not admit low-achieving students because they will bring their scores down.''

While basic skills literacy and numeracy tests were designed to help teachers identify children with learning difficulties, they are also being used as a competitive measure of school performance on the government's My School website.

Professor Darling-Hammond said Australia would be wiser to follow the examples of Finland, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore, whose 15-year-olds achieve the best results in numeracy, literacy and science in comparison with other developed nations.
''The US is taking a U-turn away from test-based accountability,'' Professor Darling-Hammond. ''We hope not to meet Australia heading in the other direction in seeking policies we have sought to move away from.''

Professor Darling-Hammond said national standards had been unrealistically raised each year in the US and the Republican government had given children from ''failing'' schools vouchers for private schools. Children from disadvantaged areas enter lotteries to gain a place in privately run charter schools.

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