It seems we are having another attack. Herald economics writer Peter Martin pointed out something rather amusing about it all.
In launching a new school literacy program the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, appears to have committed a statistical howler.
Declaring that about 75,000 students failed to meet national minimum standards in the NAPLAN test last year she said, ”without improvement that number could climb to more than 150,000 by 2025”.
The doubling is the result of extrapolating forward the change over one year for 13 years.
Responding to Fairfax Media’s questions on Sunday, the Education Minister’s office said: ”The calculation is a Commonwealth analysis based on year 3 NAPLAN data and assumes the change seen between 2011 and 2012 continues out to 2025.”
But extending forward only the most recent change in a statistic is widely regarded as bad practice, likely to produce nonsense.
”One change does not a trend make,” the Deloitte Access director Chris Richardson, a former Treasury economist, said.
If, for example, the Commonwealth had extended forward only the most recent change in employment, between December and January, it would have looked as if employment was on track to climb 124,800 in the coming year. But if it had extended forward the previous change, between November and December, employment would have looked on track to slide 45,600.
”It’s good practice to use all of the comparable data, not just one change,” Mr Richardson said. ”The trend is your friend. To construct it, you should use all the comparable data.”
NAPLAN data from 2008 shows reading, spelling and grammar on an improving trend. The proportion of year 3 students failing to meet minimum reading standards fell from 7.9 per cent to 6.5 per cent. The proportion failing to meet minimum spelling standards fell from 7.5 per cent to 6 per cent.
”We will make this reading blitz one of the aims of our school funding reforms,” Ms Gillard told parents and children at the launch. ”We want to make sure that every child is assessed, every child’s strengths and weaknesses on reading are known and every child gets the opportunity to become a great reader.”
The government will ask all schools to sign up to an intensive four-year program in which teachers from kindergarten to year 3 maintain a running record of each student’s progress and set out a reading plan that includes the sounding out of words as one of the teaching methods…
A reading blitz? I would have thought “blitz” is a touch destructive, and there is every chance this one will lay waste the teaching of reading rather than actually improve matters – and there is more than a touch of panic about that as well. More assessment. More plans. Oh my God!
I actually was involved in another “blitz” 20 years back. If you can get hold of a copy, you may read The teaching of reading in the Botany Cluster / [compiled by: Neil Whitfield]. I tell you a bit about this 1993 project in my 1998 essay on Literacy.
My mind and my teaching practice are archaeological sites. Some exploration of those sites seems a good way to focus the development of my present approach to literacy education, primarily but not exclusively in English in secondary schools. So far as this article has a thesis it is this: that, despite the sometimes combative rhetoric of those advocating one model or pedagogy or another (as when Martin [1993:159] pillories whole language approaches as ‘benevolent neglect’), an informed, dynamic eclecticism is a viable stance. (Compare Anstey and Bull 1996:52-53, Brock 1998:11 on the ‘either/or myth’.)
Thirty years have deposited approaches beginning with the very traditional mainstream English teaching of 1966, not much changed from the 1950s.
THE ETERNAL CRISIS
Throughout these thirty years literacy has apparently been in a state of crisis. In the late 1950s and early 60s certain Science professors at the University of Sydney lamented the ‘illiteracy’ of their students. In the 1970s, even before any rational person could have detected any impact on school leavers of the various ‘progressive’ developments of the early 70s, many commentators (such as Professor Crisp of the Australian National University) discerned a rapid decline in literacy and numeracy between 1970 and 1975 (Watson 1994:1).
Even today successful adman and potboiler writer Bryce Courtney (speaking in a good cause against tax on books) can claim:
This country is facing a serious literacy problem. We could very easily by about 2020 have a country where 55pc of the population is illiterate. (Sun-Herald 23 August 1998.)
Just what Courtney means by literacy and how he arrived at this alarming prognostication is anybody’s guess. Such critics usually have in mind one or more of the following: that phonics and other skill-centred pedagogies constitute ‘real teaching’ as opposed to trendiness or left-wing subversion; that traditional grammar is the same; that spelling is in a parlous state; that our white Anglo-Saxon Protestant heritage is being systematically white-anted; that teachers are responsible for crime, drugs and youth unemployment; that infinitives are being split–and so on.
Nearer the mark is Mem Fox who observed on Margaret Throsby’s ABC-FM program on August 24 1998 that we think literacy standards are falling because more people’s literacy is exposed; in other words social demands have changed…
1998 is a long time ago now, but the frustrating thing is that before and since – probably for well over a century – we have kept on having what are essentially the same arguments. In 1922 (pdf), for example. By the way, there are some more fascinating documents from NSW and from other states in Schooling Australia: A curriculum history of English teaching, teacher education and public schooling from Federation to World War II.
Some good letters on this oh so boring political “blitz” of Ms Gillard in today’s Herald.
I often wonder just what it is that people think teachers do (”Gillard’s maths fails data test, says economist”, February 25). All proficient kindergarten teachers will, as a matter of course, assess each incoming pupil for prior skills and knowledge, as will teachers of any year and in any subject area.
Our Prime Minister appears to believe that keeping records ”of each student’s progress” and ”setting out a reading plan”, are something new to teachers of K-3 classes. The only specific method mentioned, ”the sounding out of words”, is, again, one that is often used, if needed, as a strategy. Teachers will generally use any and every reasonable strategy in an effort to teach their pupils.
Reading and writing, like so many skills, are best learned by doing. The practice of these is best encouraged by developing a love of reading from a very early age – most definitely long before school begins. One very important aspect of this development is, in addition to reading to and with the child, for parents/carers to set an example of valuing reading as an enjoyable activity in their own everyday lives. Love and immersion are great educators in all areas.
Kathleen Chivers Vincentia
Smarten up, teachers. Rip up those literacy programs. This is a ”reading blitz”. Until September, you will spend the time allocated for literacy mostly on reading. You will emphasise phonics because I have said so. You will teach phonics, test, record, read, phonics, test, record, test, test, test. I expect a noticeable improvement in scores by NAPLAN time in May. I am serious. You will do as you are told. The election is in September.
The Macquarie Dictionary says a ”blitz” is ”a war waged by surprise, swiftly and violently”. That certainly describes what Gillard is inflicting on teachers.
Phil Cullen Banora Point
The effect of a blitz – historic photo
Pathetic really. And don’t expect better from the other mob when they get in. Pollies just never seem to learn. Perhaps THAT is a literacy issue?
Seriously, though, the situation of Maths seems a bit parlous: see Boys and girls divided on maths. But I am the last person you should talk to about Maths or Maths education!
On the other hand, another great #QandA last night, with some really tricky questions.