What Do We Win?

The global race to be one of the top five Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) countries is a debate all around the world at the moment. Countries are endeavouring to find that pedagogical panacea and structural reform that will give them an edge over Finland and many of the Asian countries. During the current race, I have often wondered whether anyone has stopped and asked, “What do we win?” Is there a massive global sheep station on offer or a world cup in education?

The Australian National Assessment Programme for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is our local standardised  tests. Merrylands East treats the tests like another school activity due to the Government’s compliance requirements. However, I will create some heresy amongst some education purists by saying that our school does not teach to the test, or focus on it during teachers’ programming, and when the results arrive, they are simply disseminated to our parents without any valued judgements. Our school results over the years can range from the global financial crisis to the Australian mining boom but we don’t measure our school on them. This is not to say that schools don’t need to improve in Literacy and Numeracy – all schools do! It’s the benchmark that we set ourselves that really matters and that will be different for each school.

International and national standardised testing do not reflect the complexity of achievements in a school, nor the breadth of successes. Each school and individual students have their own success stories to tell.  For Merrylands East, the pedagogical shift towards project based learning and genius hour with higher levels of student self regulation and engagement are just some of the highlights. Parents have accepted that NAPLAN is a necessity but place their value on the diversity of school programs and the creative products designed by their child in an open learning environment.

I have asked myself the question, “Do I want to be like countries Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea or the city of Shanghai?” The answer is an emphatic, “No.”  If we truly believe in the concept of lifelong learning, then education is not a race to cram  knowledge into 13 years of schooling within a narrow corridor and constricted area of the curriculum. Instead, learning is collaborative process where students and teachers help each other fulfil aspirations and dreams.

Speaking to Australian employers, they do not ask for NAPLAN results but look for creative designers, authentic problems solvers, good interpersonal skills, teamwork and a love of their product. We need to foster the same skills with a love of learning. Just recently, a number of teachers visited our school and  one student displayed a portfolio of online games that he had created and proudly picked a 3D version. Another 12 year old student showed 3 weeks of project animation called Emma. She explained the thousand photos of each individual line or fill in change and the product was created using MovieMaker. Our students are proud of their achievements and articulate their learning due to their ownership of learning.

The Australian Curriculum General Capabilities and outcomes are the major focus areas of Merrylands East curriculum. Literacy and numeracy are woven throughout learning with students having the opportunity to demonstrate outcomes in a diverse range of evidence. Creativity is highly valued and students will often celebrate the success of themselves and others.

The global top 5 in standardised tests in 2025 produces no prizes. Therefore, let’s create a better future for our students and ensure that they continue to be lifelong learners beyond schooling and a standardised test score.


4 thoughts on “What Do We Win?

  1. Great post John. We know that our students need learning at school that will prepare them for life and teaching to tests shortchanges our students. We don’t teach to tests at my school either. We do look at data from NAPLAN which contributes to a range of information that we use to understand our students’ learning needs. Why is there an education” arms race” and as you rightly ask, what is the prize? I suspect that it is anticipated economic success. Stephen Heppell suggested this week past that the PISA tests are being revamped to take into consideration new elements like creativity. I wonder what that will change.

  2. Mmmm, it’s a difficult one. When it comes to literacy and numeracy there is definitely a need to combine direct instruction with a constructivist approach. The problem with NAPLAN is that despite the millions of dollars of government money that has been channelled into schools in order to lift numeracy and literacy scores, there has been no noticeable national improvement. This is now a government ‘dilemma’ and will flow through to impact on school funding in the future. NAPLAN serves a purpose on a global and local scale in informing us of our students’ levels of competency. It is important that we don’t lose sight of where we sit in relation to the rest of the world or we would risk unbeknowingly slipping into a black hole such as the American education system. However, it is the ability to think creatively, divergently, and analytically that will ensure our students’ long term success. And by placing emphasis here (and combining this with some direct instruction) our students will become the adaptable learners that they need to be for the 21st Century.

  3. Totally agree! NAPLAN for a time just caused much angst in schools. Parents were comparing their child to a sibling, relative or friends offspring, students were anxious in the belief that they would be flavoured when high school placements were made and teachers were quick to look at results thinking they had done a great job with the students who achieved well and looked suspiciously at the colleague who had taught the non-achievers the year before! All this to what end? No student gets a job or goes to uni based on Naplan. No country asks when travelling ‘what band did you receive in NAPLAN?’. No bank manager has said ‘you can’t get a housing loan based on those NAPLAN results!’. And dare we mention the cost to produce, mark and disseminate information about the test? We, as educators know just how much MORE we need in the classroom to help students but still NAPLAN syphons money from the budget! Put the money where it’s needed and see results improve.
    As for PISA and our aim to equal ‘top’ countries. Do we want our students to be robotic? If so, perhaps we need to move countries.
    As a classroom teacher, I’m proud to look at our kids and see their development, not as a clone but as individuals. During our genius hour time I look around and marvel at the range and quality of tasks students throw themselves into! Animations, radio station creations, app creations, investigating how electrical circuits work, styles of Art, architecture, ancient Egypt history….these are just a few in our class and each student demonstrates 21C learning skills. These are the kids I want looking after our country in years to come.
    Thanks John for the blog post. Makes us sit back and think.

  4. Admirable sentiments that I agree with. Skills are more important than test results. But thinking that NAPLAN or PISA results are just for the consumption of your current school population can be a naive and dangerous pursuit. The media have taught the community that they are very important, and that if your school can’t improve students, then look elsewhere – its a buyer’s market. Skills you described aren’t on the test reports. Parents are becoming discerning consumers of education and will look for the evidence available to base their judgement on. And for public schools surrounded by competitive private and independent schools that skim the best students (for whatever reason) , this can have serious consequences. We can’t have our heads in the sand over this – salesmanship becomes an executive skill nowadays.

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